US Cyber Command leader says election security is agency's 'top priority'

US Cyber Command leader says election security is agency's 'top priority'
© Stefani Reynolds

U.S. Cyber Command leader Gen. Paul Nakasone told a House panel Wednesday that election security is his “top priority,” emphasizing strides made in combating threats in the years since Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We are 244 days from the 2020 presidential election,” Nakasone testified during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on U.S. Cyber Command’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget. “My top priority is a safe and secure election that is free from foreign influence.”

Nakasone emphasized that even if foreign actors try to interfere in U.S. elections, federal agencies are prepared.

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“Malicious actors are trying to test our defenses and our resolve,” Nakasone warned. “We are ready for them and any others who try to interfere in our democratic processes.”

U.S. Cyber Command, which is a branch of the Department of Defense, was involved in monitoring for cyber interference both during the 2018 midterm elections and on Super Tuesday this week.

Nakasone said the rate of improvement made by U.S. Cyber Command and other federal agencies in communicating threats to elections made the work done on Election Day in 2018 “look like a pickup game to me as opposed to what I saw yesterday.”

A senior official at another key cybersecurity agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told reporters on Super Tuesday that no “malicious cyber activity” was observed during the course of primary voting in 14 states. 

Prior to Tuesday, Nakasone joined CISA Director Christopher Krebs and the leaders of six other federal agencies in putting out a statement calling on Americans to be vigilant for foreign influence campaigns on social media. The agency leaders emphasized that coordination at the federal level to address election threats was “stronger than it’s ever been.”

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The bipartisan leaders of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities praised Nakasone for his agency’s focus on election security.

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikBipartisan House bill seeks to improve pandemic preparedness The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 MORE (N.Y.), the panel’s top Republican, told Nakasone that due to the changing nature of adversaries in cyberspace, efforts to secure elections in 2018 may not work in the future. 

“We must acknowledge the creativity of our adversaries,” Stefanik said. “We must ensure that election security is a continuous, sustained effort 365 days a year.”

Subcommittee Chairman Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinOvernight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill Experts sound alarms about security as states eye online voting MORE (D-R.I.) noted that "while we have had some success countering Russia's malign influence campaigns in 2018, we must not let our guard down."