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Shaheen Discusses Russian Influence on Recent and Upcoming Elections at Dartmouth

  • U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., speaks about Russian interference in American politics and cybersecurity at Dartmouth College's Alumni Hall in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 20, 2018. Shaheen visited Dartmouth on Tuesday to warn about the danger Russia's online influence campaign still poses to the United States. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., left, listens to Dartmouth Professor David Kotz speak during a discussion about Russian interference in American politics and cybersecurity at Dartmouth College's Alumni Hall in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 20, 2018. Shaheen visited Dartmouth on Tuesday to warn about the danger Russia's online influence campaign still poses to the United States. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John Raby, of New London, N.H., speaks to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., not pictured, about his concerns regarding the flaws of nuclear warning signs during a discussion about Russian interference in American politics and cybersecurity at Dartmouth College's Alumni Hall in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 20, 2018. Raby was a freshman at Stanford University during the Cuban missile crisis and has been sensitive about the issue of nuclear warning signs ever since. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2018 1:20:36 PM
Modified: 2/21/2018 12:13:07 AM

Hanover — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., visited Dartmouth College on Tuesday to warn about the danger Russia’s online influence campaign still poses to the United States.

In an hourlong event at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Shaheen outlined how Russian operatives have continued to spread propaganda and sow division in American politics, redoubling their efforts after their widely publicized intervention in the 2016 elections.

Shaheen, who sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also criticized President Donald Trump and his administration for failing to implement sanctions against Russia that passed by overwhelming bipartisan margins last year in Congress.

“These are deeply disturbing attacks,” Shaheen said during her remarks, “and one reason why the Kremlin is emboldened is because there has been no serious pushback from the U.S. and certainly not from our president.”

Shaheen called Russia’s efforts to meddle in U.S. politics, which exacerbate the existing divisions in America, a “profound test” for the country that people of all political stripes should take seriously.

“This kind of interference undermines American democracy, and we cannot allow it to continue to happen,” she said.

Although Russia has been involved in foreign political affairs for decades, its online campaign gained steam in 2014, partly in response to American sanctions over the occupation of Crimea and other areas of neighboring Ukraine, Shaheen said.

Since then, President Vladimir Putin’s agents sought to influence the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote and several European elections, including those in Germany and France.

Russian-backed operations have been working in overdrive since the 2016 American elections, she said, using “bots” — automated social media accounts that pose as real people — and “trolls” — people who purposely provoke arguments online — to drive a wedge between Americans and undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling.

Mueller, a Republican and former FBI director, last week indicted 13 Russian citizens and three Russian entities over allegations that they participated in a network aimed at subverting the 2016 election and supporting Trump’s candidacy.

Shaheen said Russian bots and trolls helped drive the “#ReleaseTheMemo” Twitter trend that spurred the circulation of a Republican-authored attack on Mueller’s work earlier this month.

The campaign to divide America has moved even further in recent weeks. After a shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school last week, Russian agents flooded social media with comments intended to deepen disagreement between gun-control and gun-rights advocates, Shaheen said, citing news reports.

Shaheen has been a prominent voice calling for a crackdown against Kaspersky Lab, a Kremlin-linked software company used by some federal agencies. Thanks to her advocacy, she was placed on a Russian blacklist last year that prevents her from receiving a visa to enter the country.

“This is a really remarkable moment in our nation’s history,” she said. “A hostile foreign power has interfered in our presidential election and continues to do so. Our law enforcement agencies and special counsel are working diligently to understand the methods of Russia’s interference so that we can stop it. Supporting these efforts isn’t about party or partisanship.”

More than 100 students, faculty and community members attended the talk in Alumni Hall, on the second floor of the Hop, and several had the chance to ask questions after her speech.

Margaryta Kremneva, a Ukrainian citizen pursuing graduate studies at Dartmouth, thanked Shaheen for spreading the word about Russian attempts to undermine democratic government. But she also raised concerns about pitfalls in one potential solution under discussion: requiring private companies like Twitter and Facebook to censor some categories of speech deemed dangerous.

“You can see how it’s sort of a slippery slope to allow a commercial institution to have such responsibility,” she said.

Ukraine has struggled with similar circumstances in its efforts to stem the flow of Russian propaganda over its borders. In May 2017, the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, blocked access to several popular Russian websites over allegations that they spread disinformation, a move that drew criticism from human rights organizations.

“That’s one of the challenges,” Shaheen said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

Shaheen noted that some federal legislation under consideration would require online advertisements to carry disclaimers about who funded them. But more largely, she said, efforts to curtail online influence campaigns have to be carefully balanced with the First Amendment.

“What can we do to maintain freedom of speech and freedom of the press that also addresses the issues that we’re facing with disinformation, with cyber threats?” Shaheen said.

Levi Roseman, a first-year undergraduate from Pennsylvania, noted that the United States was not blameless when it came to influencing other countries’ politics. A recent report from political scientists at Carnegie Mellon University found that America throughout its history had interfered in about 80 foreign elections, including some open and democratic ones, he said.

“I wanted to ask why you felt that the recent actions by the Russian government are more dangerous,” he said.

“I haven’t seen the report that you mention,” Shaheen said, “but I don’t think we ought to be doing that, either.”

Later on Tuesday, Shaheen toured the Canam-Bridges factory in Claremont and discussed initiatives to invest in infrastructure, including structurally inadequate bridges across the state of New Hampshire.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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