Biden doesn't want cyber war with Russia

Vice President Joseph Biden. White House photo. 

The former vice president thinks that awareness is the best weapon against Russian "active measures" and information warfare.

Former Vice President Joe Biden supports consequences for Russia for its role in the 2016 U.S. election, but rejected calls to start a tit-for-tat cyber war.

Speaking at a Jan. 23 Council on Foreign Relations event, Biden addressed a question of whether the U.S. should consider "going on offense" -- in particular, by waging a similar concerted cyber campaign against the Russian government.

Biden said yes, "but not necessarily in the cyber space."

He added: "Most of what happens in the cyberspace is altering information, or preventing information from being able to come forward."

Instead, he argued that the best way to counter a disinformation campaign is with a better information campaign, one where the United States and allies in Europe share intelligence about threats to their elections and election infrastructures.

"I think we should be on the offensive in making clear exactly what we know Russia and [Vladimir] Putin are doing, and that we should be working much more closely with [allies.] That message gets through," said Biden. "Part of it is just pulling the band aid off," he added, arguing that when the public becomes aware of foreign meddling, its "influence diminishes precipitously, like it did in France in this past election."

Biden said he regrets that the United States was not able to fully appreciate what he believes was the full scope of Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election. However, he argued that a more forceful response would have fed into the overall Russian strategy of delegitimizing the U.S. government in the eyes of voters, who may have viewed it as a politically motivated intervention to elect Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Once policymakers determined that there were no successful attempts to alter or manipulate voting machines, they felt much more constricted in putting forth a more forceful response.

"We saw no evidence…of [Russia] actually going into the voting rolls, going into the voting itself and impacting or using cyber to go into and strip the rolls of Democrats or Republicans," said Biden.

Michael Carpenter, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, co-wrote a December 2017 article with Biden in Foreign Affairs titled "Standing up the Kremlin." Carpenter said Russia has succeeded in shifting the post-Soviet status quo by using information warfare to subvert U.S. and European institutions internally, using mostly corruption, energy, information and cyber tools.

Carpenter said that in addition to sharing and publicizing information with democratic allies, the United States needed to work on reducing vulnerabilities at home -- looking at not just election infrastructure, but in terms of financial transactions, money laundering, real estate deals and campaign finance.

"We need to make ourselves a harder target for Russia," said Carpenter.

Since 2016, the federal government has become more involved in protecting election systems by classifying election systems as critical infrastructure and freeing up more resources to help state and local governments. In a Jan. 10 speech to the Election Assistance Commission in Washington D.C., Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate, said DHS expects more of the same in the lead-up to the 2018 congressional elections.

"We have seen no evidence that the Russian government has changed its intent or capability with respect to meddling with the U.S. election system," said Kolasky.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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