Senators propose 9/11-style commission on Russian interference

Senators propose 9/11-style commission on Russian interference
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators is moving to create a 9/11-style commission to examine the cyberattacks that took place during the 2016 presidential election campaign. 

Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Senators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff CNN to air sexual harassment Town Hall featuring Gretchen Carlson, Anita Hill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCNN to air sexual harassment Town Hall featuring Gretchen Carlson, Anita Hill Trump wrestles with handling American enemy combatants Flake: Trump's call for DOJ to probe Democrats 'not normal' MORE (R-S.C.) announced legislation on Friday to establish the National Commission on Cybersecurity of U.S. Election Systems to study the election-related cyberattacks — which the intelligence community has attributed to Russia — and make recommendations on how to guard against such activity going forward. 

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The commission would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission tasked with investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. 

There have previously been calls from lawmakers, mostly Democrats, for a 9/11-style commission to examine Russia’s interference campaign.

Multiple congressional committees are currently investigating Russia's activities. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller is spearheading a federal probe into the matter, which includes reviewing whether there was coordination between President’s Trump campaign and Moscow. 

According to the intelligence community, Russia directed cyberattacks against high-level Democratic officials and also targeted election-related systems in some U.S. states ahead of the election. In June, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials testified that election systems in as many as 21 states were targeted by Moscow; none of the machines were involved in vote tallying.

The commission called for by Gillibrand and Graham would document “any harm or attempted harm” related to U.S. election systems leading up to the 2016 vote; review foreign cyber interference in other countries; account for emerging threats and unmitigated vulnerabilities related to election systems; and identify steps to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities in election systems. 

The commission would be required to report on its findings to federal, state and local governments. The panel would be comprised of experts selected by state election authorities and congressional leaders. 

Both Gillibrand and Graham said the commission is urgently needed to prevent foreign threats in the 2018 midterm elections.

“We need a public accounting of how [the Russians] were able to do it so effectively, and how we can protect our country when Russia or any other nation tries to attack us again,” Gillibrand said. “The clock is ticking before our next election, and these questions are urgent.”

Graham said the issue goes “beyond partisan politics” and “strikes at the heart” of American democracy.

“We must take steps to ensure that we protect the integrity of our elections from hostile, outside and foreign influences,” he said.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) at the beginning of this year, and has accumulated support from all House Democrats and two Republicans.