Washington: With the threat of Russian interference continuing to loom over American elections, US intelligence authorities are arming state officials with classified updates on risks to their electoral systems ahead of this year’s midterm races.
Election officials from all 50 states will receive classified briefings on Friday and Sunday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join in the sessions.
“This national-level classified dialogue with officials" from the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors and the federal Election Assistance Commission, “is part of an ongoing effort to ensure the integrity and security of the nation’s election infrastructure, particularly as the risk environment evolves," the intelligence office said.
The meetings follow a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers that this year’s elections were a “potential target" for Russian interference. But he acknowledged under questioning that “there’s no single agency in charge" of blocking such meddling even after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Intelligence officials didn’t find that hackers were able to change the actual vote count in 2016 but have warned efforts will persist. Last year, the federal government designated election systems as “critical infrastructure" because of such threats.
Homeland Security has not seen specific or credible evidence of Russian attempts to infiltrate state election infrastructure as was seen in 2016, according to a DHS official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
‘Cyber hygiene scans’
The department is providing 32 states and 31 local governments with ongoing “cyber hygiene" scans, which are free and done remotely, producing a weekly report identifying vulnerabilities and mitigation techniques for election system operators, the official said.
Officials also make on-site visits to states that request more in-depth risk and vulnerability assessments of their election systems. Fourteen states have requested these reviews, which will be done by mid-April, and the department expects to complete any additional visits by then if more states ask for the assessments.
In addition, 21 state election officials have received either an interim or permanent security clearance, allowing them to access classified information from federal authorities, the DHS official said. Additional clearance applications are being processed.
The briefings over the weekend will focus on “increasing awareness of foreign adversary intent and capabilities against the states’ election infrastructure, as well as a discussion of threat mitigation efforts," the intelligence office said.
Many state officials will be in Washington this week for the National Association of Secretaries of State conference. Bloomberg