Senator Ben Cardin Releases Report Detailing Two Decades of Putin’s Attacks on Democracy, Calling for Policy Changes to Counter Kremlin Threat Ahead of 2018, 2020 Elections
U.S. Remains Vulnerable to Russian Interference without Unequivocal Presidential Leadership, Learning Lessons from European Democracies
Top Foreign Relations Committee Democrat Makes Series of Recommendations to Counter Putin’s Asymmetric Arsenal, Bolster Defenses Ahead of Future U.S., European, Elections
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report released Wednesday and commissioned by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Committee’s ranking member, details Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country. The report comes one year after Senator Cardin introduced the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, which served as the basis for the sanctions package signed into law last August, and makes a series of recommendations to adequately bolster U.S. and European defenses and counter the growing Kremlin threat to democratic institutions.
“Putin’s Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security,” finds that President Trump’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the threat posed by the Russian government has hampered efforts to mobilize our government, strengthen our institutions, and work with our European allies to counter Putin’s interference in democracies abroad.
Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president, and without a strong U.S. response, institutions and elections here and throughout Europe will remain vulnerable to the Kremlin’s aggressive and sophisticated malign influence operations.
“As the extent of Russia’s obvious meddling in the 2016 U.S. election continues to be investigated, it is imperative that the American people better understand the true scope and scale of Putin’s pattern of undermining democracy in Russia and across Europe. That is why I commissioned this report shortly after the 2016 election,” Senator Cardin said. “This threat existed long before President Trump took office, and unless he takes action now, it will continue long after his administration. While President Trump stands practically idle, Mr. Putin continues to refine his asymmetric arsenal and look for future opportunities to disrupt governance and erode support for the democratic and international institutions that the United States and Europe have built over the last 70 years.
“President Trump must be clear-eyed about the Russian threat, take action to strengthen our government’s response and our institutions, and—as have other president’s in times of crisis—mobilize our country and work with an international coalition to counter the threat and assert our values,” Cardin continued.
Across eight chapters and several appendices, the report meticulously details the tools the Russian government has repeatedly deployed from its asymmetric arsenal, and how the Kremlin has learned and perfected its techniques attacking democracy both internally and abroad. Such tools—drawn largely from a Soviet-era playbook, but updated with new technologies—include military incursions, cyberattacks, disinformation, support for fringe political groups, and the weaponization of energy resources, organized crime and corruption.
Putin first developed his techniques at home, against his own people. In Russia, he repressed independent civil society, journalists, and the political opposition, while manipulating cultural and religious institutions, the media, and fueling a corrupt kleptocracy to bolster his regime and increase his net worth. Putin’s increasing aggression abroad is directly related to his need to maintain power at home. As he looks to maintain power in Russia, he is likely to step up his attacks on democracies around the world.
Some European countries have shored up their democracies with a strategic, whole-of-government approach: publicly warning Moscow of consequences if it meddles; mobilizing various sectors of society to neutralize and push back against Kremlin disinformation; and confronting Russian efforts to use corruption as a tool of influence. It is time for the United States to take similar actions.
The report includes more than 30 recommendations for the U.S. and its allies. Key recommendations include:
• First, Mr. Trump must demonstrate presidential leadership by declaring it is U.S. policy to deter all forms of Russian hybrid threats and begin to mobilize our government in defense. He should establish a high-level inter-agency fusion cell, modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), to coordinate all elements of U.S. policy and programming in response to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations.
• Second, the U.S. government should provide assistance, in concert with allies in Europe, to build democratic institutions within those European and Eurasian states most vulnerable to Russian government interference. As part of this effort, the President should convene an annual global summit on hybrid threats, modeled on the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL or the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) summits. To reinforce these efforts, members in the U.S. Congress have a clear responsibility to show U.S. leadership on values by making democracy and human rights a central part of their agendas. They should conduct committee hearings and use other platforms and opportunities to publicly advance these issues.
