Earlier this month, the Department of Justice, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, issued a detailed, fact-filled indictment of twelve Russian military intelligence officials charged with crimes related to the conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election.
The gravity of the Russian government's cyberattack on America's most fundamental democratic institution -- free and open elections -- should raise the kind of urgency that surrounded the 9/11 attack. Whereas the attack in 2001 targeted our nation's then vulnerable physical icons, the attack in 2016 targeted our nation's still vulnerable digital infrastructure.
The parallel has begun to resonate. Speaking to an audience within hours of the return of the grand jury's indictment, no less an authority than Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats publicly raised the alarm. The former long-serving Republican senator, congressman, diplomat, and President Trump's pick for DNI, Coats warned that the danger of cyberattacks on our national infrastructure is akin to the warnings that our intelligence community received prior to the 9/11 attacks -- using the same chilling language that haunted us for failing to prevent the devastation of 9/11. "It was in the months prior to September 2001 when, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet, the system (was) blinking red. And here we are nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again." Whereas the enemy then was al Qaeda, according to DNI Coats, our most aggressive cyber adversary today is Russia.
As this blunt warning was issued by our senior intelligence official, and as the American people were provided a roadmap to the 2016 Russian attack on our democracy in the form of the special counsel's latest indictment, President Trump completed a tumultuous NATO appearance and a divisive visit to our nation's closet transatlantic ally before departing for a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
President Trump joked that he did not anticipate a "Perry Mason" confession from the man who is almost certainly responsible for ordering the cyberattack on American democracy. And, as he has countless times previously, the President again referred to the investigation into the Russian attack on America as a "witch hunt." But this is neither a witch hunt nor a joking matter.
Our leaders must heed the lessons learned in aftermath of the 9/11 attack. They sought to rally the American people -- and the world -- to stand unified against those who would attack our country, our freedom, our democratic values. For the first and only time in its history, NATO invoked the Article 5 principle of collective defense that an attack against one was an attack against all members of the alliance. Moreover, we did not ask Osama bin Laden if he was responsible for the attack, but rather announced to the world that we would not rest until he and al Qaeda were brought to justice.
Just as we hardened our physical infrastructure in the wake of the 9/11 attack, we must commit to hardening our digital infrastructure today. Our democracy and economy have never before been so dependent upon the stability of the global digital ecosystem. We simply cannot afford to allow partisan politics to distract us from a clear-eyed understanding of the cyber threat and from educating the American public about how the Russian bear put its paw on the scale of the 2016 election.
The special counsel investigation is today, much like the 9/11 Commission was more than a decade ago, our best hope for informing the American public about the specific details of the 2016 attack. The facts in this latest charging document, along with those in the indictment earlier this year detailing the activities of the benignly named Internet Research Agency, provide a clear window into the coordinated and strategic attack perpetrated by the Russian government against our democracy.
From the hacking of our political institutions, to covertly leaking information to the electorate to sway public opinion, to stealing voter data from state boards of elections, the campaign described in the indictment was audacious in scope and frightening in its potential implications for the future. Going forward, we simply cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the failure of imagination that the 9/11 Commission concluded beset our leadership prior to September 11, 2001.
When the 9/11 Commission -- made up of five Republicans and five Democrats -- was appointed during a contentious moment in our political history, Washington pundits predicted that we would dissolve into the equivalent of a partisan food fight. The commission proved that its members' devotion to the national interest was far stronger than party loyalties. We can and must demonstrate that the priorities born of patriotism will again triumph.
Now is the time for the leaders of our nation to stand up and lead us -- irrespective of political affiliation -- to condemn with a united voice and to counter the Russian menace to our democratic institutions.
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