9:30 am – 10:45 am Session 1: Patterns of Foreign Election Interference Since 2016
In April 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies became aware that Russia was working to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This conclusion was not only borne out by further investigations on the part of the intelligence community but also by the Mueller report, the Senate Intelligence Committee and by numerous news and media outlets that were able to substantiate the intelligence community’s initial assessment. Weaponized social media campaigns, the hacking of voter registration databases, theft of private campaign communications, and the injection of dark money into political campaigns threatened the legitimacy of our electoral process. Given the “success” of Russia’s efforts in 2016, documented patterns of Russian interference in elections in Western Europe, the continuing pattern of Russian interference in the mid-term elections, and intelligence community reports since the 2016 elections, it is safe to assume that Russia is continuing to interfere with U.S. elections in the run up to the 2020 presidential election.
Since then we have learned that other countries are attempting to influence the 2020 election by using the 2016 Russian playbook. A 2019 Princeton University study documented dozens of foreign influence efforts by Russia, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The Alliance for Securing Democracy reports that the Chinese are using Russian social media tactics to undermine confidence in democratic governance as well as to highlight its own governance model. In October 2019, Microsoft released a statement indicating that a group of hackers it believed to be linked to the Iranian government attempted to gain information on 2,700 consumer e-mail accounts and hacked into 241 of them. Microsoft has also obtained a court order to seize control of 50 websites used by North Korean operatives to launch spear phishing attacks on government officials.
This panel will examine the current state of foreign interference in the 2020 election and in other democracies worldwide. How have the steps taken by governments and the private sector worked to thwart foreign interference in the current election cycle? How have the states used the federal funding allocated in 2018 and 2020 to secure their election processes? Have the efforts of the private sector been adequate to prevent the spread of disinformation? How confident is the intelligence community that the 2020 election will be free from foreign interference?
Claire Finkelstein, Algernon Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
James Clapper, Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence; CERL Executive Board Member
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication; Walter and Leonore Director of the university’s Annenberg Public Policy Center; Program Director of the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands
11:30 am – 12:30 pm Session 2: Voter Attitudes and Foreign Influence: Protecting the Vote
Sixty-three percent of people recently surveyed by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago said they were concerned about at least one form of foreign influence in our elections. Seventy-one percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2018 said that foreign influence is a major problem. But the general public’s concern alone does not prevent or combat influence. Foreign influence directed at democratic processes continues, as described in an August 2020 intelligence community public statement. In addition, foreign governments have openly spent over $1 billion to influence American policy since 2017. As required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), countries like South Korea, Japan, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have registered their efforts and have admitted to spending millions of dollars on attempting to influence policy and politicians.
Meanwhile, as the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, our adversaries are spreading disinformation and propaganda about the United States. A recent unpublished report by the State Department Global Engagement Center highlighted the efforts of Iran, China, and Russia to shift blame for the outbreak of the disease to the United States as well as position China as a global leader in the fight against the pandemic. These efforts serve the dual purpose of insulating domestic governments from blame for their failed response to the pandemic and uniting the messaging of the U.S. adversaries. Both foreign influence and the pandemic itself present new threats to ensuring the integrity in the conduct and result of the fall election.
As state and local election officials scramble to deal with the multitude of issues that the pandemic poses for the 2020 elections, have the federal government and the private sector taken steps to combat the spread of disinformation about the pandemic? Has the messaging of foreign actors related to the pandemic changed to influence the election? Is there anything different about the messaging surrounding the pandemic from earlier disinformation campaigns meant to influence elections? How should states, the private sector and civil society address protecting the integrity of our election processes?
