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Sen. King: 2018 elections are ‘vulnerable’ and U.S. is failing to deter our adversaries

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, says King joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the ongoing Russia investigation, failures by Facebook to regulate the use of its own data, President Trump’s congratulatory call to Russian President Vladimir Putin and securing state election systems.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on President Trump's controversial phone call with the Russian president and Mark Zuckerberg's response to the Facebook security breach, we turn to a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Senator King, I want to get to some of the election security stuff that you guys talked about today, but first a couple of questions.

    One, the friendly phone call with Vladimir Putin, the president's tweeted out today that President Bush didn't have the smarts, Obama and Clinton didn't have the energy or chemistry.

    Several of your fellow senators have been pretty harsh. Senator Grassley said, this is a criminal that he wouldn't have a conversation with.

    And the president, in that conversation, didn't bring up the recent sanctions, the election hacking, the poisoning in the U.K.

    Your thoughts?

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Well, I think the call was unfortunate, given the nature of Vladimir Putin's victory. Everybody knows it was a setup.

    I remember seeing a story two weeks ago, Putin will be on the ballot at the end of March. Spoiler Alert: He will win.

    I mean, it wasn't much of an election. I grew up reading about elections in the Soviet Union where it was 99 percent. Well, he only got 76 percent. But I don't think it was a necessary call.

    I understand the president wanting to try to compartmentalize and work with Russia where we can on places like Syria or North Korea. If there are places where we can maintain a relationship, that's a good thing.

    But to not raise these issues and to say, I take him at his word, look, the information is absolutely overwhelming. There is no question whatsoever that the Russians intervened in a big way in our election in 2016. We just had a hearing on that today, and I'm sure we will get to that in a couple of minutes.

    They have attacked our country. And to be congratulating their president and not at least alluding to some of these things, and not to mention murdering somebody on British soil, it does strike me as a little — I don't know what to call it, shortsighted, I guess.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Let's also talk a little bit about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica story.

    How do the revelations of the past few days factor into your ongoing investigations about Russia and the elections?

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Well, I think the first thing, the first factor is, I want to have Mark Zuckerberg come and talk to our committee.

    We had a hearing a few months ago with officials from Facebook and Google and Twitter, but it was all — they sent their lawyers. They didn't send the decision-makers. And I think Mark Zuckerberg owes it to his customers, to his hundreds of millions of people around the world — I think it's actually in the billions at this point — to come forward and talk frankly.

    He's going to do a TV interview, I guess, today or in the next couple of days, but I would like him to see — I believe he ought to come before our committee and talk to us about the role that his platform played in the 2016 election and how it was hijacked to use in nefarious ways.

    And now we're learning more and more about how Cambridge Analytica did it. They got 50 million users' data. They then targeted the data in certain ways. I think there are some very serious questions to be answered about this.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Knowing what you know now, over the past two years, about how powerful these platforms have become, is it time for Congress to take a more active role in trying to figure out how to protect, A, the information that you and I share on Facebook for ourselves, and then also, B, to keep it from being corrupted and used against us in an election or anything else?

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Well, the operative word you used was Congress take a role. I'm very nervous about that. We have the First Amendment. We have a free speech. We have an open society. We have an open Internet.

    And that's one of the values of our society. That's one of the good things about it.

    But I think it has to start with these companies themselves understanding the power of their platform and understanding that they have some responsibility, just like a newspaper does, just like you do, just like a television network does, to sort of self-regulate, if you will.

    I'm very reluctant about government regulation of the Internet. I think, on balance, that will be a bad thing. So I'm not want — I don't want to go there, but I want to talk to them about how they can — what they can do technically to help people understand what the information is that they're getting and where it's coming from.

    For example…

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yes.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    … when a newspaper publishes a story, there's a dateline. It says Washington or New York or Los Angeles.

    I think, on Facebook, it ought to say, if it's coming from Moscow, it ought to say Moscow or St. Petersburg, so people can know the origin of the data. And I know it's questionable technically, but I think those smart people in Facebook could figure that out.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Senator King, unlike a newspaper, they don't have to subscribe to the same sorts of libel laws. They say repeatedly that they're not a media company. So they evade any of the regulation that existing media companies have to face.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Well, and I'm not saying they should be totally free of regulation, but I am suspicious, I'm very reluctant about government regulation of something that has been so revolutionary and has opened up the world to so many people and opened up information and sources of information.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yes.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    But I think it's a conversation that we have to have.

    Frankly, this is new territory. And I think, you know, Facebook was thinking of itself as something running out of a dorm room at Harvard. And now it's a major worldwide corporation, and Mark Zuckerberg has to be thinking about how this platform can regulate itself.

    And, you know, a last resort is, we may have to put some guardrails in, but, you know, that's the last place I want to go.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Let's talk a little bit about the hearings that you had today. One of the things — one of the recommendations that you had was that the states are the primary arbiters of elections and keeping them in the driver's seat.

    How do you balance this sort of push and pull between states' rights and the federal government's rights, when you know that only about 19 of those states have come forward for voluntary kind of cyber-hack defensive lessons and training that they can take?

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Well, that's a really good question. And that's the balance we're trying to strike.

    But the thrust of today's hearing is, we don't want to federalize elections. They are state and local responsibilities. The role of the federal government, I think, is twofold, one, to provide best practices, to be a clearinghouse, and to be a technical backup for the states in order to help them set up their systems in such a way that they're not going to be hackable, if you will.

    And, by the way, I read the classified report yesterday. Hopefully, we will be able to declassify it and release it in the next couple of weeks.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yes.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    It's terrifying. What the Russians did was very systematic, very comprehensive, and they are going to be back. So, that's an important point.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You don't have to share the classified information, but what level of confidence do you have that we're safe in the 2018 elections?

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    I think — I don't have a high level of confidence. I think we're vulnerable.

    And I think — unfortunately, I think many of the states — and I'm going to get hate mail from the secretaries of states, but I think a lot of the states have more confidence than they ought to, given the sophistication of our adversaries.

    And that's why I think — but here's the second part of it, Hari. Here's where I think the federal government has an incredibly important role to play that it's not playing. And that is, we have to signal to our adversaries that we're not a cheap date, that, if you come at us, we're going to come at you.

    And, right now, that's not the case. We have had hearing after hearing where the cyber people have said, we don't have any responsive doctrine or strategy that would make our adversaries change their calculus.

    They have got to understand that if they strike us in this kind of way, there will be consequences. I may not be cyber. It may be something else, but it's got to be serious and meaningful and immediate.

    And that's, I think, the great failing of national policy right now, is, there is no deterrence. And if we don't get on that, they're just going to keep coming at us. And there aren't enough patches in the world to defend us.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Senator Angus King of Maine, thank you very much for your time.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine:

    Yes, sir.

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