Shortly before polls closed for state and local elections across the country, top officials from several federal government agencies tasked with election security said they had not seen evidence of “a compromise or disruption to election infrastructure” that would prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt the ability to tally votes.
The joint statement came from Attorney General William Barr; Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan; Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire; FBI Director Christopher Wray; U.S. Cyber Command Commander and NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone; and Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency.
The 2019 election represents another chance for federal, state and local officials to improve election security practices ahead of the 2020 president election. The federal government’s election security officials in all these departments have repeatedly called for improvement in information sharing with state and local governments, as well as between agencies.
“In an unprecedented level of coordination, the U.S. government is working with all 50 states and U.S. territories, local officials, and private sector partners to identify threats, broadly share information, and protect the democratic process,” the statement read. “We remain firm in our commitment to quickly share timely and actionable information, provide support and services, and to defend against any threats to our democracy.”
The statement specifically pointed to China, Russia and Iran as the countries most likely looking to disrupt the election process. Russia infamously interfered in the 2016 election, while Microsoft recently alleged that it caught Iranian actors trying to hack into the emails of a presidential campaign. The joint statement warned of several methods U.S. adversaries could use to try to sway an election.
“Adversaries may try to accomplish their goals through a variety of means, including social media campaigns, directing disinformation operations or conducting disruptive or destructive cyberattacks on state and local infrastructure,” the statement read.
Election security includes a complicated web of authorities. State election officials have complete authority to run their elections and the federal government has no authority to direct states how to do so. Meanwhile, state and localities don’t have the cybersecurity resources to protect themselves in cyberspace, but Congress has moved slowly on providing financial assistance.
The National Guard was also enlisted into the election security space. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Nov. 5 that the leaders of U.S. Northern Command recently provided an election security threat briefing to officials gathered in Colorado and explained how they could help federal and state partners on election security.
Moving into the 2020 election, the notice said that the federal government is “sharing of threat intelligence and providing support and services that improve the security of election infrastructure across the nation.”
Mark Pomerleau contributed to this report.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.