The Department of Homeland Security on Monday pushed back against a recent NBC News report claiming that Russian hackers “successfully penetrated” U.S. voter roles before the 2016 elections, calling it misleading.
“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking,” Jeanette Manfra, the department’s chief cybersecurity official, said in a statement.
The article published by NBC last week drew on an exclusive interview with Manfra, during which she told the publication that U.S. officials observed “a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”
Manfra’s comments echoed testimony she delivered before the Senate Intelligence Committee last June, in which she confirmed publicly that election-related systems in 21 states were targeted ahead of the election.
Citing her comments, NBC reported that Russia “successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states” before the election.
In a statement, a spokesperson for NBC defended the network's reporting as accurate.
"It’s hard to believe DHS actually watched or read NBC’s report. Our story is accurate, and makes all of the very same points this statement accuses us of not making," the spokesperson said.
Manfra said Monday morning, "NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking — which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer — as some kind of 'breaking news,' incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats."
“As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure,” she said.
Homeland Security has maintained that most of the pre-2016 targeting efforts involved mere preparations for hacking, like scanning for vulnerabilities, and were not ultimately successful.
Officials in both Illinois and Arizona have said that hackers tried to break into voter roles in their respective states. Hackers successfully accessed records on 200,000 Illinois voters by penetrating the state voter database. In Arizona, officials say that hackers successfully delivered malware to a county election official’s computer but that malicious actors never actually made it into the system.
Homeland Security notified all 21 states of the targeting efforts last September. Officials in some states have disputed the conclusions, saying that the evidence did not point to targeting of actual election infrastructure.
“NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs,” Manfra said.
Homeland Security is providing cyber scanning and other services to state officials who request it as part of its new critical infrastructure designation for voting systems and infrastructure. The department is also working to bolster threat intelligence sharing with election officials in states across the country.
Manfra’s statement on Monday came after the National Association of Secretaries of State, which represents a number of chief election officials, similarly criticized NBC for misleading reporting.
This post was updated at 12:56 p.m. to reflect a statement from NBC News.