There is a consensus, with a high degree of confidence, among relevant US intelligence agencies that some individuals and groups in Russia hacked into computers regulating the 2016 US national elections.  Whether these hackers were authorized by the Government of Russia or were free lancers, and how extensive the interference was will require some authoritative report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

At the very least, it would be a mistake of historic importance to let this matter simply drift away into the dust bin of history.  If nothing else, prudent people must conclude if it happened once it will surely happen again.

Interference in our elections by a foreign power or foreign agents is not just one more damn thing left over from the Cold War.  Boys will be boys, cynics will say, and besides, are we Americans absolutely sure that one or more of our intelligence services, or their myriad of “private consultants”, have not done the same thing against other countries.  Without the highest security clearances, who’s to know?

But Russia remains a special case.  As one who has had extensive experience in Russia, both in arms control negotiations and in organizing major telecommunications projects, and as one whose adult lifetime, since as early as 1964 in the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division, has been highly focused on national and international security issues, this is a matter of considerable consequence.

If Russia, or anyone else for that matter, can hack into election computers in Pennsylvania, or Colorado, is it not clearly possible that the final tally of votes can be manipulated.  And, if so, cannot Russia, or someone else, determine the ultimate winner of the presidency or any other national office.

We have learned in recent hours that someone or someones in Russia purchased US election advertising on the Internet.  If so, our vaunted free elections are no longer free.  It is one thing to be manipulated by the Koch brothers.  It is quite another to be manipulated by the Kremlin or some private entity that it owns.

Our hope, and it remains a somewhat fragile one, is that Mr. Mueller and those who assist him are able to pin this tail on the right donkey.  If so, it will be against the best efforts of this White House and this Administration.   In the sardonic humor of Washington, Mr. Mueller better have someone else start his car in the morning.

It is a safe bet that, in the just over three years before the next national election, little will be done to harden election computers, all operated at the State level.  The cost would be considerable and funds are lacking.  The same safe bet says that State election officials will set this problem aside until their computers are dusted off and tuned up in the summer and fall of 2020.  Too late.

There is one option that costs little.  We can do what should have been done since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  We can seek to build a better relationship with Russia based on the many more interests we have in common than those, such as Syria, Ukraine, and Crimea, where our interests conflict.  We have a common interest in a conflict free zone in the Arctic Circle, for example, and a North Korea in its cage.

The beginning would be a solemn, and detectable (“trust but verify”), commitment from the Russian Government that it will cease and desist from cyber tinkering with our elections which we hold sacred for the preservation of our Republic.

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