Editor’s Note: Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst, served on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama’s administration from 2009 to 2013. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Many anniversaries are cause for celebration.
But last week’s one-year anniversary of the director of national intelligence publishing its report detailing Russia’s attack on our country is one that conjures up feelings of dismay rather than goodwill.
Twelve months after the DNI shared its assessment that it was highly confident of Russian malfeasance, US national security is worse off than it was a year ago. America is at greater risk of additional attacks, it is more exposed, and it is less willing to put up a fight.
On January 5, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump and the American people more broadly could have claimed ignorance about Russia’s intentions and capabilities. But on January 6, 2017, the DNI published a full assessment of Russia’s interference in the US election. The report – compiled with input from members of the intelligence community – shared the unanimous assessment that Vladimir Putin directed an “influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US election.”
The report noted, importantly, that this was just the “most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US led liberal democratic order.”
So, Russia has attacked us for decades and upped the ante in the run-up to the 2016 election – the report made these points crystal clear.
A year later, the only person playing dumb and feigning astonishment is Vladimir Putin – and that’s by design. No one really has any doubts about what Russia did. After the report was published, additional analysis by the US intelligence community, statements by foreign leaders, and independent research all corroborated the DNI’s report.
On the heels of Putin’s not so subtle attempts to cover up his attack, only President Trump said that he believed Putin’s denials, which is another win for Russia – the commander in chief of the United States “believing” a career KGB officer with a proven history of trying to degrade US power vs. the unanimous assessment of the US intel community.
No one can claim ignorance about what happened during the election or about Russia’s ongoing weaponization of information to sow discord in the United States and to undermine our democracy. Ignorance was never bliss, but knowledge has not brought positive outcomes. We know what happened, what is happening, and we’re no better off.
Evidence that the DNI’s analysis was accurate abounds. Yes, Russia ran a multifaceted campaign to influence the election. Yes, Russia sought to hack US election systems and yes Russia sought to disguise its efforts (bots and trolls anyone?). So we know what happened, we know the conclusions in the DNI report were accurate, but we’ve done almost nothing about it.
While ringing in this anniversary, we creep ever closer to the 2018 elections. Senior officials have warned that Russia will try to attack us again.
From Former Vice President Joe Biden to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to ex-FBI Director James Comey, no one thinks the 2016 election attack was an isolated incident, and experts agree that it may be too easily replicated.
Our voting infrastructure remains vulnerable at various touch points, and our efforts to counter Russian information warfare don’t stack up in any way for a fair fight.
Even worse, we’ve done almost nothing to deter another Russian attack. President Trump called Russia a rival power in his national security strategy, but he’s done little to send a clear message to Putin that his direct attacks on the United States – and the instruments and institutions of our democracy – have consequences.
Get our free weekly newsletter
As the clock ticks toward the midterm elections, we’ve had a President who has appeased Putin, wavered on implementing sanctions against Russia to hold them accountable for their attack, thanked Putin for kicking out US diplomats, and generally sent a message that the door is wide open for Putin to take aim and fire, again.
Anniversaries can be an opportunity to look back, think about the good times and the bad, and how to learn from our mistakes.
A year since the DNI shared its assessment of Russian election interference, we’ve definitely had more bad times than good, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But the biggest mistake would be repeating this story in January 2018. Let’s get it together and finally digest what the DNI said, act on it, and protect ourselves. Our democracy depends on it.