Last Friday’s massive online attack that caused widespread internet outages for companies such as Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times, made Garry Kasparov angry. Although investigators haven’t said publicly who they think instigated the attack, Kasparov, the former Soviet chess champion and critic of Vladimir Putin, believes the Russians may be behind the latest sophisticated cyber assault.
“This was just a general rehearsal for Election Day,” he warned in an interview with PutinTrump.org. “They want to see what they can do to cause panic and confusion around vote counting on Election Day.”
Kasparov said that an attack of this scale requires a giant state actor with the necessary resources behind it to carry off such an assault on the internet’s infrastructure. That state actor, he believes, is Russia.
More ominously, Kasparov believes there is at least a “50-50 chance” that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump knows in advance about a coming Russian online assault on Election Day. Although he doesn’t have proof, Kasparov believes that is why Trump made his remarkable statement during the third presidential debate: that he won’t commit to accepting the results of the election if he believes it was rigged against him. His refusal to accept the results could sew confusion on Election Night and cast doubt on the integrity of American democracy, which is precisely what Kasparov says the Russians want to do.
As technology site Slash Gear and others have reported, “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are apparently both investigating, in fact, though no official indication has been given as to potential actors. Neither organization has made a statement on the investigation yet.”
Kasparov is troubled by Trump’s consistent support for Putin. Trump has never backed away from his favorable statements about Putin, despite the urging of many Republican office holders. Nor has Trump ever acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials have said the Russians are behind the email hacking of the Democrats, with the resulting stolen emails later released in a steady stream by WikiLeaks.
Kasparov says he follows Russian news carefully, and so far, “Trump has faithfully followed Putin’s propaganda line.” For example, Trump’s disparaging comments about a rigged U.S. election offers Putin a “golden opportunity to spread rumors and confusion about the American election,” Kasparov says – and a besmirched American democracy in the eyes of the world would be a Russian success.
Kasparov speculates that Trump’s questioning the election might be part of a plan where the Russians are able to hack the results and otherwise disrupt Election Day vote-counting in many states – giving Trump the excuse he needs to refuse to accept the results of the voting. Even an attack on the American electrical grid with widespread power outages would result in the potential for confusion and doubt about voting and vote counting, Kasparov says, giving Trump a reason to assert the election results are not valid. And if Trump does not concede, against the tradition of all previous losing presidential candidates, Trump could make the winner look less legitimate and himself seemingly a victim of a stolen election.
As security expert Ryan Duff said in Newsweek last week, it doesn’t take much of a hack to sow doubt: “You only need to mess it up a little bit, and as soon as people don’t have faith in it, the whole system can start to crumble,” said Duff, a former U.S. Air Force tactician now working in the private sector. “You don’t even need to sway it one way. You just have to make people think it could happen.”
Kasparov points to recent Kremlin practice of interfering in European political life by supporting ultra-nationalists and radical left-wing groups around elections, and also buying favors from mainstream European politicians. A chance to discredit American democracy would be a big win for Putin, and last Friday’s online dress rehearsal shows what can be done.
Kasparov acknowledges he has no proof of the collusion between Putin and Trump for an Election Day disruption, but he says: “It is better to warn people now about what is about to happen, than to keep silent and be sorry later on November 9 that there was massive Election Day hacking. … This threat is too high to ignore.”
The third presidential debate featured the expected fireworks between the candidates – and Republican Donald Trump repeated his claim several times that “I don’t know Putin,” despite his previous statements bragging about a relationship with the Russian strongman.
But the most extraordinary moments came when moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pressed Trump for specific answers on two critical issues around national security and democracy: the interference of the Russian government in the U.S, presidential election and Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting this year’s election results.
Russian interference in the election:
Democrat Hillary Clinton said this question might be the most important one in the debate. She raised the issue first when Wallace read a quote from one of her speeches on border security – a quote that came from hacked Democratic National Committee emails that have been released by WikiLeaks. In the debate, Clinton used the opening to denounce interference by a foreign power in the presidential election: “What’s really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions.”
A heated exchange followed – which included Clinton claiming Trump would be Putin’s “puppet as president” and Trump firing back, “You’re the puppet!” But throughout, Trump again refused to acknowledge that U.S. government officials have accused the Russian government of orchestrating the hacking attacks – repeating a stance he made in the second debate. Trump on Wednesday night: “She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else. … And our country has no idea.”
