Senator hopes to draw red line discouraging election cyberattacks

On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., suggested that the United States formally declare it will respond in cyberspace to foreign interference in American elections.
Sen. Mark Warner at FedTalks in June 2013. (FedScoop)

A prominent lawmaker wants to draw a line in the sand to discourage hackers from targeting U.S. election systems.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., proposed Monday that the United States formally declare it will respond in cyberspace to any foreign interference in American elections.

Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, offered the proposal as an amendment to the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy bill. Warner’s amendment would direct the government to alter its cyberspace doctrine to respond accordingly if a foreign adversary launches cyberattacks “or other malicious cyber activities” to undermine U.S. elections.

The NDAA, which the Senate is considering this week, is already a significant departure from former versions. For the first time, it offers clear marching orders to the newly elevated U.S. Cyber Command.


The bill also directs U.S. cyber-forces to go on the attack in response to cyber-incidents that inflict casualties, undermine democratic society, damage critical infrastructure or affect armed forces.

Warner’s proposal adds elections to the list of events that would provoke retaliatory cyber-measures from the United States. Specifically, the proposed language stipulates a U.S. cyber response to attacks that “affect the integrity or outcome of United States elections at any level, including at the federal, state, and local levels.”

“What this amendment does is specify that election interference would require a U.S. cyber response,” said spokesperson Rachel Cohen. “It’s not prescriptive for what kind of response that would be.”

The sophisticated effort by Russia during the 2016 presidential election “made clear just how unprepared we are as a nation to address cyber threats posed by foreign adversaries,” Warner said in a statement.

The suggested amendment comes after warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that Russia will target U.S. elections again in 2018. In February, for example, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “there should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”


Warner also proposed amendments that would streamline the security clearance process and provide tax relief to federal workers relocating for work.

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