Former DHS chiefs call for stepped-up response to election threats


Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are calling on the Trump administration to step up efforts to combat election security threats following reports on foreign interference.

Michael Chertoff, who served under former President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who both served during the Obama administration, warned of threats posed by various countries at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Wednesday.

The former DHS secretaries pointed to an assessment put out by a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) last month — which detailed evidence that Russia, China and Iran are actively interfering in the 2020 U.S. elections — in emphasizing the need for more federal action to counter election threats.

“ODNI has been telling us loud and clear that the Russians, and possibly others, are at it again in terms of trying to influence our democracy,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of bright lights blinking hot red right now, and that is where I believe the concern and the focus needs to be over the next couple weeks.”

Napolitano urged President Trump to take action against Moscow.

“One thing I’d like to hear more from the administration about is what they intend to do about the Russian interference in our elections,” Napolitano said. “The intelligence about this is quite clear, but what is not clear is what we intend to do about it by way of sanctions, by way of deterrence. And I believe we ought to be sending those messages, and those messages need to emanate from the White House.”

The discussion took place the same day a whistleblower complaint was made public by the House Intelligence Committee that alleged DHS officials had urged the alteration of intelligence products, including those around Russian election interference, to fit with Trump’s comments.

Chertoff noted that due to Trump’s concerns around elections, and his efforts to “downplay” Russian interference from 2016, the responsibility rested with the states to respond to foreign efforts.

“I actually don’t think the White House has credibility in this because President Trump has gone out of his way to come up with claims that are totally unsubstantiated and downplaying the Russians,” Chertoff said.

“Here, I think the state election authorities and the governors can step up and make a difference, particularly in those states where there is really going to be a close election,” Chertoff added, listing steps such as expanding the timeline and options for voters to cast ballots.

Trump has also repeatedly criticized mail-in ballots and other parts of the elections process, citing unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud.

The former DHS secretaries made their comments at an event that featured the rollout of an Atlantic Council report urging DHS to “refocus” its mission to prioritize defending the United States against cyberattacks and other non =military threats, including attempts to interfere in elections.

The report argues that DHS “needs to lead the nation’s defense against the aggressive, ongoing nonmilitary campaigns of Russia, China, and Iran that are targeting American democracy itself.”

“Elections and free expression are two of the most central aspects of US democracy,” the report reads. “Threats to these, especially those that come from hostile nation-states, need to be treated as one of the United States’ top national security priorities.”

The concerns around the DHS mission were made public the same day acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf delivered the annual “State of the Homeland” address, highlighting the use of law enforcement to respond to protests in Portland, Ore., and the efforts of the agency to respond to foreign threats to elections.

“The men and women of DHS are committed to defending and securing the American creed,” Wolf said. “Yes, the wiles of our enemies will shift. Yes, DHS will adapt at every turn. But in one way, we will keep constant: We won’t let up.”

Tags Atlantic Council Barack Obama Chad Wolf China Department of Homeland Security Donald Trump Election Security Iran Janet Napolitano Jeh Johnson Michael Chertoff ODNI Russia

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