HIllary Clinton's Former Campaign Manager Calling For More Cybersecurity
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
U.S. officials are warning if Russia did it once, it will do it again. During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee were the targets of aggressive cyberattacks from Russia. And with the 2018 midterms just months away, U.S. intelligence officials say there's no reason Russia will not try to hack campaigns again.
So the question now is, are political campaigns better prepared this time? Joining us to talk about that is Robby Mook. He's Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager. He co-founded Defending Digital Democracy. It's a bipartisan cybersecurity project at Harvard University. Thank you very much for joining us.
ROBBY MOOK: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So you founded this cybersecurity project at Harvard after being on the front lines of a campaign that got hit quite hard in 2016. What mistakes did the Clinton campaign make that left it more vulnerable to hacking?
MOOK: Well, I think we were all unprepared as a country. There's a lot more that our campaign could've done and the Democratic National Committee could've done to secure our systems. I think there's a lot more that could've been done in the national security space and on social media platforms.
CHANG: I mean, do you think campaigns learned a lesson? Do you get the sense that there's a lot of desire to get these things done that you're suggesting need to be done this time around?
MOOK: I think a lot of people have gotten the message, but there are some significant structural barriers that campaigns face in trying to better secure themselves.
CHANG: Like what?
MOOK: Well, the first is that campaign people are not, by and large, cybersecurity experts. This is not something that we're trained on. It's not something that we're necessarily interested in organically. And I'm honestly sympathetic with that, having been a campaign manager myself. But now having been a campaign manager who had to face an attack like this after it had happened, I think every campaign manager, every campaign staffer has to take responsibility for better protecting their campaign.
And the good news is it doesn't need to cost a lot of money, and it doesn't always need to take a lot of time. There are some very simple steps that campaigns can take to make themselves much more secure - make it a lot harder for the bad guys to get in.
CHANG: If there are some weak links - that is, if there are some campaigns that are just so under-resourced or just not aware enough to address the possibility of cyberattacks, how might that threaten the larger democratic process?
MOOK: I'm really worried for a few reasons. What hacking and other cyber-interventions can do is get the media and the electorate focused on that theft and on the scandal...
MOOK: ...Rather than on what the candidates are saying they want to do. That's really scary. And the second thing I worry about is that legislators, when they're elected, may face important issues like whether to put more sanctions on Russia, what to do about North Korea, what to do about Iran. And if that legislator votes contrary to that nation-state's interest, this could literally be used as a way to retaliate against American foreign policy.
CHANG: You're a longtime Democratic operative. So much of the talk about cyberattacks has focused on Russia, but is the risk of cyberattacks the same in severity for the other side - for Republicans?
MOOK: Both sides are absolutely at risk, and that's why it's so important that both sides confront this issue together - because the adversaries want us to fight with each other. They want us to be distracted, and they want to control the narrative. If we collaborate to stop this problem, we can get back to Americans deciding and controlling our elections.
CHANG: Robby Mook is the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. He's now with Defending Digital Democracy at Harvard. Thank you very much for joining us.
MOOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.