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U.S. Elections 2020 Cybersecurity: Feds Vow Transparency

U.S. adversaries are cooking up “active threats” to muck up the 2020 elections, the nation’s top security cops told Congress in classified briefings earlier this week.

Despite a cacophony of loud warnings following Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and a subsequent flurry of proposed bills to better secure election machinery, there’s little movement in Congress to pass bills to shore up the voting process. Whether of not Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and other officials changed that for the better in separate meetings with the House and Senate isn’t clear.

National security officials said in a statement Wednesday that election security is a top priority and that officials are taking a “whole-of-government approach” to securing the 2020 elections.

The statement said:

“Election security is a top priority for the United States government. Today we shared with Congress how we continue to bring the full strength, capabilities, and expertise of our departments and agencies to identify and defend against threats to the United States. Just like our successful, whole-of-government approach to securing the 2018 elections, we will work together with our Federal, state, local and private sector partners as well as our foreign allies to protect the 2020 elections and maintain transparency with the American public about our efforts.”

In addition to Coats, Wray and McAleenan, other top security officials, including U.S. Cyber Command Commander and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano, signed off on the statement.

Clearly, their message that the threat of hacking, influencing, meddling and messing up the upcoming elections was heard by both sides of the Congressional aisle. Rep. Debbie Dingel, (D-MI), called it “very impressive” and one to be taken seriously, while House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, (R-LA), said that federal agencies “continue to learn from the mistakes of the 2016 election...We need to stay vigilant.”

Here’s a rundown of what other Congressional members said following the briefings: (via The Hill)

  • House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “The resources are available to secure the 2020 elections.”
  • Committee ranking member Mike Rogers (R-AL): The briefing “gave some confidence to me that they’re on top of this.”
  • Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), who has primary jurisdiction over election security in the Senate: “New federal election laws would not be the right thing to do, so I assume we’d have no legislation like that come through the Rules Committee.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY): “Interference in our election is a very, very serious problem and it is obvious that we have to do a lot more at both the public sector and the private sector levels to combat it. I am very worried about what the Russians and others might do in 2020.”

Some of the stalemate in Congress over affirming new measures surrounds the role of the federal government to secure elections. Inasmuch as each state runs and controls its own elections, it is partly on that rationale that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has steadfastly opposed passing any new federal legislation on election security.

Some Republicans, however, are not quite as strident. House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis (R-IL), who has introduced legislation to help states shore up their election infrastructure, said that “as a policymaker, we should do more.” And, Sen. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said “you’ll find anybody in the national security field who doesn’t think it’s the best thing we can do.”

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher Murphy, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said more funding is needed for election security. (via Roll Call) “I think there’s still an ongoing dispute as to whether we need more money,” he said. “I think we should err on the side of making sure that we have all the resources available. And if states are asking for money, I don’t know why we wouldn’t provide it to them when the stakes are this high.”

Along those lines, in June, a House Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that features $600 million in funding for the Election Assistance Commission for states to strengthen election security by purchasing voting systems with “voter-verified paper ballots.” And, Rubio just introduced the bipartisan Small Business Cybersecurity Assistance Act, which would authorize Small Business Development Centers to work with DHS to advise small businesses on how to strengthen their cybersecurity protocols.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.