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Laura Rosenberger | September 22, 2020

 

Professor David Schanzer joined Laura Rosenberger to discuss possible threats to the 2020 election.

Laura Rosenberger, Senior Fellow and Director of the Alliance for Serving Democracy, served as a foreign-policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Before that she served for more than a decade in a range of foreign-policy and national security positions at the State Department and National Security Council.

Watch the event here.

Summary by Anna Klingensmith:

On September 22nd, Professor David Schanzer was joined by Laura Rosenberger to discuss threats to the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Ms. Rosenberger is the Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a Senior Fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Ms. Rosenberger has also previously worked as the Foreign Policy Advisor on the Clinton campaign, and served in a variety of positions at the State Department and White House’s National Security Council. The conversation with Ms. Rosenberger followed two main themes: foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible threats to this year’s election.

In the first half of her talk, Ms. Rosenberger explained the four main components of Russian interference in 2016. Firstly, Russians took advantage of “hot button issues” in the United States during 2016 by creating false personas and fake groups online with the intent to further pre-existing ideological divides that existed within the American public. Second, they used cyber-attacks to target campaigns and campaign infrastructure, and third, they also used cyber-attacks to target election infrastructure (voting machines, voter databases, voter reporting systems etc). Fourthly, they sought to use interactions with campaign aids in order to somehow provide assistance to them. Next, Ms. Rosenberger contextualized these actions in terms of international relations, stating that Russia’s actions were outside the norm of reasonable nation-state influence given that their actions were covert and aimed at weakening countries from within. She conceded that while the United States does have a history of political interference in other countries’ political processes, the U.S. has always used outside, transparent influences through democratic measures.

In the following segment of the conversation, she analyzed the American response to Russian interference since the 2016 election. A major actor in bolstering American election infrastructure in the wake of Russian interference has been the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Ms. Rosenberger explained. Contrary to 2016, CISA has now deployed a series of sensors to monitor traffic to defend our networks. Security clearances have also been granted to election officials at the state and local levels, which will allow the federal government to share threat assessments regarding the election should a need arise. Information sharing between social media outlets and organizations like the FBI has also increased. However, dozens of pieces of legislation on election security have been proposed in Congress but not passed; these could have further strengthened our preparedness for foreign interference in the 2020 election.

The conversation ended with a focus on current election security for November and the likelihood of foreign interference in 2020. Ms. Rosenberger resolved that the general overall census is that the United States is better off policy-wise in terms of preparedness for foreign interference this November. She cautioned, however, that she sees us as more vulnerable to foreign interference in 2020 than in 2016 due to extreme partisan polarization. All a foreign adversary needs to do is perform small injections into American dialogue to drive very particular narratives in their desired direction. In 2020, foreign actors would only need to target very small audiences to achieve their desired effects, since the United States is currently existing in such a divided and tense state, especially in terms of issues such as race, immigration, climate, and LGBTQ and women’s rights.

On September 22nd, Professor David Schanzer was joined by Laura Rosenberger to discuss threats to the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Ms. Rosenberger is the Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a Senior Fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Ms. Rosenberger has also previously worked as the Foreign Policy Advisor on the Clinton campaign, and served in a variety of positions at the State Department and White House’s National Security Council. The conversation with Ms. Rosenberger followed two main themes: foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible threats to this year’s election.

In the first half of her talk, Ms. Rosenberger explained the four main components of Russian interference in 2016. Firstly, Russians took advantage of “hot button issues” in the United States during 2016 by creating false personas and fake groups online with the intent to further pre-existing ideological divides that existed within the American public. Second, they used cyber-attacks to target campaigns and campaign infrastructure, and third, they also used cyber-attacks to target election infrastructure (voting machines, voter databases, voter reporting systems etc). Fourthly, they sought to use interactions with campaign aids in order to somehow provide assistance to them. Next, Ms. Rosenberger contextualized these actions in terms of international relations, stating that Russia’s actions were outside the norm of reasonable nation-state influence given that their actions were covert and aimed at weakening countries from within. She conceded that while the United States does have a history of political interference in other countries’ political processes, the U.S. has always used outside, transparent influences through democratic measures.

In the following segment of the conversation, she analyzed the American response to Russian interference since the 2016 election. A major actor in bolstering American election infrastructure in the wake of Russian interference has been the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Ms. Rosenberger explained. Contrary to 2016, CISA has now deployed a series of sensors to monitor traffic to defend our networks. Security clearances have also been granted to election officials at the state and local levels, which will allow the federal government to share threat assessments regarding the election should a need arise. Information sharing between social media outlets and organizations like the FBI has also increased. However, dozens of pieces of legislation on election security have been proposed in Congress but not passed; these could have further strengthened our preparedness for foreign interference in the 2020 election.

The conversation ended with a focus on current election security for November and the likelihood of foreign interference in 2020. Ms. Rosenberger resolved that the general overall census is that the United States is better off policy-wise in terms of preparedness for foreign interference this November. She cautioned, however, that she sees us as more vulnerable to foreign interference in 2020 than in 2016 due to extreme partisan polarization. All a foreign adversary needs to do is perform small injections into American dialogue to drive very particular narratives in their desired direction. In 2020, foreign actors would only need to target very small audiences to achieve their desired effects, since the United States is currently existing in such a divided and tense state, especially in terms of issues such as race, immigration, climate, and LGBTQ and women’s rights.