Wallace, to his credit, set the record straight: “The top national security officials of this country do believe that Russia has been behind these hacks.” And he pressed the point with Trump: “Even if you don’t know for sure whether they are, do you condemn any interference by Russia in the American election?”
Trump still refused to say that Russia is behind the hacks – but he did say he would condemn interference “by Russia or anybody else.” And then for good measure, he repeated: “I don’t know Putin.”
Undermining American democracy:
With all of Trump’s talk over recent weeks claiming that the election is rigged, Wallace reminded the Republican that both his running mate Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka had said this week that Trump “will absolutely accept the result of this election.”
Wallace: “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely – sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.”
Wallace: “But, sir, there is a tradition in this country – in fact, one of the prides of this country – is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
Trump’s response was like a cliffhanger from one of his reality shows: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?” It was a remark that critics charge undermines American democracy.
After the debate, world chess champion and Putin critic Garry Kasparov tweeted: “Trump refusing to accept election results & his loyalty to Putin are the same plan to weaken US. He’s Putin’s stooge.”
Once again, Trump was given the opportunity to name Russia as interfering in the American election, and to criticize Putin, and he declined to do so. And he was given a chance to say that he fully supports U.S. democracy no matter who wins, and he failed to do so. At this late point in the 2016 campaign, both of these remarkable statements have to be considered deeply held positions taken by Trump in the face of the evidence against Russia and against the history of 44 peaceful presidential transitions throughout American history. By taking these stands, Trump is once again rejecting values held across the American political spectrum.
Republican Donald Trump admitted he has avoided paying taxes for many years, and he dismissed his horrific language about women caught on tape as simply “locker-room talk” during a more controlled performance in the second presidential debate Sunday night.
And when it came to the critical national-security issues that we are watching closely at PutinTrump.org, Trump developed a sudden case of amnesia about his oft-repeated praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as well as his own business dealings with Russian oligarchs. He also flatly denied the U.S. intelligence community’s charges that Russia is attempting to interfere with the U.S. election by cyber hacking – and even contradicted his running mate on the best approach to Russia in dealing with ISIS.
Here’s what Trump said in Sunday night’s debate and what the record actually shows in response:
Statement 1: “I don’t know Putin.”
Politifact called Trump on this back in August when he first started to distance himself from the Russian strongman. Here are some direct quotes from Trump over the past three years:
“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today.” (MSNBC, 2013)
“…I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.” (National Press Club address, 2014)
And of course Trump has repeated time and again that he believes Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Obama.
Statement 2: “I think it would be great if we got along with Putin so we could fight ISIS together.”
Last week, during the vice presidential debate, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence was singing a completely different tune on the threat Putin represents: “And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria.”
On Sunday night, when moderator Martha Raddatz reminded Trump of Pence’s strong words on Russia, Trump said: “He (Pence) and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”
Statement 3: “ … she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
In July, Trump explicitly invited Russia to hack into American systems to find emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s servers – and he hit the missing-email issue hard again in Sunday’s debate. His dare came amid questions around the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Also in July, Trump refused to call on Putin to stay out of the election, “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why would I tell him what to do? Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”
On Friday, the U.S. government officially accused Russia of hacking the campaign in order to influence the election. “The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” The DNC had previously reported that its investigation had pointed to Russian hackers.
And hacks into two state election systems have been tracked to servers in Siberia, confirmed by the owner of the servers.
Statement 4: “I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there.”
As pointed out last month on PutinTrump.org, there is an abundance of evidence of Trump’s business dealings with Russian investors and oligarchs. Slate has reported extensively about Trump’s relationships with Russian investors going back two decades. And even Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has bragged: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
A recent ABC News investigation suggests Trump’s business ties with Russia are vast, potentially in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Up next: As the campaign intensifies over its final four weeks, look for Trump to continue to be at odds with his running mate about the Russian threat, or try to forget or fudge his positions on Russia and his relationship with Putin. The final face-off between the presidential candidates will be Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas.
Even GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence has been at odds with Donald Trump on matters of national security – most notably over the importance of the NATO alliance to the United States, as well as the role of Russia in the hacking of American officials’ emails. And yet the Indiana governor is also on record defending Trump’s praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, even as Pence himself calls Putin a bully.
