Backgrounder: Protecting American Politics From Foreign Manipulation

If the Mueller Russia Report wasn’t persuasive enough to get Congress to act far more forcefully to protect America’s politics, elections, and discourse from foreign manipulation, consider what we’ve witnessed in just the past few days: Presidential spokesperson Rudy Giuliani claimed that the President did nothing wrong in working with the Russian effort to interfere in 2016 and put him in the White House, a position which of course invites Russia and other nations to return on Trump’s behalf; in public remarks Jared Kushner downplayed the significance of the Russian operation, breaking from Mueller’s account of the gravity of the attack; Twitter took down 5,000 accounts over the weekend pushing pro-Trump memes on the Mueller Report – these accounts were redeployed from their work battling for the Saudi government in the Arabic language; and according to the New York Times, DHS Secretary Nielsen gave up trying to organize a comprehensive governmental response to this emerging threat due to the President’s concern it would bring up uncomfortable issues about how he was elected in 2016.

The President’s repeated denials that Russia intervened on his behalf and that this help was instrumental in him winning him the White House have suppressed the normal societal immune response which would have kicked in to prevent future foreign manipulation.  Smart bills were repeatedly blocked by Senator McConnell.  Critical operational capacities were dismantled. The government has not developed a plan for how to combat foreign manipulation, and no one is in charge of protecting us.  Our 2020 campaigns and elected leaders are basically on their own to navigate potential hacking and mis/disinformation from foreign hostile nation states.  The President, to serve his own interests, has betrayed our national interests in ways which have no parallel in American history.

Simply, Congress and our political leaders must act, and they must act forcefully now.  There is much that can and should be done but in a recent op-ed I laid out what I think the 3 most important things are: 1) Adopt paper ballots and audits, 2) Protect our elected officials, party committees, and candidates, and 3) Forge a pledge among candidates of both parties to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics in our politics, including the use of fake accounts, troll farms, and the weaponization of stolen materials. 

It is time now for Congress to act. 

Published Work

Questions Of Putin’s Influence Over Trump Will Soon Become Central To Ukraine Affair - Simon Rosenberg, Twitter, 9/24/19 - In a new thread, Simon argues that any in depth investigation into the Ukraine Affair will inevitably lead to another examination of Putin’s extraordinary influence over the American President. 

Trump Has Aligned US Foreign Policy With Putin's In Recent Months - Simon Rosenberg, Twitter, 9/12/19 - In a new thread, Simon details how Trump has aligned US foreign policy with that of Russia in every issue area over the past few months, including on Afghanistan, Venezuela, Brexit, the G7, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. 

Re-imagining the Parties In An Age of Hacking, Disinformation - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 9/7/19 - New digital threats will require US political parties to start seeing themselves as front line actors in our national effort to protect our elections and discourse.  Some thoughts on how the parties can re-imagine themselves to meet these challenges head on. 

GOP Bringing “Moscow Rules” on Disinformation to American Politics - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 7/26/19 - A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy in 2020.

Our List of High-Volume, Pro-Trump Twitter Accounts Up to 232 - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 7/29/19 - Every Monday we will be updating a list of high volume pro-Trump Twitter accounts, ones we call "amplifiers."  The goal - to get a sense of how many of these accounts there are out there. 

ASDC Resolution on Protecting our Elections from Foreign Manipulation - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/19/19 - This is the resolution passed unanimously by the Association of Democratic State Chairs (ASDC) on June 15th in Santa Fe, New Mexico which addresses foreign manipulation of our democracy and elections.  

Biden, Democratic State Parties Embrace Call to Forgo Illicit Campaign Tactics - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/18/19 - Vice President Biden and the Chairs of the State Democratic Parties have now advanced the idea of a pledge to forgo illicit campaign tactics.  Is another encouraging sign that American has begun to take the necessary steps to combat foreign manipulation of our democracy.

Three Things We Need To Do Now To Protect Our Elections In 2020 - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 4/10/19 - America’s leaders should prioritize three things to protect our elections in the run-up to 2020: require paper ballots and audits, protect candidates from hacking and disinformation, and enter a pact to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics

Trump Doesn't Take Russian Electoral Interference Seriously. This Is What Democrats Did To Oppose It In 2018 - Simon Rosenberg and Aaron Trujillo, NBC News, 12/18/18 - The U.S. and its politics are not powerless to stop the kind of foreign hacking and disinformation tactics we saw in 2016. In the 2018 midterms, the DCCC developed a series of tools and strategies for reducing the influence and impact of malicious actors. Far more can now be done to protect our democracy and our discourse — and doing so should be a very high priority for the new Congress in 2019.