• Third, the United States and our allies should expose and freeze Kremlin-linked dirty money. The U.S. Treasury Department should make public any intelligence related to Mr. Putin’s personal corruption and wealth stored abroad, and take steps with our European allies to cut off Mr. Putin and his inner circle from the international financial system.
• Fourth, the U.S. government should designate countries that employ malign influence operations to assault democracies as State Hybrid Threat Actors and subject them to a preemptive, escalatory sanctions regime that would be applied whenever the state uses asymmetric weapons like cyberattacks to interfere with a democratic election or disrupt a country’s critical infrastructure. The U.S. government should also produce yearly public reports that detail the Russian government’s malign influence operations in the U.S. and around the world.
• Fifth, the U.S. government and NATO should lead a coalition of countries committed to mutual defense against cyberattacks, to include the establishment of rapid reaction teams to defend allies under attack. The U.S. government should also call a special meeting of the NATO heads of state to review the extent of Russian government-sponsored cyberattacks among member states and develop formal guidelines on how the Alliance will consider such attacks in the context of NATO’s Article 5 collective defense provision.
• Finally, U.S. and European governments should mandate that social media companies make public the sources of funding for political advertisements, along the same lines as TV channels and print media. Social media companies should conduct comprehensive audits on how their platforms may have been used by Kremlin-linked entities to influence elections occurring over the past several years, and should establish civil society advisory councils to provide input and warnings about emerging disinformation trends and government suppression. In addition, they should work with philanthropies, governments, and civil society to promote media literacy and reduce the presence of disinformation on their platforms.
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Will Congress Keep Its Promise to the Dreamers?
“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for me was a way of coming up for air after having been underwater all my life in a sea of uncertainty. I was able to catch my breath, but I was not yet on a boat back to land. DACA allowed me to work legally, have a Social Security number, open a bank account, and have something as simple as a state ID. Most importantly, DACA provided me with a license to dream.”
—Ms. Guzman, a Dreamer writing semi-anonymously in Fortune Magazine.
While the debate rages daily on op-ed pages and on cable news, the nation won’t know until next month whether a Congressional deal to protect Dreamers will be successful. What we know right now is that protecting Dreamers is the right thing to do.
The Senate deal to keep the government funded through February 8 includes a commitment to vote on a solution that would address the status of young people brought to the United States by their parents when they were children. The Trump Administration in September announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that protected them from deportation and allowed them to attend school and work.
About 90 percent of Americans believe that those covered under DACA—commonly known as “Dreamers”—should be permitted to remain in the United States - the country that is their home, the only they’ve ever known. Of those who are committed to legal status for Dreamers, many have criticized the Senate deal because they do not believe Senate leadership can be trusted to maintain commitment to a vote. On the other side are those who believe the bargain—which also included a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), ultimately will end with the result all players have declared they want: legal status—and eventual citizenship—for Dreamers.
President Trump reiterated his support for Dreamers this week, saying he wants them to be able to become citizens. House Speaker Paul Ryan made a highly-publicized promise to a young Dreamer at a nationally-televised town hall that he did not want to see her deported and wanted to help her “get right with the law.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also has said he has sympathy for the Dreamers.
To the extent the general hostility of some Americans toward immigrants is based on wildly inaccurate stereotypes, no group could go further in exploding those false impressions than the Dreamers. Their employment rate exceeds that of the native-born population, with more than 90% of them working. About 65,000 graduate from high school each year, and 10,000 graduate from college. They pay $2 billion in state and local taxes, and are ineligible for safety net program benefits and most government subsidies. About 900 are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
If the Dreamers are deported, the United States will lose more than $280 billion in economic contribution. Plus, the deportations would cost more than $60 billion additional tax dollars.
The United States is at a crossroads. Deportation of Dreamers would be a shameful stain on our history, diminishing our standing in the international community. Allowing them to remain in limbo, living with the looming disaster of job loss, discharge from the military or expulsion from school, is cruel, and not in keeping with American values.
