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Chicago Tribune: Why Russian hacking matters

Feb 3, 2017

The following article was published by Chicago Tribune on February 3, 2017. A link to the article can be found here.

By Rep. Quigley

Despite the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in our presidential election, President Donald Trump and Republican leadership seem wholly uninterested in examining how and why Russia targeted us — and what we must do to prevent it from happening again.

Recently, the intelligence committees in both the Senate and House announced bipartisan investigations into Russian hacking and election interference. As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I welcomed this announcement and take seriously my duty to follow the facts, wherever they lead. I support the investigation because I believe American citizens deserve to know what really happened during this past election.

Unfortunately, Trump doesn't seem to share these concerns. Instead, he has chosen to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin as "very smart" while comparing our intelligence community to "Nazi Germany" by suggesting members were leaking documents to the press.

Americans recognize that the true purpose of these investigations is not to undermine the election results, but to understand how and why Russia carried out these cyber attacks and develop a strategy to ensure this type of intrusion never happens again. Cyber attacks like these not only undermine our values and the core of our democracy — they also put our national and economic security at risk.

Although the promise of a free and fair election is central to our democracy, the risk posed by foreign cyber attacks extends far beyond elections. From bank accounts to financial systems, power grids to air traffic controls — our most critical infrastructure remain attractive cyber targets, and if they are ever compromised, the effects could be devastating.

These dangers do not emanate from Russia alone. China, North Korea and Iran, for example, all pose cyber threats to the United States. If nothing else, the cyber attacks that occurred during the 2016 presidential election have laid bare the very real vulnerabilities that exist across our government and the private sector. Imagine the harm that could be done if our enemies ever hack into the Department of Defense or Homeland Security.

The fact that Russia has shown a willingness to disrupt elections and undermine institutions should come as no surprise. Just ask our allies across Europe, particularly in places like Georgia and Ukraine. At a recent defense conference, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven discussed the upcoming Swedish elections saying he "couldn't rule out" Russia interfering like they did in the U.S., and he warned, "We've got elections in France and Germany this year and probably in Italy. I think all countries are now thinking about what could happen in our democracies."

Russia has a long history of hacking, spreading propaganda and disseminating fake news — not to mention blackmail, extortion, disappearances and murders of political opponents and journalists. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, remains committed to reviving old Soviet tactics — yet now, he is aided by 21st century technology. The times have changed, but Putin's goals have not.

Consider Russia's disregard for international law and human life in Aleppo and across Syria. The recent past shows us that Putin is not a friend to the United States, despite Trump's attempts to make it so.

Russia is in a race against time. U.S. and multilateral sanctions are working, and the Russian economy is on the verge of collapse. At best, its economy is equal to that of Italy, but with a population that's more than double. While Trump often characterizes Putin as strong, Russian society is anything but. There's little reason to believe that the money freed up by lifting sanctions would be used for anything other than the expansion of the Russian military and other "active measures" directed at the U.S. and its allies. However, just this week, President Trump eased sanctions on Russia's principal intelligence agency, the FSB — a move that instantly received praise from Russian officials.

Why remove sanctions now, effectively relinquishing our leverage in return for nothing? Could this move lead to the Trump administration legitimizing Russia's invasion of Crimea? Will this lack of response give Putin the green light to push further into the Baltic States, Georgia or Poland?

We must also acknowledge that the president's current position on Russia stands in stark contrast to many of his past statements. On March 4, 2014, Donald Trump was quoted as saying: "There are a lot of things we could be doing economically to Russia" and "We should definitely do sanctions." Later that month he stated: "Russia's our biggest problem, and Russia is, you know, really something." Since being elected president, Trump has instead argued that Russia could be a partner in the fight against the Islamic State and that sanctions should be revisited. So, what changed? In reality, Putin's government has done nothing to show it deserves sanctions relief.

Our democracy not only depends on our participation in the democratic process, but also on the promise that our participation allows the voice of the people to be truly heard. Our elections must remain free and fair and conducted without interference. Russia's hacking matters in every aspect of our way of life, and Congress must find the courage of conviction to put politics aside in order to conduct a thorough investigation immediately.