Chatting in the Face of Cyber War

Two related items that shouldn’t be lost in the flurry of the holiday:  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s issuance of findings on the Intelligence Community’s January, 2017, Assessment of Russian interference in our election process (the ICA) and … a trip currently being taken to Russia by a U.S. Senate delegation.

On July 3, the bipartisan Senate Committee issued a set of its findings on the reliability of the ICA.  The findings are worth reading in their entirety — only 7 pages and readily found through an internet search.  Although many are aware, it’s worth noting that this Committee contains one more Republican than Democrat, and that at least three of the Republicans on the Committee – Sens. Lankford, Cotton, and Cornyn – have been strong supporters of President Trump in other contexts.

First a recap of some of the ICA referred to in the Committee’s report:

  • That Russia executed a “significant escalation” in its attempt to interfere in U.S. domestic politics in the run-up to the 2016 elections through multi-faceted cyber espionage and cyber-driven messaging via Russian-controlled propaganda platforms.
  • That Russia’s activities were in furtherance of its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.
  • That Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, intended to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for then-candidate Donald Trump.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government aspired when possible to help Candidate Trump win by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.

The Senate Committee’s findings regarding the reliability of the ICA include the following:

  • That the ICA was a “sound intelligence product.”
  • That the ICA was supported by evidence reviewed by the Senate Committee.
  • That the intelligence analysts that prepared the ICA were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.
  • That the disagreement among intelligence analysts was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated, with analysts on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions.
  • That the [Steele] [D]ossier did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA.

Meanwhile, during the same days that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was issuing these findings, we have a Senate delegation visiting Russia and conferring with President Putin and Russian officials.  This group – entirely Republican – apparently includes Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), and … Wisconsin’s own Ron Johnson.  Sen. Shelby has been quoted as saying during the trip, “[The United States and Russia] have a strained relationship, but we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia because there’s some common interests around the world that we could hopefully work together on.”

While Sen. Shelby – for whom, along with Sen. Kennedy, I had a fair measure of respect before this episode – is literally correct – there are indeed areas in which we have common interests with Russia (e.g., the ISIS conflict) — his comment is largely akin to saying that you have a common interest in weed control with a neighbor trying to burn your house down.

I remain an unabashed Richard Nixon – Ronald Reagan follower in the foreign policy sphere.  It is inconceivable that either of those Presidents, given the clear evidence of Russia’s interference in our election process – which Dick Cheney noted last year some would consider “an act of war” — would believe cozy conversations with the Russians at this time to be in America’s best interest.  Both Presidents made clear, publicly and privately, that they understood that the Russians of their day – and Mr. Putin, cut from the cloth of the Cold War, is of their day — respond to strength and resolve, not amiable chatting.  I would suggest that this delegation’s activities are at best well-intended blundering, and arguably a disappointing dereliction of their sworn duty to “… defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”

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