NEW BRUNSWICK – Despite overwhelming evidence that Russia conducted a sophisticated campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election last year, many political commentators are downplaying the gravity of what happened.

Rutgers Today spoke with John D. Cohen, a Distinguished Professor of Professional Practice in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. With more than thirty years of experience in law enforcement and national and international security, Cohen served as the acting undersecretary and principal deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

John D. Cohen: Our founding fathers believed that one of the greatest threats to the United States was “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Paper #68, “by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.”

We can debate whether Russian intelligence services succeeded in changing the results of our 2016 presidential election. But the fact that the attack occurred is undeniable. It included cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee’s data system and a campaign chairman’s email account, and the release of hacked information by a third party. The Russians also sought to hack into dozens of state voter registration systems. Their efforts also included the sophisticated use of social media, targeting specific areas of the United States, to spread misinformation for the express purpose of influencing voters’ opinions about issues and candidates.

This attack embodied one of the greatest horrors our founders imagined. During my entire career in homeland security, counter-intelligence and law enforcement, I have not seen a greater existential threat to America’s sovereignty and national security. That so many political partisans appear so willing to overlook this threat is alarming – and reflects the national division that may have been one of the goals of the Russian campaign.