Mandiant, the top-shelf cybersecurity firm, now owned by Google, reports that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has entered the U.S. political disinformation game. Taking a page out of Russia’s playbook most impactfully in the 2016 campaign, this disinformation game revolves around creating false profiles in social media presenting views that encourage extremism and foment division within American society. Long in the tooth from the Russian win six years ago, this effort is nonetheless a disconcerting sign that PRC cybersecurity tactics are moving up the stack from the technical to the social.
Why aren’t candidates talking about this issue more on the campaign trail? In 2016 I became so concerned about a presidential candidate asking Russia to invade U.S. computers to find “Hillary’s emails” that when Trump won the election, I left work that paid more than Congress to run for a seat on this issue and the associated need for broadband deploy in New York State’s Southern Tier. I was not alone. Abigail Spanberger and Eilsa Slotkin both came from the intelligence community, ran for Congress in 2018 on these kind of policy positions, and sit in Congress today. Running in a very red district, I was not so fortunate, but I cannot help but notice how little any of the Congressional candidates I follow now have followed up on this theme. Both of them are fighting for their congressional lives at the moment and not a word about national security has crossed their lips.
Inflation is a real issue and affects 99 percent of the U.S. population every day in a meaningful way. But Republicans are using it to bolster their demonization of Democrats and make it seem as if inflation were singularly President Biden’s fault and responsibility. Democrats persistently do not signal what they have done or will do about this matter effectively to the electorate, giving Republicans once again the advantage. Same with crime, and the false reports that bail reform lets “murders and rapists” out of jail. Never mind that Republicans were traditionally the party that hoisted the free market ideology into a religious principle. Nothing is about accuracy these days, only influence plays. We are all aware of that tiresome story.
But national security still concerns me. It is nowhere in this election’s rhetoric. Reports about the PRC’s efforts suggest that they have not been very successful, but just give them a chance and they will master it. Russia is back in the game, bigtime. Cybersecurity firms such as Mandiant are on the watch, but not the federal government, by the way, a very sad comment, to say the least. Meanwhile, over the weekend, Musk fired almost the entire content moderation staff at Twitter. (Since May, my advice has been to get off Twitter as a protest.) Microsoft reports that nation-state attacks are up 40 percent.
National security should always be front and center of every election, no matter what else is on the docket. Nation-state attacks and election interference undermines the United States as a military, political, and cultural powerhouse globally. Few put the pieces together to get the point, however. At this stage of the election cycle, Republicans have all but lost the rectitude to make that case. It is now up to Democrats. In addition to getting on top of the issues that Republicans make hay with – inflation and crime – Democrats should be educating the public about the straight line that runs from a fake profile on Facebook to the ability of the United States to protect itself … before it is seriously too late.