Tuesday night it will be Pence in the spotlight as he faces off with Democrat Tim Kaine in the lone vice presidential debate. Will Pence continue to defend Trump’s admiration for Putin? Will he contradict Trump on critical questions around cyber security? Here’s a quick recap of Pence’s take on these national security concerns since he joined the GOP ticket in July:
Trump has criticized the 28-nation-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization for months, telling The New York Times in July that he was “prepared to walk” away from treaties like NATO if other nations didn’t increase their payments. The day after that interview Pence outright contradicted Trump in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, declaring that if Trump were elected, “he would absolutely stand by our allies and treaty obligations.”
Perhaps Trump listened to his VP candidate? By the Sept. 26 presidential debate, Trump had flipped his position, saying he was “all for NATO.” NATO officials are skeptical, saying they can’t plan for Trump “because his position keeps shifting.”
What to watch for in Tuesday night’s debate: If the question of support for NATO comes up, expect Pence to attempt to reassure the world that Trump will uphold the alliance.
In July Trump literally invited Russia to hack American systems to search for 30,000 missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state. Trump’s invitation came as part of a discussion around the hack into the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which was likely instigated by the Russian government, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Pence, however, quickly condemned the cyberattack: “The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking. If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”
In the first presidential debate, Trump refused to acknowledge that Russia is the prime suspect in the DNC email attack.
The issue of cybersecurity gained new urgency last week when the Department of Homeland Security revealed that election systems in more than 20 states have been targeted by hackers. Previously, hacks into two state election systems had been linked to Russian hackers.
What to watch for Tuesday night: Pence has mostly steered clear of the DNC email hacking issue in recent weeks. If asked the question directly, expect him to stand by his previous statement condemning Russia interference in U.S. elections, which is still posted on the Trump campaign website.
Praise for Putin:
Trump has been remarkably consistent about his admiration for the Russian leader, but Pence has been struggling with this issue over the last month. At one moment he agrees with Trump, saying it’s “inarguable” that Putin is a stronger leader than President Obama. The next moment, he calls Putin “a small and bullying leader.”
What to watch for Tuesday night: Whatever Pence says about Putin, expect the Indiana governor to twist the question into a defense of Trump as a strong leader for the U.S. and to claim that Trump would be a president in the style of President Ronald Reagan – an argument he repeated in USA Today on Friday in a response to that editorial board’s scathing declaration that Trump is “unfit for the presidency.”
There is deep irony in Pence’s comparison, because Reagan was famously tough on Russia: As Hoover Institution fellow Michael McFaul puts it: “On foreign policy, there are almost no parallels whatsover. Aside from a pledge to increase military spending, Trump’s national security policies have nothing in common with Ronald Reagan’s.”
On debate night, putintrump.org will be watching the VP candidates and their responses on critical national security issues. Get the latest from us on Twitter and Facebook.
State-sponsored cyber-espionage infiltrating the U.S. election process. The integrity of America’s 70-year NATO alliance. These were the urgent national security concerns we expected would come up in the first Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential debate – and the candidates stayed true to form in their responses Monday night. The facts behind these two critical issues matter to American security.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was specific in her condemnation of foreign hacking by state actors such as Russia, and unequivocal in her support for the 28-nation-strong NATO alliance. Donald Trump tried to deflect responsibility for recent election-related cyber attacks away from Moscow, saying he doubted that Russia was behind them. He also repeated his assertion that NATO was “obsolete.”
Instead of addressing the concerns, Trump sought to dodge most of the specifics on both of these issues. Here is a recap of some of the critical national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.
Moderator Lester Holt raised this question about cyber security: “Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?”
In her response, Clinton pointed to President Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation: “The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee.”
She went on emphasize that the U.S. has the capacity to respond to cyber attacks: “And the Russians need to understand that. I think they’ve been treating it as almost a probing, how far would we go, how much would we do. And that’s why I was so — I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable.”
For his part, Trump steered clear of his often-repeated support for Vladimir Putin. Instead, he said it was not clear who was behind the latest cyber attacks. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
According toThe New York Times, United States intelligence officials disagree: This most recent round of attacks, they concluded with “high confidence,” indeed originated from Russia.
And, as The Washington Post reported, the cyber security firm Crowd Strike, which investigated the breach, also determined that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC – a fact, the Post points out, that Trump must surely know. “Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, is going against the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community and private researchers in asserting that it’s unclear who hacked the DNC, as well as other political organizations.”
