The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs said revelations about ongoing election interference efforts by Russia, China and Iran underscore the importance of transparency and “continuing to raise awareness among the American public about the threats to our election systems.”
Last month, with 100 days to go until Election Day, National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina announced that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had “providing robust intelligence-based briefings on election security to the presidential campaigns, political committees, and Congressional audiences” over the previous months. The IC felt it was “imperative” to share unclassified insight into campaign interference with the American public, as well.
“Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections,” he said. “However, the diversity of election systems among the states, multiple checks and redundancies in those systems, and post-election auditing all make it extraordinarily difficult for foreign adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies without detection.”
While Evanina noted concerns about Russia’s disinformation campaign, China’s efforts to shape American policy, and Iran circulating disinformation and anti-American content on social media, he didn’t get more specific than that, promising future updates for “the American public and other key stakeholders on threats to the election and steps for mitigation.”
In a new release Friday from NCSC, Evanina said that foreign actors had developed preferences for the 2020 presidential candidates gleaned “through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer.”
“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process,” he said. “They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes, such as interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results. However, it would be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”
Evanina said Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,'” while China “prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection” and Iran “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”
“The IC also recognizes there will continue to be demand for more information as the election approaches. The IC has and will continue to provide classified election threat briefings to the presidential campaigns, political committees and all Members of Congress. We have provided nearly 20 classified election threat briefings to these stakeholders since mid-May 2020,” Evanina said. “We will also keep providing updates to the American public, consistent with our national security obligations. The steps we have taken thus far to inform the public and other stakeholders on election threats are unprecedented for the IC.”
In response, Krebs said transparency from the IC about the current threats is “one of the best tools our election officials and the American people have to help defend against election interference.”
“We’ve come a long way since 2016 and we appreciate the Intelligence Community efforts to continue to downgrade and share information as broadly as possible, and we encourage them to continue to do so,” he added.
Krebs called the threat information shared by Evanina “serious and troubling,” but “Americans should rest assured that we are working to ensure our elections remain secure.”
“We have long said Russia and other nation-states are targeting our elections. We knew this to be true in 2016, we know it’s true today and we know they will continue to attempt to interfere,” he said. “While motives may vary, one thing is consistent: They are attempting to interfere in our democratic process. That’s why we have spent the last several years preparing alongside our partners across all levels of government, campaigns, and tech companies to ensure the adversaries are not successful and American voters decide American elections.”