NDN Hails Progress Made Towards 2020 Pact on Disinfo, Hacking – Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 4/23/19 - This post is a roundup of all the recent developments in the establishment of a new pact or pledge to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics in the 2020 elections.  It includes links to the pledge which many European political parties and Vice President Biden have signed on to, and recent statements from the DNC, State Parties, and the Gillibrand campaign. 

Protecting the 2020 Dem Primary from Disinformation, Bots and Hacking- Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 1/29/19-  Democrats must come together now to prevent what happened in 2016 from happening again this time.  NDN is calling for all 2020s to sign a pledge forgoing use of illicit campaign tactics in the Democratic Presidential Primary.

The Country Needs to Stop Downplaying The Enormity of the Russian Intervention in 2016 - Simon Rosenberg, Twitter Thead, 1/25/19.  In a widely shared thread Simon goes through what Russia did in 2016 and concludes that the campaign was far bigger and more impactful than conventional wisdom holds, and clearly delivered a very close election to Donald Trump. 

The RNC's Russia Problem - Simon Rosenberg, US News And World Report, 4/14/17 - The Republican National Committee has a particularly important role to play in future efforts to protect America's elections. For as we've learned over the past two years, the RNC was at the center of two of the most important components of the Russian campaign – the penetration of Trump's campaign by the Russian government, and the normalization and use of Russian disinformation.

Media Citations:

Our Next Election Is Dangerously Vulnerable, A Top Democrat Warns. Does Trump Care?- Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 6/25/19 - In a piece in which Greg Sargent links to NDN work on cybersecurity, he examines the question of whether Trump will warn Putin at the G20 against launching another attack on our political system. 

Simon In Richard Clarke's Future State Podcast On "The Future Of Hacking Democracy" - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 6/19/19 - Simon talks with Richard Clarke about what Russia did in 2016, new trends and threats we've seen in the past few years, and what steps we should be taking now to prevent foreign governments and domestic actors from manipulating our elections and discourse.

Will It Use Hacked Materials Again? Trump Campaign Will Not Say - Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer, The Washington Post, 4/26/19 - Key passage: "Refusal to forgo both hacking and the use of hacking materials is a great start, but clear stances on use of fake social media accounts, fake websites and images, high-volume bots, troll farms, and other illicit tactics in common use today by Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and other authoritarian nations will also be necessary," said Simon Rosenberg, who was senior advisor to the House Democratic campaign arm in 2018 and helped run a program to search for online election interference. 

Simon Discusses How To Protect Our Elections On CNN's Situation Room - Simon Rosenberg, CNN, 4/24/19 - Simon appeared on CNN's Situation Room earlier this week to discuss how the Trump administration is actively hindering efforts to protect our elections in 2020, and what our political leaders must do now to prevent what happened in 2016 from happening again next year.

Trump, GOP Won't Act On Election Interference Warnings - A.B. Stoddard, Real Clear Politics, 2/25/19 - Key passage: “Trump’s denial the Russia attack ever took place,” [Simon Rosenberg] told RealClearPolitics, “has suppressed the normal immune response which would have kicked in to protect ourselves from future attacks.  Bills have been blocked, common-sense steps not taken, some important government capacities have even been unraveled. All of it has left us unprepared for what is coming this election cycle, and it is important that both parties in Congress come together in the days ahead around a few simple, achievable things which can make it less likely foreign governments can once again manipulate our elections for their advantage.”

Top Democrats Want 2020 Candidates To Sign Non-Aggression Pact - Natasha Korecki, Politico, 2/26/19 - Key passage: “If we know the campaigns aren’t doing it, it’s going to be much easier to find it and make it go away. If this becomes widespread, it will become truly impossible to root out what’s coming from foreign powers. There’s something bigger than all of us here, and that’s our democracy. Democrats should make a clear stand, understanding that if we don’t set clear norms and rules soon, we could see a proliferation of this illicit tactics that could do permanent and lasting harm to our democracy and other democracies throughout the world.”

Pelosi Just Challenged Trump's Corruption And Lies. Here's What Should Come Next - Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 2/22/19 - Key passage: Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, a leading advocate for this approach, argues to me that the 2020 Democrats should join in a pledge condemning all tactics of disinformation warfare, such as "fake accounts, trolls, hacking, and the use of hacked materials." He adds that this can be part of a broader project of making "the repair of our democracy central to the conversation they are going to have with the American people."

Simon Discusses Protecting The Democratic Primary From Disinfo And Hacking On MSNBC's Joy Reid - Simon Rosenberg, MSNBC, 2/2/19 - Simon appeared on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show last Saturday to discuss his ideas for how Democrats should be working to protect the 2020 Presidential primary from bots, disinformation and hacking.