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Trump Should Punish Russia for Election Interference With Cyberattacks and Info Warfare, John McCain Argues

In his new book, Senator John McCain suggests that the Trump administration should retaliate against Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election by using Washington’s technological capabilities to expose the corruption of the Putin regime.  

“I’m of the opinion that unless [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is made to regret his decision he will return to the scene of the crime again and again,” McCain, a Republican from Arizona, wrote in his forthcoming book, The Restless Wave.

“To make Putin deeply regret his assault on the foundation of our democracy — free and fair elections — we should seriously consider retaliating with the kinds of weapons he used,” McCain continued. “We have cyber capabilities too. They should be used to expose the epic scale of his regime’s corruption or to embarrass [Putin] in other ways.”

In February, special counsel Robert Mueller, who has been tasked with investigating whether the Trump campaign collaborated with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, indicted 13 Russians for alleged election meddling.

According to the court documents, the Russians deliberately waged information warfare against the United States to help the Trump campaign. The indictment also outlined that an organization based in Russia called the Internet Research Agency employed hundreds of people to interfere in the elections, using a monthly budget of around $1.25 million.

Several experts said it is likely Russia would attempt to interfere in this year's mid-term elections. Senators have warned that the government should enact stronger measures against foreign election interference before the elections are held in November. 

Still, some cybersecurity experts argue that a retaliatory cyberattack is not the most suitable option. 

"An offensive 'cyberattack' is much more serious a proposition than it may appear—as will be the consequences.  Therefore, [McCain's] proposition would surely result in [a] disproportional escalation of the 'cyber Cold War' into an undesirable hot one—and therefore these are not advisable actions," Robert Katz, executive director of the Cyber Science Institute, told Newsweek.

"As we saw in the previous Cold War, the non-use of weapons make sure they retain their deterrent capacity.  Unleashing an offensive cyberattack takes the effect of that deterrence tool out of our diplomatic toolkit—which we need to save for potentially more serious attacks than merely “meddling” ones," Katz continued. 

Despite the evidence of an ongoing attempt by Russia to influence the U.S. political climate, Trump has often denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and has stressed the importance of developing a more positive relationship with Moscow. He has also been reluctant to impose new sanctions on Russian companies and individuals, although the government did issue new sanctions against 38 Russian individuals and entities—many of which were linked to Putin—in early April. 

But for McCain, a long-time legislator who is now fighting brain cancer, Trump’s attempts to forge better relations with Russia are futile.

“[Putin] never was, he is not now and never will be our partner,” McCain wrote in his book, which will be released in late May. 

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