Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) speaks at the Aspen Security Forum. (The Aspen Institute)
Opinion writer

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had a conversation with Vox’s Kara Swisher that should worry anyone who thinks our elections should be free from foreign interference.

Needless to say, this evidently doesn’t include President Trump, who has basically invited another round of foreign electoral sabotage, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who refuses to allow the Senate to vote on any of the numerous bills that have been proposed to shore up our political system against such sabotage.

So that basically rules out any serious legislative response in advance of the next attack. But what remains striking is how convinced Democrats who have seen the intelligence are that this is really going to happen.

Schiff points out that Facebook recently refused to remove a viral video that was edited to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) look drunk, and notes that neither the tech companies nor our own government are prepared:

“The tech companies aren’t ready,” Schiff said. “They don’t have, I think, their policies fully thought out yet. The government isn’t ready. We don’t have the technologies yet to be able to detect more sophisticated fakes.”

“And the public, by and large, when you bring up ‘deepfake,’ they don’t know what you’re referring to,” he added. “And so we don’t have much time. It’s eight months until the primaries begin to try to prepare the public, prepare ourselves, determine what other steps need to be taken to protect ourselves from this kind of disinformation.”

Schiff acknowledges that difficult issues are raised by the question of how the tech companies should be asked to combat such disinformation, but adds that coordination between them and lawmakers who are privy to the intelligence might improve matters:

“This is a difficult space for the government to operate in because we’re not going to censor people, but we can use the bully pulpit to try to encourage good behavior,” Schiff said. “We can also share information. When we learn through the intelligence community that Russia is pushing out a deepfake, we can alert the companies to it. There needed to be better cooperation, coordination in the last election. We need to make sure that those problems are ironed out before the next one.”

As Schiff notes, the clock is ticking rather loudly. There are only eight months until the primaries start, and it will take officials a good deal of time to get ready. So if there were going to be legislative action, it would have to come quickly.

All this reminded me of an interview I recently conducted with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is on his chamber’s Intelligence Committee. Wyden sounded many of the same alarming notes, telling me that the intelligence indicates to him a number of possibilities. Among them are more of the hacking and dumping of emails we saw last time, as well as a more concerted — and potentially more successful — effort to mess with voter registration databases and election reporting websites.

As Wyden put it: “As of today, the election interference of 2020 by hostile foreign powers — and I’m not just talking about the Russians — is going to make 2016 look like small potatoes.”

Wyden, for his part, hopes to see action on the Pave Act, which would mandate paper ballots (making manual recounts easier), cyber-audits after elections (making us aware of hacks) and strict election cybersecurity standards (making hacking voter registration systems harder).

Like Schiff, Wyden thinks the window is closing. The Oregon senator says officials need a year to get up and running before the election, so passage of legislation would have to happen by October.

Needless to say, nothing like that is going to happen.

All this comes as Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, just issued his own warning:

What makes all this so galling is that Trump’s own intelligence officials broadly agree with Democrats about the deadly serious prospect of another attack. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently declared that the “threat just keeps escalating" and that we need to “up our game," though Wray has also said that law enforcement is getting a lot better in preparation for it.

Still, if that is so, it’s in spite of Trump. When he recently declared he’d gladly accept information on an opponent from a foreign power, Politico reported that experts believe he made law enforcement’s job harder, because foreign powers would perceive Trump’s words as an open invitation.

That’s not to say there’s been no good news. Last week, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats announced the creation of a new position of “czar” to coordinate election security across the intelligence world.

But it’s unclear whether that will be enough. The Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) has argued for a very comprehensive approach to outside election threats, one that takes into account things such as disinformation warfare and other tools often employed by authoritarian actors.

“What we really need is someone to synchronize efforts across the entire government, not just across the intelligence community,” Jessica Brandt, the head of research and policy at the ASD, told me. “We’ve not seen any indications that such a move is being considered.”

Indeed, Trump is plainly uninterested in any such coordination. Detailed reporting has already established that officials who wanted to implement such efforts were hamstrung by Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the Russian interference effort. And when former Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wanted to broach the topic of election security with Trump, she was counseled against doing so for the same reason.

So our political system is probably vulnerable to another attack, and it may be bigger than the last one. What’s striking is how loudly this alarm is being sounded by precisely the people who are in a position to know what the intelligence signals about this very prospect. Well, not all of them, unfortunately.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Trump just invited another Russian attack. Mitch McConnell is making one more likely.

Jennifer Rubin: Helping Russia help Trump is precisely what Trump did

Greg Sargent: Our next election is dangerously vulnerable, a top Democrat warns. Does Trump care?

The Post’s View: The U.S. still hasn’t done nearly enough to stop election interference

Ro Khanna, Michael McFaul and Alex Stamos: It’s time to secure the 2020 election