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“You promised.” Children learn the value and power of those words very early on as they begin to develop a sense of morality and trust. A preschooler will show deep outrage when an adult promise isn’t kept. The Continuing Resolution that ended the government shutdown relied on a series of uncertain promises about meeting children’s needs and ensuring their futures. Congress did keep one very critical promise by finally passing a long overdue extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), giving new hope to families after 114 days of partisan politicking with the lives and health of the 8.9 million children who benefit from CHIP’s high-quality, child-appropriate affordable health coverage. This will help ensure stability for CHIP, and parents of children who are sick or suffering from disabilities who rely on this crucial program can now breathe a sigh of relief. However, Congress should continue to do the right thing for children and extend CHIP for an additional four years, which according to the Congressional Budget Office would help children while saving $6 billion—an amount that could be used to fund other children’s priorities. In the meantime millions of other children are still waiting on Congress’s promises.
At the front of the line are the nearly 800,000 Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to this country by their parents as children and granted protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) which President Trump has set to end on March 5th. Enormous pressures from Congress’s failure to act on DACA continue to grow. These young people, who in some cases now have their own children, have passed background checks, gone to school, met other requirements and contribute to their communities every day through work, study, and service but continue to be threatened with deportation and a return to countries they don’t know at all. One young man who came to America at age five and didn’t learn he was undocumented until he was 14 and tried to apply for a work permit says, “It was very hard dealing with that because I always saw myself to be an American … It killed me inside.” He excelled in school and wants to become a lawyer or politician to help others and when DACA passed it was a dream come true. “I felt hap … I felt like I was finally being accepted.” Now, without a work permit and DACA’s other protections, his entire bright future would be dimmed in an instant: “For me personally, my voice would be taken away. My dreams would be shattered.” The DACA protections must be preserved and extended to others along with a path to citizenship and without other provisions harmful to immigrants. Each day Congress fails to act an average of 122 additional DACA recipients lose protections and starting March 5th 1,000 Dreamers will lose protection every day.
Young children and their families who benefit from the Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) and Community Health Center Program also are still waiting for Congress to extend funding for their critical services. Pregnant women and children under five benefit from MIECHV in every state and territory as the program helps improve maternal and newborn health, school readiness, and family economic self-sufficiency and helps reduce child abuse and neglect, crime, and domestic violence. One in 10 children use Community Health Centers (CHCs) for care and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has projected that loss of funding for CHCs would result in closing 2,800 health centers, eliminating more than 50,000 jobs, and more than 9 million patients losing access to care. This would even threaten the good news of stabilizing CHIP. For example, the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association, which oversees community health centers that serve nearly 300,000 Mississippians, reports one in every 14 children who receive CHIP in Mississippi gets their care in one of Mississippi’s CHCs. By continuing funding for CHIP, but not for the Community Health Center Fund, parents have CHIP for their children but if CHCs close they will no longer have access to the exams, eyeglasses, pediatric dental services and other care their children need. Many centers already have a hiring freeze due to anticipated funding shortages, a large setback for Mississippi, which already ranks #1 nationally in physician shortages.
Congress also has not yet committed to long-term funding needs for addressing the opioid crisis and other critical measures affecting child and family health. And children in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands still suffering from the horrific effects of devastating hurricanes are desperately waiting for more emergency funding, especially in the many homes and communities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands still without electricity or water. As always, such omissions in funding are not a question of resources but priorities and common decency of some of our Members of Congress. Congress managed to make room in the Continuing Resolution that passed earlier this week to delay a trio of health-related taxes without finding a way to pay for them, benefitting wealthy corporations and individuals at a cost to the Treasury of about $31 billion over the next few years. But it failed to make other crucial cost-effective health and life saving investments in children and young adults. We must insist on different Congressional priorities.
While many of these children’s priorities remain on the Congressional agenda, opportunities for timely action are limited. Children’s futures and well-being will remain at risk until definitive action is taken. Legislative leaders made a series of promises to end the government shutdown and fund the government through February 8th and the clock is ticking. Millions of children and young adults are depending on adults who will stand up and raise a ruckus for them and remind Members of Congress and the President over and over again: you promised.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
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