Carrie Cordero, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow, CNAS
Scott Bates, Deputy Secretary of State, Connecticut
Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Bill Kristol, Director, Defending Democracy Together and Editor-at-Large, The Bulwark
Laura Rosenberger, Director, Alliance for Securing Democracy, German Marshall Fund
1:30 pm – 2:45 pm Session 3: Prevention Strategies and Their Effectiveness
A February 2018 report from the Center for American Progress graded the election security measures of all 50 states and found vast differences among them. No state earned an “A” grade, and 16 states earned a “D” or “F.” How can we ensure more uniformity in election security protections across jurisdictions? Should election security be the responsibility of the federal government, the states, or some combination of both? In Federalist No. 59, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the federal government “reserved to the national authority the right to interpose, whenever extraordinary circumstances might render that interposition necessary to [election] safety.” Are the current threats the extraordinary circumstances Hamilton envisioned? What can the federal government do to coerce the states to enact necessary election security measures? Can the federal government mandate paper ballots or change the dates of elections?
After the 2016 elections, Congress passed legislation aimed at protecting federal elections. In 2018 and 2020, Congress allocated a total of $805 million dollars to the states under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 for improvements to the administration of federal elections. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report to Congress, every state and U.S. territory applied for funding and used the federal financial support to improve cybersecurity, voting equipment, voting registration, election auditing, and communication to voters. In 2017, the Department of Human Services designated the system used to administer elections as “critical infrastructure” and tasked the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to offer support to state and local officials in charge of administering elections. There are other proposals, however, that have not been enacted. The “Honest Ads Act,” “Election Security Act,” and “Securing America’s Federal Elections Act” have all been introduced in Congress, but none has garnered enough support to become law.
The private sector, in particular social media companies, have taken steps to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election. Facebook has undertaken a series of initiatives to fight foreign interference, increase transparency, and prevent the spread of misinformation on its platform. Twitter and Google have banned all political advertising from their sites and have taken steps to increase transparency and limit the prevalence of malicious bots from their platforms. Despite these attempts, the tactics of foreign actors are evolving and gaps in security remain.
Democracies around the world have also enacted measures to protect their elections. A 2018 report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace outlined the efforts that a variety of European countries made in the wake of interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election and made a series of recommendations to U.S. policymakers based on the actions of European nations. What lessons have U.S. leaders learned from our European counterparts? Is the United States in a position to reproduce some of the initiatives that have been successful in other countries?
Since the 2016 election, legislation has been drafted by many members of Congress to combat foreign interference in our elections. Thus far none has become law. Should any of these efforts of any additional pieces of legislation be passed to help secure our elections? What else can and should be done between September and November, and then beyond November, looking ahead?
Alexandra (Xander) A.K. Meise, Senior Fellow, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, University of Pennsylvania; Political Partner, Truman National Security Project
2:45 pm – 3:00 pm Break
3:00 pm – 4:15 pm Session 4 Strategies for Restoring Confidence in Elections: Private Workshop & Symposium Conclusion
This session will focus on a fundamental question: How can governments restore the confidence of their citizens in the integrity of our elections? Recent well-documented acts of foreign interference have shaken the confidence of voters in our system of government. If measures are enacted to prevent the spread of disinformation and the influence of dark money on American elections, government and civic leaders will still need to develop strategies to address the loss of confidence in the integrity of our government system.
To echo the chorus, we live in a highly polarized time in our domestic politics. In this climate, is there a way to de-politicize election security? Can politicians find bipartisan ways to bridge the gap between concepts of “election reform” and “election security”? At a time where objective facts are characterized as “fake news” for political reasons in the United States and abroad, what can restore public confidence in government officials conducting elections and ensure their integrity?
Foreign interference in elections is only one issue currently undermining voter confidence in democracy. In a recent CNAS report, Combatting Populism: A Toolkit for Liberal Democratic Actors, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Carisa Nietsche note that there are other “deeper sources of discontent with democracy… income inequality, immigration, voter suppression, and the role of money in politics.” Can leaders restore confidence in government by actions limiting foreign influence alone? If not, are there strategies that address multiple threats to elections simultaneously? What methods of communication and community mobilization can prevent foreign influence, decrease polarization, and renew faith in democratic norms?
Shawn Turner, Professor of Strategic Communication, Michigan State University; National Security Communication Analyst, CNN, CERL Board Member