Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Photo: VoA
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire), who is a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, told Voice of America’s Ia Meurmishvili that she believes the United States should do everything to help Georgia defend itself, and Georgia on its part, should implement reforms necessary for NATO membership. Senator Shaheen also says she would support additional sanctions against Russia if the ongoing investigations reveal greater extent of Russia’s meddling in the U.S. internal affairs.
Ia Meurmishvili anchors VOA’s weekly show Washington Today and can be followed on Twitter @iameurmishvili or on Facebook.
Senator Shaheen, thank you very much for finding time to talk to us. You are one of the most outspoken Senators about the cyber vulnerability of the United States. How happy are you with the state of America’s security from the cyber perspective today?
We have a long way to go. In fact, we just had a hearing on the new national defense strategy in the Armed Services Committee, and a number of my colleagues and I raised this topic. It needs to be a part of whatever defense strategy we have. We need a whole-of-government approach so it is not siloed into one particular agency. We need to look at this across the government.
You championed the issue of Kaspersky Lab computer software in the Senate. Are you happy with the Administration’s plan to implement the process of phasing out Kaspersky products in a-three-phase, 90-day period?
I am pleased that the administration responded to the concerns that I – and others have – raised at the Armed Services Committee. As part of the defense authorization bill, we required that the government stop using Kaspersky software. I think that the Administration called for that before we passed the bill. I think we have been slow to act, but I am pleased that now we are acting.
What is the significance of this particular company?
Well, the concern is that we have information, some of it open sourced, but some of it classified, that shows the connection between Kaspersky and the Kremlin and the FSB [Federal Security Service of Russia]. There is a concern that they have shared sensitive or classified government information and shared it with the Russian government.
Do we know the extent of the damage the software may have cost?
There were a number of stories and reports about some of that. Much of it is classified, so I cannot talk about that. It does not matter how much it is. Whatever it is, it is too much and that is why we need to look at the threat and we need to make sure that it does not happen again.
There are a few ongoing investigations on the Hill, as well as the special investigator Mueller’s probe. To what end are these investigations being conducted? What do you think would happen after they conclude?
I think it depends on what they uncover. Those are ongoing investigations. There has been a lot of information publicly available on what has been done about the investigations at the intelligence committees’ both at the House, as well as the Senate, and by Robert Mueller, who is the special investigator. We are waiting for the outcome of those investigations. I hope, I wish that they would not show that there has been significant Russian interference in our elections in 2016, and with high public officials here in this country. We will see what the outcome is.
We know they interfered with our elections. We know they continue to interfere, we know they continue to spread disinformation, continue to be involved in cyber intrusions both in the government and in the private sector. So, I think what we need to do is to see the outcome of those investigations and then make recommendations for how to address it.
But, it is not just the threat in the United States, it is a threat in the West. Other Western democracies in Europe have seen this kind of Russian interference in democratic institutions. It is very clear that this is another weapon of warfare that Russia is using against the West. The Kremlin is trying to undermine the faith that people have in their democratic institutions. It is another way of sewing confusion and even bringing down the government.
Would you support additional actions, measures, sanctions against Russia?
Absolutely. I think we need to - more expeditiously - implement the sections that have already been passed. This Congress was very strong in a bipartisan way – in the Senate 98:2 - on passing sections. We need to take actions. We need to hold Russia accountable for what it has done.
You mentioned Russian disinformation. Do you think the U.S. Congress is doing enough to counter and hinder Russian disinformation? And, how do you think the administration is doing on that?
I do not think the Administration has recognized the threat of this process. It is not a partisan threat and it is not against this administration. It is a threat against American democracy. I do not think Congress is doing enough. We need to be doing more. And, we need to understand the threat this poses.
The U.S. State Department recently approved a proposed sale of Javelin weapon system to Georgia. Tbilisi has been trying for many years to acquire this type of defensive weapons from the United States. How do you feel about Georgia acquiring these weapons from the United States?
I think we should do that. I think Georgia has a right to defend itself. We have seen the Russian aggression in 2008, which continues. They continue to inhabit two regions of Georgia. I think we need to do everything we can to support Georgia. We also need to encourage them to make the reforms that are necessary so they can become a member of NATO. I think that would be very important as well.
Do you support Georgia’s NATO membership?
Once they comply with the reforms that are I required. I think that is an important part.
The material was prepared for Civil.ge by the Voice of America. In order to license this and other content free of charge, please contact Adam Gartner.