Preparing For Election Threats In 2020 NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks with Laura Rosenberger of the Alliance for Securing Democracy about ongoing threats to the U.S. electoral system from foreign operatives.

Preparing For Election Threats In 2020

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


"There were multiple systemic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American." Those were the last words of what Robert Mueller said would be his final statement about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Our next guest says that threat is far from over. Laura Rosenberger directs the Alliance For Securing Democracy. And she joins us now.

Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So social media was, of course, a major tool in Russia's plan for disrupting 2016. How are they likely to use it in 2020?

ROSENBERGER: Yeah. You know, as far as we can tell, those attacks on our democracy have not stopped. And I think we can expect that new things will be coming at us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: New tactics like what?

ROSENBERGER: Well, one of the things that we have seen actually is the use of these networks that have been built online to cultivate relationships with real Americans, real activists, in many cases. And what we're now seeing those relationships used to do is - rather than just creating fake groups or fake events like they did in the past, we're seeing much more effort to recruit real Americans - again, unwittingly - to take action themselves - so putting them up to organizing a rally themselves or creating a new group online.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things we know about Russian meddling, as laid out in the Mueller report, is that it was, broadly speaking, in support of Donald Trump. Are we seeing something similar now? Or is it simply trying to sow division amongst Americans?

ROSENBERGER: If we look back at what we know about 2016, it - you know, the tactics of the Russian efforts was aimed at hurting one candidate and helping another. But we also know that, in fact, even before Donald Trump had gotten in the race, these troll accounts were being set up online. And much of it was really focused on further polarizing Americans and instilling doubt about the political process or the integrity of the election itself. And so I expect a good bit more of that. I, frankly, think that the Democratic primary process will be a real opportunity to exploit divisions within the party. And I expect that there could well be efforts to undermine people's confidence in the election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it likely just to be Russia in 2020? Or are you concerned about other actors, too?

ROSENBERGER: Social media manipulation, cyberattacks, you know, other kinds of malign influence are tools that other actors can use. We know that Facebook, for instance, has, over the past several months, taken down a number of networks being operated by Iranian entities. Several platforms have taken down networks linked to Saudi Arabia. And we know that there are private-sector companies who are now selling, essentially, the ability - using fake personas and automated accounts - to manipulate debate in a number of different countries.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've spent a lot of time and energy laying out what needs to happen to prevent a rerun of 2016. What do you think needs to happen?

ROSENBERGER: So what we really need to see is a - is an effort by the administration to set up a threat center that will analyze all of the information and analysis as one picture. We need Congress to pass legislation that closes known loopholes that have been identified since 2016. We need the government and the tech companies to institutionalize ways of working together. And we need clear messaging to the American public that we are under attack and that the best thing to do, in order to build resiliency against it, is to actually come together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the polarization and the lack of political will for now being the case, do you have any advice to Americans who might be hearing this and saying, OK. What can I do?

ROSENBERGER: I think one of the most important things that Americans can do to strengthen our democracy is to participate in it. Now, that means, you know, ensuring that people think critically about information and have the context needed to evaluate it and use multiple sources, especially when they're getting information online, and really do their homework. Democracy is - as many of us who work on these issues would say, it's not an end point. Democracy requires constant work. And the American people are the ones who need to do that work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance For Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, thank you very much.

ROSENBERGER: Thanks so much, Lulu.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.