According to US intelligence agencies, the Kremlin arranged a wide-ranging influence operation under which emails were hacked and an online propaganda was launched to disgrace Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, and help Donald Trump, a Republican, win the White House in the November 2016 presidential election.
Though Arizona and Illinois had confirmed in 2016 that hackers had targeted their voter registration systems, yet Jeanatte Manfra, the acting deputy undersecretary of cyber security at the Department of Homeland Security, declined to identify which states had been targeted, citing confidentiality agreements.
Russian hackers targeted no less than 21 US state election systems, breaching a small number of the presidential election process, but as of now, no evidence is there to highlight the manipulation of any votes or the voting ballots. The foremost concern is to identify the extent of interference by these Russian hackers, and to speculate if they can do the same in future elections.
Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll.
According to The Intercept, the National Security Agency (NSA) is convinced that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) interfered in the 2016 presidential election. During the process, the hacking of emails of senior Democrats was a confirmed event, but despite Russia’s efforts to penetrate vote-counting, they could not manipulate it.
“They’re coming after America,” former FBI director James B. Comey had told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, adding “They will be back.”
E-mails that were stolen from Democratic National Committee officials and from Clinton’s campaign, were later leaked. They, in turn, influenced public debates and US media coverage of the campaign, embarrassing Clinton.
Trump had then claimed then that the fiasco was nothing more than ‘fake news’ and had given Russia the benefit of doubt, saying that they may or may not have interfered in the election process. However, Russia refused to claim any responsibility for the cyber-attacks.
Meanwhile, a report suggested that as many as 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers. According to the US government, they pilfered confidential communications involving the Clinton campaign which was published online before Election Day. According to a report by Bloomberg, there are certain findings that also suggest that Russian hackers tried to change electoral data at local and state levels.
Former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin had himself masterminded and brought about the cyber-attack on the US in order to influence the presidential election. “That is a fact, plain and simple,” he said. Johnson also added that the US requires a “national leader to take charge of this issue.” Certain Trump election advisors are under investigation to ascertain if they knew about Russia’s interference.
Trump, on June 16, confirmed that he was being investigated for his alleged role in Russian meddling into the US election in November 2016. He also referred to it as a “witch hunt” and said that even after seven months of investigations; nobody had been able to prove that he had colluded with Russia.
However, Putin has categorically denied the involvement of Russia in the election process and claimed that hackers cannot affect elections abroad, insisting “we don’t engage in that at the state level.”