Voters listen during a debate between Democratic candidates for president in Miami on June 26.

Voters listen during a debate between Democratic candidates for president in Miami on June 26. Wilfredo Lee/AP

Report: Executive Branch Should Establish an Interagency Task Force to Combat Foreign Election Inference

Bipartisan Senate report recommends a media literacy initiative and a system for alerting people targeted with disinformation.

A bipartisan Senate report released on Tuesday recommended the federal government institute a broad plan to protect American elections from foreign inference. Elements should include an interagency task force to monitor interference, a public awareness campaign, and an alert system to inform victims of foreign disinformation. 

The report, the second volume of an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, found the Kremlin is continuing its disinformation campaign in an ongoing attempt to sow discord in America. 

“The Federal government, civil society, and the private sector, including social media and technology companies, each have an important role to play in deterring and defending against foreign influence,” the report said. “The Committee recommends that the executive branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference.”

The committee recommended that the executive branch create an interagency task force to monitor foreign countries’ social media use for potential interference. “The task force should periodically advise the public and Congress on its findings and issue annual reports providing recommendations to key actors, including executive branch departments and agencies, industry, and civil society,” the report said. “The task force should also develop a deterrence framework to inform U.S. Government responses to foreign influence efforts using social media.”

The committee also recommended that the executive branch establish a “clear plan” to alert candidates, political parties or others involved if they are the target of foreign social media influence. The report said the plan should “provide standards for deciding who to notify and when, and should clearly delineate which agencies are responsible for making the notifications and to whom.”

Additionally, the report recommended that state and local education institutions take the lead on a federally-funded initiative to “build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” The goal would be to build media literacy from a young age, so citizens learn how to spot disinformation. 

When Congress returns from recess next week, the House and Senate will have to reconcile their budget differences for the Election Assistance Commission, the federal body that serves as a clearinghouse for election best practices and election security grants. For the under-resourced EAC, the Senate appropriated $11,995,000, about $2 million more than it received in 2019, however $1.5 million of that would be transferred to the National Institute for Standards and Technology to develop voluntary state voting system guidelines, and another $2.4 million is designated for relocating the EAC’s offices. In contrast, the House appropriated $16,171,000 for the commission. Similarly, the House was much more generous in allocating grant funding for state and local election administrators: the Senate designated $250 million, while the House put up $600 million. 

The committee’s report did not specify how its recommendations should be funded, or how much they would cost to implement. 

“The Committee found that Russia’s efforts continue to this day. In fact, we found that this activity increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016,” tweeted Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. 

“Social media companies, federal agencies, law enforcement, and Congress must work together to address these challenges,” said Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. “I am grateful for the cooperation our committee has gotten from both the Intelligence Community and the tech industry.”

The first volume of the committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russian election interference focused on election infrastructure. It was released in July. 

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