When the debate turned to the 28-nation NATO alliance — what Clinton called the longest military alliance in the history of the world — Trump was initially critical: “…Many of them aren’t paying their fair share…we’re defending them, and they should at least be paying us what they’re supposed to be paying by treaty and contract.”
“Just to go down the list,” Trump said later, “we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune. That’s why we’re losing — we’re losing — we lose on everything…We’re a country that owes $20 trillion. They have to help us out.”
Trump went on to repeat something he said he feels strongly about: “NATO could be obsolete, because…they do not focus on terror…I’m all for NATO. But I said they have to focus on terror.”
According to the New York Times, Trump was correct in asserting that many NATO countries do not contribute their full share to NATO — a complaint that Mr. Obama and a former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, have also voiced. But he was wrong about NATO failing to fight terrorism. NATO was in Afghanistan starting in 2003 — part of the battle against Al Qaeda.
“We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people…Trump is wrong…The United States pays just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO’s spending. Trump is confusing the numbers. President Barack Obama has also urged other NATO member-states to up their defense spending.”
Clinton’s response was aimed at statements by Trump that have alarmed NATO members and other allies. Trump has suggested the U.S. might not respond, for example, if Russia pounced on the Baltic states that are members of NATO unless they were paying their fair share of the alliance.
‘NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5,” Clinton said Monday night, “and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.”
She returned to the point about honoring the NATO alliance later: “Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.”
National security issues are expected to be an even bigger focus in the next presidential debate scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 9, moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper.
“Securing America,” one of the scheduled topics in tonight’s presidential-candidate debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is also one of the top concerns for PutinTrump.org. We expect that either moderator Lester Holt or the candidates themselves will raise two key issues under this theme – and the responses will be worlds apart.
Here’s what we’re looking for, and the kinds of answers we are likely to hear:
1) Emails, cyber crime and the election. While we expect that questions around Clinton’s emails and servers during her time as Secretary of State will be raised in the debate, the security questions around her emails have already been vetted by Congress and the FBI, and no charges were filed. A far more serious risk should be discussed tonight: the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system, as well as electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois.
The FBI is just beginning to investigate the Russian hacking and subsequent leaks of stolen emails from the DNC and officials such as former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell. It is believed that this unprecedented Russian interference into the U.S election is on behalf of Trump. The FBI has high confidence that Russia is behind the stolen emails.
Trump has explicitly welcomed hacking by a foreign state. According to the New York Times, Trump said “he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state.” Trump has suggested that additional hacked email revelations will emerge before the Nov. 8 election.
During the debate, Trump will either repeat his pro-hacking statements or try to deny what he said and distance himself from his previous often-repeated statements in praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and inviting more hacking. In that case, he makes a clear flip-flop on his position. No matter his response, Trump’s position on Russian interference in the U.S. election, as well as his flattery of Putin, raise critical national security questions, and moderator Holt should hold Trump to account.
For Clinton’s part, she has called Russian interference in U.S. elections “a threat from an adversarial foreign power.” Expect her to stay firm to this position in the debate: Cyber espionage and Russian hacking has no place in the U.S. election and should be appalling for all citizens.
“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the alliance between the United States and 27 other countries, including the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Article 5 of its charter explicitly states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all. You have praised President Vladimir V. Putin, vowing to fashion better relations with Russia. But if, as he did in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin intervened militarily in one of the Baltic States, would you favor invoking NATO’s Article 5 and sending forces to counter Russia?”
Trump has implied that he might not honor the long-standing U.S. commitment to NATO members. And he has said his response to a possible Baltic invasion by Russia won’t be an automatic “we’ll protect you.” Instead, Trump’s actions would depend on whether or not the NATO member is current on its defense spending commitments. Such an approach would cripple speedy action by the NATO alliance, much to the delight of Putin.
Trump will either have to backtrack, and finally support NATO – a clear flip-flop – or stick with his position along lines that favor Putin and Russia’s national interests.
Clinton has consistently said the U.S. should honor its commitment to NATO members. NATO came to the aid of the United States after 9/11, after all. Such a clear posture of deterrence has largely kept the peace in Europe and the alliance strong for nearly 70 years.
Tonight, look for Trump is likely to resort to outright denials of his previous statements or to flip his positions entirely. Either way, where does Trump really stand on the issues that most impact U.S. security? What would he actually do in office? In terms of the most important questions around “Securing America,” voters can’t trust anything he says.