Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Russia is already meddling in America's 2018 midterm elections, and that the U.S. is not necessarily better prepared to deal with the Moscow's influence than it was in 2016.
The U.S. intelligence community unanimously says that the Kremlin hacked, distributed leaked information, and waged a considerable media campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of President Donald Trump, and Tillerson told Fox News there's not much the U.S. can do to stop them the next time around.
"I don't know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well," Tillerson told Fox.
The point is, if it's their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that," he continued. "We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to preempt it.
Though Russia likely broke the law by having state-backed hackers steal information from the Democratic National Committee, cybercrime remains highly unattributable and below the threshold of crimes that the U.S. would respond to with military action.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speak to members of the press following a U.S. – China diplomatic and security dialogue at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017. The dialogue will help the United States narrow its differences with China while expanding cooperation in areas where possible. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Also, much of Russia's most visible attempts to influence the election were perfectly legal. Russian media outlets bought and paid for advertising and exposure on U.S. social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, just like everyone else does.
"There's a lot of ways that the Russians can meddle in the elections, a lot of different tools they can use," Tillerson said.
Tillerson told Fox that he suspects Russia's exercise of its influence has already begun and indicated that the U.S. doesn't really have a solid plan to block it.
"I think it's important we just continue to say to Russia, 'Look, you think we don't see what you're doing. We do see it and you need to stop. If you don't, you're going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,'" Tillerson said.
Tillerson's comment about consequences comes after Trump declined to impose sanctions on those with ties to Russia's defense and intelligence apparatuses in response to the election meddling in 2016.
Experts have suggested to Business Insider that the U.S. also meddles in other countries' elections, and that the U.S. could potentially take covert steps to disrupt Russia's 2018 election, but that those efforts would be classified.
Overall, however, Trump has taken a decidedly harder, more militaristic line against Russia than his predecessor, who reset relations with the Kremlin.