By KENDRA GRAVELLE
PROVIDENCE — As numerous House leaders and senators have called for an inquiry into the Russian hacking of the November election — among them, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who released a joint-statement with New York Senator Charles Schumer, Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham calling for a serious investigation into the cyberattacks — Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin, who has made protection against cyber threats a top priority, weighed in on the news of Russia’s election interference.
“It’s important that we do as thorough an investigation as possible to determine the degree to which [Russia] or anybody else was involved,” Langevin said, “and to try to get a full understanding of how far this went and what we can do in the future to better protect the integrity of our elections and prevent outside interference, wherever possible.”
Langevin identified three means by which Russia could have interfered with the November election.
The first: by hacking into the U.S. voter registration system.
In October, it was revealed that Russia had made attempts to hack the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and had attempted to hack into the U.S. voter registration system.
“They were trying to undermine confidence in U.S. elections,” Langevin said.
He added that there had also been concerns that Russia was trying to hack into the U.S. election system to alter election results.
“There’s a danger that a nation-state could actually penetrate into our system and prevent or mess with the vote total,” he said.
Currently, there is no evidence that any outside entity achieved success in penetrating the election system to alter vote counts, Langevin explained, adding that the system is not actually connected to the internet.
“Then there’s the third area,” Langevin said, “which were the efforts by Russia to conduct operations that actually tried to influence the outcome of the election — tried to favor one candidate over another.”
On Dec. 9, the CIA conceded that Russian intelligence agents had procured thousands of confidential DNC documents and private emails, which were then leaked throughout the months leading up to the November election, sabotaging the Democratic Party.
“That, right now, is the most troubling aspect of this,” Langevin said, “and that’s where we need to take further steps to hold an investigation.”
“This is a new attack vector,” he continued, “that many people would not have thought about previously, and we’re going to have to take further steps in the future to protect against.”
In the wake of the news of Russia’s interference with the election, president-elect Donald Trump has made a slew of comments indicating that he distrusts U.S. intelligence agencies.
“I found Trump’s comments troubling,” said Langevin, who served for eight years on the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve dealt with many individuals from the CIA and I’ve always found these people to be incredibly dedicated patriots and professionals in the intelligence world.”
“It’s troubling to hear president-elect Trump all of the sudden casting dispersion on the motivations of members of the CIA,” he continued.
He added that he hopes Trump will take the time to look more objectively at how the CIA derives its intelligence.
“I hope he will be satisfied that they are giving him good information,” Langevin said, “and that their job is not to be political, but to gather, present and connect the dots on objective information.”
Although Russians have taken aggressive steps toward other countries in the past, Langevin added, this case is unprecedented.
“This is certainly a paradigm shift that has taken place,” he continued, “and something we’ll have to guard against in the future.”
These kinds of cyber attacks can hopefully be prevented in the future, Langevin said, through electronic as well as diplomatic actions.
“There has to be strong signals sent both publicly and privately,” he said, “if anybody tries to influence our elections, there will be consequences for doing such a thing.”
He added that the U.S. shouldn’t be afraid to levy sanctions in response in order to such hacks to send a strong message.
Langevin, a member of the Homeland Security and the House Armed Services committees, said the United States makes more use of and is more dependent on the internet than any other country, making it a highly vulnerable target for cyberattacks.
“We have to be aware of our surroundings and aware of the potential threats,” he said. “That’s the challenge with protecting the country in cyberspace. There’s such a vast area to cover.”
Educating its citizens in the fields of computer science and technology is one tool the U.S. should utilize to protect against cyber threats in the future, Langevin said.
“I am deeply troubled by how under-resourced we are in terms of the number of people who have the right skills to do the jobs that we need done in protecting the country in cyberspace,” he added. “That’s going to be something I will continue to work on — trying to develop a stronger cyber workforce.”
He lauded programs like CS4RI, Rhode Island’s initiative to have computer science taught in every public school statewide by December, 2017, and CyberCorps, a scholarship program aimed at attracting students to the fields of cybersecurity and information assurance.
“I continue to be a strong advocate for the country taking more aggressive cyber security measures,” he said. “This is a moving target, and there’s never going to be a point where we are 100 percent secure in cyberspace. Right now the aperture of vulnerability in cyberspace is very wide and we need to collapse it down, so the risk is something that’s much more manageable.”
“We need to be ever-vigilant about cyber vulnerability,” he continued, “and we need to make sure we have the right people and resources in place to better protect the country.”
In their bipartisan statement, Reed, McCain, Schumer and Graham identified the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together to ensure such cyber attacks come to an end.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” the statement reads. “The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”