Foreign governments that sponsor cyberattacks intended to damage our national security and disrupt our upcoming elections pose very real, very serious threats. It’s long past time for the Obama administration to take decisive steps to defend our country against these attacks.
Under our Constitution, the individual states have authority over voting and elections. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which I chair, held a hearing last month about cybersecurity threats to our voting and election system. Our witnesses described how state officials are working to defend against cyberattacks and attempted hacks of our election system.
State election officials can and do rely on federal law enforcement and cybersecurity resources. But the Obama administration stubbornly refuses to take action that could deter attacks such as holding specific foreign governments accountable for their continuing attempts to disrupt our elections.
Cyberattacks and hacks of U.S. government and corporate data by China and Russia and other adversary nations are a growing problem. Matters have gone from bad to worse, but the White House still refuses to confront the responsible foreign governments.
Last year, hackers from China infiltrated the Office of Personnel Management’s main database and stole confidential records and personal information of more than 22 million current and former federal employees, including those involved in our national security effort with the highest security clearances. U.S. national security agencies linked the Chinese Ministry of State Security to the OPM breaches. The OPM hack was an outrageous act of espionage that will harm our national security and the lives of millions of citizens and affected individuals for years to come.
China isn’t the only perpetrator. According to U.S. law enforcement and national security agencies, the Russian intelligence service hacked and then released tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee. This unprecedented criminal act could have been for no other purpose than to disrupt U.S. politics during an election year.
To punctuate Russia’s hostile intentions, recent news of cyberattacks on voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona have also been tracked to Russia’s doorstep. Although neither attack seems to have damaged the states’ voter registration lists, it’s obvious that Russia has ambitions not just to exert influence but to subvert our election system.
Despite these repeated, foreign-sponsored cyberattacks, the Obama administration has done little more than wring its hands and issue diplomatic protests. The president and his closest political advisers are said to be worried about provoking a new Cold War in cyberspace. But if we are attacked repeatedly and do nothing, we will have surrendered unilaterally and put at risk our national security and our very freedoms.
The president boasts that the U.S. is more technologically advanced, both offensively and defensively, in cyber-capabilities than our adversaries. So why won’t he take the necessary steps to deter cyberattacks on our elections system by foreign governments?
State and local officials are doing everything they can to defend our election system against foreign threats. But their efforts are undermined by the Obama administration’s refusal to take effective action in the face of an obvious threat from other nations. Even worse, because there are apparently no consequences for their repeated cyberattacks, unfriendly foreign governments will be encouraged to increase their attacks.
When Americans vote, we not only elect our leaders, we choose a direction and set priorities for our nation. Voting is the very essence of what President Abraham Lincoln meant when he spoke of a government “by the people.”
Elections with integrity strengthen democracy. They confer legitimacy and boost public trust in government. If Americans doubt the legitimacy of our elections, our democracy will be weakened. That will be the lasting Obama legacy unless his administration takes decisive steps to defend our country against those who are trying to undermine our economy, our government, and our vital democratic institutions.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.