Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference

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The director of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency said Wednesday that more details will be released in the future around foreign election interference efforts amid calls from congressional Democrats to release more information to the public.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs described a statement put out by a top official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) last month – which warned that Russia, China, and Iran were interfering the 2020 elections – as the “beginning” of communications with the public.

“That was the beginning of a conversation with the American people about these threats, about the risks we face, more is absolutely coming, more details and more granular information,” Krebs said during the virtual Black Hat cybersecurity conference.

While Krebs would not discuss classified information around potential foreign election interference, he said that foreign adversaries were still “in the game,” though not at the same level as interference from Russia in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. 

“On the election infrastructure targeting, there is just not near anything of what we were seeing in 2016,” Krebs said. “Shifting over to the disinformation space and the potential for hack and leak, Russia has never taken its foot off the gas, China’s in the game, Iran’s in the game, so I just really encourage everyone to pay attention to your sources of information, think before you click, think before you share.”

Russian agents launched a sweeping interference effort ahead of the 2016 elections that included targeting election infrastructure in all 50 states, launching an online disinformation campaign favoring now-President Trump, hacking into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, and hacking into the email accounts of staffers on the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

The Russian agents targeted election infrastructure in the summer of 2016, successfully hacking into systems in Illinois and Florida, though there is no evidence any votes were changed. 

Krebs that the combined efforts of CISA, the Intelligence Community, the National Security Agency (NSA), and other federal agencies had not located any comparable effort to disrupt elections this year. 

“Based on that visibility, we see activity on a daily basis, we can’t attribute that directly to any state adversary or state actor, but there is a lot of scanning going on, absolutely, but nothing like the directed, focused effort of 2016,” Krebs said.

His comments came in the wake of both the House and Senate receiving classified election security briefings from intelligence officials at agencies including CISA and the FBI. Democrats emerged from both hearings expressing serious concerns about potential foreign interference this year. 

“Shocked & appalled—I just left a 90 minute classified briefing on foreign malign threats to our elections,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted Tuesday. “From spying to sabotage, Americans need to see & hear these reports.”

“Protect our democracy from destruction by declassifying key intel describing the danger of foreign subterfuge to our elections,” Blumenthal added. “Congress has been briefed, but sworn to secrecy—unacceptably.”

The briefings were requested by Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who cited concerns that members of Congress were being targeted by a foreign interference campaign ahead of November.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Nancy Pelosi

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