Enlarge / Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shook hands after the Monday debate.Drew Angerer / Getty News Images
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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in their first presidential debate—but they only touched on technological issues briefly Monday, and even then, in simplistic terms.
Toward the end of the 90-minute debate, moderator and NBC anchor Lester Holt asked: “We want to start with a 21st century war happening every day in this country, our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is who’s behind it and how do we fight it?”
The two candidates disagreed as to who was behind the recent attacks on the Democratic National Committee, but concurred that cybersecurity should be a top priority.
The former secretary of state, Clinton, laid the blame squarely at the feet of Moscow—concurring with the intelligence community and the view of the President Obama administration—and did not mince words.
“There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyberattacks,” she said. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is playing a tough, long game here.”
Clinton also mentioned theft of “private information,” and “public sector information,” which likely referred to the massive heist of government employee files at the Office of Personnel Management in 2015.
As she continued:
And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private sector information or our public sector information, and we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare.
But we will defend the citizens of this country, and the Russians need to understand that. I think they’ve been treating it as almost a probing, how far would we go? How much would we do? And that’s why I was so, I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is, that is just unacceptable. It’s one of the reasons why 50 national security officials who served in Republican information, administration have said that Donald is unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief. It’s comments like that that really worry people who understand the threats that we face.
“It could also be China”
When Holt turned to Trump, he said he “agree[s] to parts of what Secretary Clinton said, we should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not.”
But then, Trump deviated from the consensus view that it was the Russian government, or Russian-backed entities that recently targeted the Democratic National Committee.
“I don’t know if we know it was Russia who broke into the DNC,” he said.
“She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia. Maybe it was. It could also be China, it could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
The Republican candidate then continued to harp on a theme that he has hit repeatedly on the campaign trail, that Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is “beating us at our own game.”
“So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare,” he continued. “It is a, it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing, but that’s true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester and certainly cyber is one of them.”
When Clinton was given a chance to respond, she noted that the United States needs to “do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet, to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere.” But the Democratic candidate didn’t explain exactly what she meant by that.
Earlier in the evening, Holt asked Clinton specifically about her use of a private e-mail server. She called it a “mistake,” and tried to dispense with the issue quickly.
“And if I had to do it over again, I would obviously do it differently,” she said. “But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that.”
Trump shot back:
That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely. Okay? That was not a mistake. That was done purposely. When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the fifth so they are not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it’s disgraceful. And believe me, this country thinks it’s disgraceful—really thinks it’s disgraceful, also.
The next debate, between the two vice presidential candidates, is scheduled for Tuesday, October 4 at 9pm Eastern.