August 01, 2018

Harris Speaks out Against Russian Efforts to Sow Division in America

Video of Harris’ Statement and Questioning

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris spoke out against Russia’s continued attempts to sow discord in American democracy, highlighting that Russian disinformation campaigns during the 2016 presidential elections attempted to exploit divisive issues such as race. In her statement, Harris also reiterated the need to strengthen cybersecurity and election infrastructure by passing the Secure Elections Act, bipartisan legislation she introduced in December 2017.

 

“I think of us then as being a large and diverse family, the American family” said Harris. “And like any family, we have issues and fissures that are legitimate and run deep, and provoke potent reactions. We have a history of slavery in this country. We have a history of Jim Crow, of lynchings, of segregation, and discrimination. And indeed, we have a lot to do to repair and to recover from the harm of the past and some harm that continues today. But let's be clear: someone else came into our house, into the house of this country, the family of who we are as Americans. And they manipulated us, and they are an adversary, and they provoked us and they tried to turn us against each other.”

 

Harris continued, “As leaders, I believe, then, it is incumbent on us to speak to the American people about how we can solve this urgent national security threat. I believe first, we must act urgently to bolster our country’s defenses like our election infrastructure and cybersecurity, a bipartisan issue that we have been working on in a bipartisan way. I thank Senator Lankford and many of our colleagues throughout the work that we've been doing on the Secure Elections Act.”

 

Full transcript of Harris’ statement and questioning:

 

Harris: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to put what I believe is a context in which we should be thinking about what happened in 2016.

 

First, I think we're all clear that Russia attacked our country during the 2016 election and that they are continuing to attack us today. Russia not only attacked one of our most sacred democratic values, which is a free and fair election, but also, I believe, our very American identity.

 

I often say that we as Americans – no matter our race, religion or region – have so much more in common than what separates us. And among what we have in common is a love of country and a belief that we as Americans should solely be responsible for the choosing of our elected leaders and the fate of our democracy and who will be the President of the United States.

 

And I think of us then as being a large and diverse family, the American family. And like any family, we have issues and fissures that are legitimate and run deep, and provoke potent reactions.

 

We have a history of slavery in this country. We have a history of Jim Crow, of lynchings, of segregation, and discrimination. And indeed, we have a lot to do to repair and to recover from the harm of the past and some harm that continues today.

 

But let's be clear: someone else came into our house, into the house of this country, the family of who we are as Americans. And they manipulated us and they are an adversary and they provoked us and they tried to turn us against each other.

 

The Russian government came into the house of the American family and manipulated us and we must take this seriously in that context and understand that when we debate as we did in 2016, one of the most important debates that we have, which is who'll be the leader of our country, the Russians exploited our nation's discourse to play into our deepest fear.

 

And as leaders, I believe, then, it is incumbent on us to speak to the American people about how we can solve this urgent national security threat.

 

I believe first, we must act urgently to bolster our country’s defenses like our election infrastructure and cybersecurity, a bipartisan issue that we have been working on in a bipartisan way. I thank Senator Lankford and many of our colleagues throughout the work that we've been doing on the Secure Elections Act.

 

But second, I believe we need to make sure that the American public recognizes who is trying to sow hate and division among us so that the American public can rightly identify and see it for what it is – an attempt to exploit our vulnerabilities for the purpose of weakening our country and our democracy.

 

And with that, I’d like to ask Ms. DiResta, in your written testimony, you say that the Russian Internet Research Agency’s, the IRA, efforts targeting the right-leaning, "right-leaning and left-leaning Americans was unified in its negativity toward the candidacy of Secretary Clinton" and that "in pages targeting the left, this included content intended to depress voter turnout among black voters." This seems to corroborate the intelligence community's finding that Russia was trying to hurt the campaign of one candidate in the 2016 United States election and help the other. Can you tell us more about what your research has found regarding the nature of the political content that the Russian IRA was pushing toward Americans on social media during the 2016 campaign?

 

DiResta: It was unified on both sides in negativity towards Secretary Clinton. It was not unified in being pro-President Trump. So the pages targeting the left were still anti-candidate-at-the-time Trump. On the right, we did see an evolution in which evidence of support for candidate Trump continued during the primaries. There was some anti-Senator Rubio, anti-Senator Cruz content that appeared. And there was a substantial amount of anti-Secretary Clinton content on both the right and the left. On the left, that included narratives that either African Americans should not vote, should vote for Jill Stein, which was not a wasted vote, and during the primary there was support for candidate Sanders.

 

Harris: And then quickly, Ms. Rosenberger, you recently published a report policy blueprint for countering authoritarian interference in democracies. You described an event on May 21st of 2016 where two groups were protesting in Houston, Texas. And one was called the Heart of Texas that opposed the purported Islamification of Texas. On the other side, the United Muslims of America, who were rallying to purportedly save Islamic knowledge and these protests were confrontational. Can you tell me, at the time, were law enforcement or the protesters aware of who had manufactured the conflict?

 

Rosenberger: No, our understanding is that they were not. One thing we do know is that fortunately law enforcement was present at the demonstrations and therefore was able to keep them separate, but one of the things that we believe may have been part of the intent of organizing simultaneous rallies, same-day, same-place, opposite sides of the street, was probably to attempt to provoke violence.

 

Harris: And then just quickly, if we could follow up in any writing with the committee, but I'd be interested in knowing what your recommendations are for how we can inform law enforcement because obviously, this is a matter that is about public safety and frankly also officer safety. As we know, many of these disruptions end up resulting in violence and harm to many individuals.

 

Rosenberger: Absolutely, I would just point very quickly to the announcement from Facebook yesterday which actually seems like it may have been something intended to be along similar lines with a protest attempting to gin up very high emotions. 

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