Federal officials pen op-ed urging public to be vigilant of election interference efforts

Federal officials pen op-ed urging public to be vigilant of election interference efforts
© Greg Nash

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump: Washington/Lincoln ticket would have had hard time beating me before pandemic Trump says Barr 'never' told him he thought he'd lose election MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray and multiple other senior administration officials urged the public to be vigilant for threats to elections on Wednesday, while noting there was so far no evidence of foreign election interference ahead of Election Day in November.

In an op-ed in USA Today, they advocated for a “whole-of-society” approach to combating foreign election interference, but emphasized that “we have yet to identify any activity designed to prevent voting or change votes.”

The officials — Barr, Wray, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfCongress needs to reform the Vacancies Act to keep the business of government on stable footing Trump, on trip with GOP, slams 'sick' state of US-Mexico border Texas Democrats representing border districts slam Trump visit MORE, Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts MORE, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs — noted that they would “remain watchful of any malicious activities from cybercriminals and from foreign actors like Russia, China and Iran.”

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Despite the lack of evidence of current threats to the 2020 vote, the agency leaders called on the public to assist in identifying foreign interference, including through “seeking trustworthy sources of information” on elections to avoid disinformation campaigns, and through engaging with state and local election officials to learn more about the secure voting process. 

They also encouraged campaigns, technology companies and election officials to report any signs of hacking or other suspicious online activity around elections to the FBI and to CISA. 

“We cannot prevent all disinformation, foreign propaganda or cyberattacks on our infrastructure,” the officials wrote. “However, together, we can all help to mitigate these threats by exercising care when we share information and by maintaining good cyber hygiene to reduce the risks that malicious cyberattacks will succeed.”

The op-ed touched on disinformation efforts by foreign actors, with the officials noting that these foreign adversaries are “continuing to spread disinformation to discredit politicians and views that are counter to their interests and ambitions.”

That tracks with comments made by Wray earlier this month while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, when he said that foreign interference efforts from Russia had “never stopped” following the 2016 elections.

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“While I don’t think we’ve seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016, we certainly are seeing and have never stopped seeing, really, since 2016 efforts to engage in malign foreign influence by the Russians,” he testified

Election security has been a major topic of interest in the years since the 2016 presidential election.

Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee all concluded that Russian agents conducted sweeping interference efforts during the lead-up to the 2016 elections that were designed to favor the campaign of now-President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE

These efforts included promoting disinformation across social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, and targeting state elections systems, with the hackers successfully accessing the voter registration database in Illinois in the summer of 2016 and systems in two Florida counties. There is no evidence that any votes were changed by hackers.