By Dustin Volz
ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) – The federal government has not notified US state election officials if its voting systems were attacked by suspected Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the information is likely never to be found. go public, said a senior state electoral chief. Reuters.
“He will absolutely never learn it, because we don’t even know,” Judd Choate, Colorado’s state elections director and president of the National Association of State Election Directors, said in an interview Thursday with the group. conference.
Almost 10 months after Republican Donald Trump‘s surprise presidential victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Choate said he had not spoken to any state election director who had been told by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security if his state was among those targeted. .
The lack of information sharing on election violations reflects the difficulty state and federal officials have had in working together to protect the American vote from cyber threats. All US elections are run by state and local governments, which have varying degrees of technical competence.
DHS told Congress in June that 21 states were attacked during the 2016 presidential race, and that while a small number were raped, there was no evidence of vote rigging.
Other reports have said 39 states were attacked. Choate said that he had heard both numbers mentioned.
Several lawmakers, including Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, have expressed frustration at DHS’s refusal to identify which states had been targeted. Arizona and Illinois confirmed last year that hackers had attacked their voter registration systems.
In a statement, DHS did not contest that states were not notified if they were attacked, adding that the agency informed potentially victimized owners or operators of systems “that they are not necessarily” state election officials.
DHS was working with senior state election officials “to determine the best way to share this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners,” the agency said.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin orchestrated an operation that included piracy and online propaganda with the intention of tilting the November election in Trump’s favor.
Various Congressional committees are investigating and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a separate investigation into the Russia affair, including whether Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign. Russia has denied election meddling and Trump has denied any collusion.
‘LEARN FROM MISTAKES STEPS’
The four-day elections directors conference was originally supposed to deal with issues like voter registration, but took a sharp turn after election hacking.
“After the 2000 elections, we all had to be lawyers,” Choate said. “And now, after the 2016 election, we all have to be cybersecurity experts.”
DHS representatives at the event rejected questions about whether the federal government would be prepared to mobilize sufficient support for states in the event of a catastrophic cyber attack near or during the 2018 election.
“We want to make sure we learn from the missteps that may have occurred in 2016 and we want to make sure that we continue to build on the things we did that were right,” said Robert Gatlin, a DHS cyber official, during a panel discussion.
Gatlin said the agency was working with US intelligence agencies to “downgrade” more classified information so it could be shared with states. Information about cyberattacks is often protected by a high ranking because it may involve the participation of a national state or contain sensitive sources and methods, he said.
Legislation recently passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee would require the director of national intelligence to sponsor top-secret security clearance for eligible election officials in each state, something the National Association of Secretaries of State has championed.
The bill would also require DHS to submit a report to Congress detailing cyberattacks and attempted cyberattacks by foreign governments on the U.S. electoral infrastructure during the 2016 elections.
Choate said communication about cyber threats had improved with federal agencies since the election and the decision of the outgoing Obama administration in January to upgrade voting systems to a “critical infrastructure designation.”
Before the elections, some state officials were concerned that closer monitoring of electoral systems would represent a dangerous federal intrusion into local affairs.