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UT holds national security forum on Russian meddling

Threats to the United States' national security in this day and age are much different than they were 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. And the threats posed by Russia were the subject of a national security forum at the University of Texas at Austin.

AUSTIN — The United States Congress has many jobs, but one might argue their top priority is national security.

On Friday, people filled the University of Texas at Austin's Alumni Center to discuss that very topic and, more specifically, Russia.

It was a conversation that is especially relevant right now, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"It seems that Russia still looks at the world and says, 'If it's bad for America, it must be good for us,'" U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said.

And if there were any doubters in the room, Burr; U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who is Vice Chairman of the committee; and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who serves on the committee, made it clear that meddling happened -- and on a level U.S. leaders didn't expect.

"Respectfully, the intelligence community was a little caught off guard on was the ability for a foreign entity to massively use social media to manipulate news, to pit Americans against each other," Sen. Warner said.

"That was just the tip of the sphere. The real issue was the ability to create faker personas and create followers not on politics, but a site that might promote Texas football or gardening and then you draw folks in and then start to see political malfeasance," Sen. Warner added.

America is not the first. The senators say Russian agents used the tactics on their own people and other adversaries, adding representatives from all 29 NATO countries believe Russia has meddled in their elections.

The lawmakers would like to craft legislation to address the problems, but say finding solutions is not easy.

"When you ask about legislation that Congress could pass, technology is moving so fast that I don't want us to be an impediment. But rather, I think the best role of the Congress is to provide tools," Sen. Cornyn said.

Because they believe meddling from foreign countries will only get worse.

"What I predict 2020 will be, or somewhere this will happen in the coming two years, is they will marry cyber and disinformation," Sen. Warner said.

"You'll see what's called the next iteration of this called 'deep fade technology,' where you'll see a digital image of Richard Burr's face and his voice communicating with you on a virtual YouTube attempt, but that won't be Richard at all," Sen. Warner added.

Sen. Cornyn said one thing lawmakers can do is look at how other countries get access to the intellectual property of Americans to see if things changes can be made on that front to stop the meddling.

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