“If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue, and 2016 won’t be viewed as isolated,” Mr. Rogers said. “This is something that will be sustained over time.” This warning came two weeks after a panel of the nation’s top intelligence leaders testified that they expect the Russians to intervene in the coming midterm elections.
What about those new anti-Russian sanctions that Congress forced President Trump to accept? Or the indictments that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has brought against 13 Russians? “I think, in fairness, you can’t say nothing’s been done,” Mr. Rogers said. “But the point would be, it hasn’t been enough.”
Though Mr. Rogers argued that the response to Russian interference should not be restricted to the cyber realm — indeed, it should include sanctions and other public punishments — it became clear in questioning that he could do more with expanded authorities the White House has not granted him.
Mr. Rogers is a uniformed military officer and, as the head of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, one of the nation’s top spies. Public candor about ongoing cyberdefense operations is not what one would expect from him. This is why his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee was striking. It also came on the same day NBC News reported that the intelligence community had evidence that the Russians had breached election websites or voter systems of seven states, in some cases intruding into highly sensitive material such as voting rolls. Though U.S. officials say the Russians did not alter the rolls or otherwise cook the vote, they might in the future if left unchecked.
The stakes can hardly be overstated. “I believe they’re attempting to undermine our institutions,” Mr. Rogers said. Even an isolated instance of vote- or voter-roll-tampering would corrode faith that everyone’s vote is being counted and that election results reflect popular will. Without this belief, the American political process would lose its legitimacy, and the nation’s politics would become dangerously unstable.
Mr. Trump reportedly does not like even hearing about Russian election meddling, let alone ordering his administration to mount a defense. But Mr. Rogers should be given all the authorities he needs to combat Russian election intrusion efforts at their source. Congress must get involved, if need be. Lawmakers should also send the FBI more money to fight election interference, demand more communication between federal authorities and state governments, and fund state efforts to replace old voting machines and secure election infrastructure. They can do all this within the next few weeks as they hammer out their final budget plans — and before it is too late.