White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien recently warned U.S. cyber adversaries China, Iran and Russia that intervening in the upcoming U.S. elections will bring “severe consequences.”
In an interview on the television show “Face the Nation,” O’Brien confirmed that the foreign nations are launching phishing and other cyber offenses targeting American election infrastructure. U.S. counter terrorism is working with states to hardened election and cyber infrastructure, he said.
“Whether it’s China, Russia or Iran, we’re not going to put up with it, and there will be severe consequences with any country that attempts to interfere with our free and fair election,” O’Brien said. “Whether their leaders prefer Joe Biden or prefer Donald Trump, it doesn’t matter. We’re Americans. We’re not going to have foreign countries deciding who our next president is going to be. That’s outrageous.”
O’Brien’s alarm appears to be supported by new data and proposed legislation: A recent study of some 10,000 U.S. state and local election administrators found that most are inadequately armed to fight off phishing tactics used by hackers intent on breaking into networks. And, Congressional members in the House have approved $500 million in election security funding for states as part of a $1.3 trillion appropriations package for fiscal 2021 ended September 30, 2021.
U.S. national security officials, still reeling by the depth of Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election and the subsequent, ongoing cyber intrusions by other foreign powers, have taken to repeatedly and publicly announcing their determination and to fight cyber terrorism in the 2020 elections. William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said last week that the three foreign countries are seeking 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.”
Word recently surfaced that Chinese and Iranian hackers have earlier attempted to bore in on the Biden’s and Trump’s presidential campaigns, using email phishing to potentially get a foot in the door. Both China and Iran don’t want Trump to win reelection and Russia is working to hurt Biden, Evaniva said. “Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran,” he said.
O’Brien said that Russia has been more than warned with words to stay away from U.S. elections. “We’ve sanctioned the heck out of the Russians — individuals, companies, the government,” he said. “We’ve kicked out literally scores of Russian spies. We’ve closed down all their consulates on the West Coast. We closed down diplomatic facilities. There’s not a lot left we can do with the Russians.”
His admonition closely follows the U.S. State Department dangling a $10 million reward for information that helps the agency finger anyone working with a foreign government to hack into a federal, state or local election through the nation’s Rewards for Justice program.