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Krebs describes threats to election officials as 'undermining democracy'

Krebs describes threats to election officials as 'undermining democracy'
© Greg Nash

Christoper Krebs, the nation’s former top cybersecurity official, said Wednesday that recent threats against election officials were “undemocratic” and “undermined democracy.”

“I’ve received death threats, a number of these officials have received death threats, and to me, there aren’t good words to describe how un-American and undemocratic it is that the actual individuals responsible for the process of this most sacred democratic institution of elections are the ones that are getting the blowback here,” Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said during a virtual event hosted by The Washington Post. 

"We are actively undermining democracy. We are actively undermining confidence in the electoral process," Krebs said. 

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Krebs was fired by President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE last month after pushing back against Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and election interference through CISA’s “rumor control” webpage, and after CISA signed on to a statement with state and local officials calling the 2020 election the “most secure in American history.”

His comments came two days after Joe diGenova, an attorney for Trump’s reelection campaign, appeared on “The Howie Carr Show” and called for Krebs to be “drawn and quartered” and “taken out at dawn and shot” due to Krebs’s comments backing the high security of the election. 

The attorney later walked back his comments and said they were made “in jest,” according to a statement given to the National Review, though Krebs in a separate interview on NBC’s “Today” threatened legal action.

Other election officials have also been threatened, with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) criticizing Trump on Wednesday during a press conference for not taking steps to quell the threats against Georgia election workers. 

“Even after this office requested that President Trump try and quell the violent rhetoric being born out of his continuing claims of winning the states where he obviously lost, he tweeted out: ‘Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia.' This is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of the growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs," Raffensperger said. 

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Krebs pointed to these kinds of threats as potentially having a “chilling effect” on recruiting workers to run the polls during future elections.

“This has got to stop, it has to stop. We have to let the professionals do their jobs, and it’s well beyond time for everyone on both sides of the political spectrum to call for an end and to call for our certification process and move on to the next administration,” Krebs said. 

Krebs also reiterated the security of the 2020 election, and praised the changes made to enhance the security and coordination around the election process over the four years since Russian agents interfered in the 2016 election. 

CISA, established by legislation signed into law by Trump in 2018, served a key role in securing the recent elections, and is the agency charged with coordinating election security efforts with state and local officials, along with private sector groups such as social media platforms and election equipment vendors. 

Krebs pointed to the enhanced coordination between federal, state and local officials as being key to pushing back against threats during the recent election cycle.

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These efforts included Iranian and Russian interference efforts. Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE and FBI Director Christopher Wray announced in October that both nations were seeking to sway the election, with Iran accessing voter data in three states to send threatening emails to potential voters. 

Krebs said Wednesday that the Russian efforts were more “broad” and involved the probing of networks for vulnerabilities, similar to efforts in 2016 that enabled Russian agents to successfully access voter registration databases in multiple states. 

“We did see Russia, over the course of the late fall, undertake a really broad scanning campaign, and that is what Russia does,” Krebs said. “This wasn’t just elections, it was state and local, private sector, federal government agencies.”

He noted that the decision was taken to disclose the attempted foreign interference to the American people “out of an abundance of transparency and out of an abundance of caution.”

“That was a much broader Russian cyber campaign, scanning campaign, and as far as I can tell it is still underway,” Krebs said. 

Krebs was one of three CISA officials forced out by the White House over the past month, with former Deputy Director Matthew Travis and Bryan Ware, a top cybersecurity official at the agency, resigning after being asked to step down. Former CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales now serves as the acting director of the agency.

When asked if he would consider serving under the incoming Biden administration in some capacity, Krebs, who was nominated to his former position by Trump, said he would consider it. 

“Anytime you get asked by the leader of the free world to come in and take on an important role, you have to give it all due consideration,” Krebs said.

“There will be a series of considerations and conversations that would have to happen around that, but I am just so proud of the CISA team. I’m proud of the fact that we are maybe a household name right now but for a good reason, the right reasons,” he added.