- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2018

With more than 20 major elections scheduled in the next two years, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are still not prepared to fend off outside attacks to meddle in campaigns and election counts, an international bipartisan group of political, technology, business and media leaders warned Monday.

“Governments are scrambling to prepare for the last disinformation campaign, rather than the next,” the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity said in a statement after a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“In the coming years, the proliferation of technology will make it easy for everyone to sow the seeds of confusion and distrust,” the group said.

The commission formed in May in the wake of reports that Russia had meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and worked with favored parties in votes across Europe in recent years. U.S. election officials have said they expect Russia to try to interfere in the November midterm and 2020 presidential elections as well.

The commission’s 14 members include former heads of state and top officials, among them former NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister.

Mr. Rasmussen in May noted that Russia uses a “wide range of instruments” to sow discord in an effort to “stir up dissatisfaction and populism and nationalism in many countries.”

Mr. Chertoff, who served in George W. Bush’s Cabinet, told the Voice of America that Kremlin tactics to undermine elections went beyond cyberactivity to contributing money. He cited a loan reportedly advanced by the Russian government to Marine Le Pen, the head of the French nationalist far-right National Front party.

Members of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity gathered last week in Copenhagen for the inaugural Democracy Summit to address the threat the West faces from rising authoritarianism and populism and to gauge risks to Western democratic systems.

During the meeting, leaders said democracies must address grievances of angry constituencies or risk losing what they called a historic struggle for greater freedom. They also noted Russian and Chinese efforts to offer an authoritarian alternative model to liberal governments and open societies.

In its Monday statement, the commission vowed to “actively raise public awareness about the risks of [election] interference while working to develop new models and technologies to empower civil society to defend elections.”

Specific recommendations included deploying election task forces to monitor interference in critical elections starting with the Western Balkans this year and Ukraine next year, in addition to working with high-tech companies to fight disinformation and the dissemination of false news stories designed to smear a candidate or exacerbate social divisions.

Commission members also noted the urgency in the U.S. to act before the midterm elections in November and urged the Trump administration to support “bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Congress and a more uniform government approach to prevent a repeat of the 2016 interference.”

Across the Atlantic, the commission said, “Europeans are not bringing the resources to bear where needed, especially to address the growing challenge of hyper-partisan narratives that exploit divisive and wedge issues.”

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