Senate Intel Releases Bipartisan Report on Obama Administration’s Response to Russian Election Interference

Senators Collins and King are members of the Intelligence Committee

Washington, D.C. – The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on which U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) serve, today released the third volume in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russian election interference, “U.S. Government Response to Russian Activities.” The report examines the Obama Administration’s reaction to initial reports of election interference and the steps officials took or did not take to deter Russia’s activities.


Today’s installment is the third of five volumes in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation. The first volume, “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure” was released in July 2019. The second, “Russia’s Use of Social Media,” was released in September 2019. The two remaining volumes will examine the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Russian interference and the Committee’s counterintelligence findings.


“The Senate Intelligence Committee is in the final phase of its bipartisan, three-year investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and undermine our democratic institutions.  Our comprehensive examination, which involved multiple public and closed hearings, interviews with more than 200 witnesses, and reviewing numerous documents, is crucial to understanding the threat Russia poses to our democratic system and the steps we should take to protect ourselves from foreign election interference,” said Senator Collins.  “The third volume of our report reveals how our government was not prepared to face Russia’s election interference efforts and took an overly cautious approach in its response, resulting in interference efforts in 2016 that lasted well past the election.  Since then, our government has made great strides to combat this threat, but it is clear that Russian interference remains very active.  We must continue to be vigilant and redouble our efforts to secure our electoral process, the cornerstone of our democracy.”


“Today’s bipartisan report is an important analysis of the past that can help us protect our elections in the future – if we take the recommendations seriously,” said Senator King. “The report reiterates that Russia attempted to influence in the 2016 election, echoing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s previous reports as well as the findings of the Intelligence Community. With the benefit of hindsight, our Committee determined that there are numerous opportunities to better respond to the Russian activity centered on the 2016 election; now, we have that hindsight, and must put it to work to ensure the integrity of future elections. One key finding that is worth noting is the added difficultly of addressing these attacks in a highly-politicized environment. If we are to truly do everything we can to defend our democracy, all candidates and elected officials must be sure to put country over party and exercise significant restraint when it comes to questioning the validity of election results. In other words: if we begin undermining the electoral process because the vote totals don’t break in our favor, we’re letting our adversaries win.”


You can read “Volume III: U.S. Government Response to Russian Activitieshere.


Key Findings and Recommendations:


·         The Committee found the U.S. government was not well-postured to counter Russian election interference activity with a full range of readily-available policy options. While high-level warnings were delivered to Russian officials, those warnings may or may not have tempered Moscow’s activity, and Russia continued disseminating stolen emails, conducting social media-based influence operations, and working to access state voting infrastructure through Election Day 2016.


·         The Committee found that the Obama Administration was constrained in its response by a number of external and internal concerns. Those factors included the highly politicized environment, concern that public warnings would themselves undermine confidence in the election, and a delay in definitive attribution to Russia, among other issues.


·         The Committee found that the Obama Administration treated cyber and geopolitical aspects of the Russian active measures campaign as separate issues. This bifurcated approach may have prevented the Administration from understanding the full extent of the threat Russia posed, limiting its ability to respond.


·         The Committee found that the decision to limit and delay information sharing about the foreign influence threat inadvertently constrained the Obama Administration’s ability to respond.


·         The Committee recommends the U.S. exert its leadership in creating international cyber norms. The rules of cyber engagement are being written by hostile foreign actors, including Russia and China. U.S. leadership is necessary to establish any formalized international agreement on acceptable uses of cyber capabilities.


·         The Committee recommends the Executive Branch prepare for future attacks on U.S. elections. Preparations should include the development of a range of standing options that can be rapidly executed in the event of a foreign influence campaign, as well as regular, apolitical threat assessments from the Director of National Intelligence. The Intelligence Authorization Act covering FY2020, which was passed last year, requires DNI to provide such assessments before regularly scheduled elections.


·         The Committee recommends an integrated response to cyber events. Rather than treating cyber as an isolated domain separate from other geopolitical considerations, current and future Administrations should view cyber as an integral part of the foreign policy landscape.


·         The Committee recommends increased information sharing on foreign influence efforts, both within government and publicly. Credible information should be shared as broadly as appropriate within the federal government, including Congress, while still protecting intelligence sources and methods. Information should also be shared with relevant private sector partners and state and local authorities. In the event that an active measures campaign is detected, the public should be informed as soon as possible with a clear and succinct statement of the threat.