Hillary Clinton says she’s “dumbfounded” the U.K. government has failed to release a report on Russian influence in British politics before the country holds a national election next month.
The former U.S. presidential candidate told British media the public needs to know what is in the report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee before voters go to the polls on Dec. 12.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has said it needs more time to review the security implications of the report before it is released. Critics, however, allege the report is being withheld until after the election because it is embarrassing to Johnson’s Conservative Party, which is trying to win a majority and push through Johnson’s Brexit plan to take Britain out of the European Union.
“I’m dumbfounded that this government won’t release the report…because every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” Clinton told the BBC on Tuesday. “There is no doubt…that Russia in particular is determined to try to shape the politics of Western democracies, not to our benefit but to theirs.”
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election found that Russia interfered in the vote in a “sweeping and systemic” fashion. U.S. President Donald Trump, who won that vote, has dismissed the Mueller report’s conclusions, but the investigation has put Russia into the crosshairs of a debate on the integrity of elections worldwide.
Mounting concern over Russian election influence
Clinton also spoke about the British report with the Guardian newspaper as she promoted The Book of Gutsy Women, written with her daughter, Chelsea. The former U.S. Secretary of State said she wished she had been more “gutsy” in exposing Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I am, as a great admirer of Britain, concerned, because I can’t make sense of what is happening,” Clinton told the Guardian. “We have a president who admires dictators and takes their help and does all kinds of crazy stuff. So we need you to be the sane member of this partnership going forward.”
The Intelligence and Security Committee began its investigation following allegations of Russian interference both in the 2016 U.S. election and the British referendum on the country’s EU membership earlier that year.
The investigation began in November 2017, but the importance of the probe was highlighted in March 2018, when a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a chemical nerve agent in the cathedral city of Salisbury in southern England. Britain says Russian agents were behind the near-deadly poisonings, a charge that Russia denies.
The intelligence committee sent its report to Johnson for review on Oct. 17, saying it expected “to publish the report imminently.” Committee Chairman Dominic Grieve has criticized Johnson’s government for failing to release the document amid media reports it has already been cleared by British security services.
Among those who gave evidence to the committee was Bill Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital Management. Browder worked in Russia until 2005 and has campaigned for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government since 2009, when his lawyer died in a Russian prison. He told The Associated Press that by failing to release the Russian influence report, Johnson has made it worse for himself by implying there is something to hide.
“Nobody likes a cover-up,” Browder said.
Debating Britain’s cyber-threat response
Lawmakers from a range of parties, including Johnson’s Conservatives, urged the government earlier this month to publish the report during a debate in the House of Commons.
Foreign Office minister Christopher Pincher argued it was “not unusual” for such reviews to “take some time,” but others suggested the reasons are baldly political. The Sunday Times reported that nine Russian businesspeople who have donated money to the Conservatives are named in the report.
The Russian report comes amid increasing concerns about the security of an election fought in an increasingly digital world. Britain’s election laws are woefully out of date, written more for a time when leaflets were pushed through mailboxes, not as Facebook and other social media giants publish political ads.
Following an 18-month investigation into online privacy and the use of social media to spread disinformation, an parliamentary committee in February urged the British government to urgently approve new laws addressing internet campaign techniques, insisting that democracy itself was under threat.
While the government agreed with many of the recommendations made by the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, it has done little other than circulate its own report for public comment. Former committee chairman Damian Collins said the government had planned to modernize Britain’s electoral laws at the latest by 2022, the original date for the next general election.
But Johnson called an early election in response to the political turmoil caused by Britain’s pending departure from the EU, which is scheduled for Jan. 31. So now Britain’s 46 million eligible voters will be choosing 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons in the Dec. 12 vote.
Labour Party hit by cyberattack
The election campaign is already being fought online.
The Labour Party announced Tuesday that it had experienced a “sophisticated and large-scale cyberattack” on its digital platforms. The main opposition party says the attack did not succeed because of “robust security systems” and it had referred the matter to the National Cyber Security Centre.
A source at the Centre told Britain’s Press Association the denial-of-service attack was relatively low-level with no evidence of “state-sponsored” activity. Such an attack aims to slow down access and cause websites to crash by flooding them with traffic.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was campaigning in Blackpool, still expressed dismay.
“If this is a sign of things to come in this election, I feel very nervous about it all. Because a cyberattack against a political party in an election is suspicious, something one is very worried about,” he said.
Earlier in the campaign, the Conservatives posted an altered video on Twitter and Facebook of a television interview with Keir Starmer, a senior Labour figure, that misleadingly showed him failing to answer a Brexit question when in reality, he did. The chairman of the Conservative Party called the doctored video a lighthearted satire, but it highlights the gray ethical area being exploited by the campaigns.
Social media companies have faced global scrutiny worldwide following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
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