Congress hears sinister tale of Russia election meddling

There were many questions the witnesses - including former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and one of the FBI's top counterintelligence officials, Bill Priestap - could not answer because of restrictions on disclosing classified information in an open setting.

"We could be here in two or four years talking about a much worse crisis", said Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrLawmakers told of growing cyber threat to election systems Mueller meets with House leaders amid Trump-Russia probe Lobbying World MORE (R-N.C.) at the hearing Wednesday morning.

Former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson appears before a House Intelligence Committee task force on June 21.

The Intercept, citing a classified intelligence document, reported that Russian military intelligence "executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November's presidential election".

While the Trump administration has continued in Obama's cybersecurity footsteps, Daniel said, "The election assistance commission should be beefed up and given a mandate to help the states".

Johnson said that Russian hackers were "scanning and probing around voter data bases" in state election systems for vulnerabilities. "I am not in a position to know whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election". There's a certain level of confidentiality that goes into the communications between critical infrastructure and that department that are guaranteed. And when he and James Clapper, then the director of national intelligence, released a public statement about the matter on October 7, Johnson said that the public and the media largely ignored it.

Manfra, a top official in the DHS's National Protection and Programs Directorate, said Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states past year.

Nevertheless, Johnson said he was "glad" the administration put out a public statement that a foreign adversary was trying to influence the US election. Johnson says he not aware of any information beyond what's been reported publicly and what the USA intelligence community has gathered.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who was the chairwoman of the DNC at the time of the hack, said no one at the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted her at the time. Applying the critical infrastructure designation amid the contentious campaign would have been "counterproductive", Johnson said.

"One of the candidates (Mr. Trump), as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged", the former Homeland Security secretary said. Instead, he encouraged states to get cybersecurity help from Homeland Security to protect the integrity of the election.

He also said he contacted The Associated Press, which counts votes, and its CEO, Gary Pruitt.

When asked for his recommendations, Johnson said that the onus was on state election officials to adopt greater cybersecurity protections and suggested grants to fund them. Johnson said that last year's "very troubling experience" highlights "cyber vulnerabilities in our political process and our election infrastructure".

She also expressed concerns about DHS designating election systems as "critical infrastructure" without clear parameters.

Priestap said, the "scale and aggressiveness" was different this time, with the primary goal being to sow discord and aid the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, the eventual victor.

  • Larry Hoffman