Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that warnings about Russian interference in the 2016 election went unnoticed because of the "Access Hollywood" tape. "If we have information to share on a real threat, we will do so".
They also acknowledged challenges the agency had faced but agreed progress had been made to work better with states and more fully understand the threat posed by Russian Federation and others. Many states are now undertaking the steps necessary to get their election systems up to Homeland Security's recommended standards, even as US adversaries likely continue to probe existing systems for cyber weaknesses. Nielsen repeated the agency's findings a year ago that 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers in 2016 and that a small number of networks were compromised, but that there remains no evidence any votes were actually altered. There is no evidence, however, that any vote tallies were changed.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, said that the Obama administration and states were "caught flat-footed" during the 2016 election, failing to notify the states about the threat until fall 2016.
Indeed, an indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities filed last month by Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller alleged that the Russian social media disinformation campaign sought to target "purple states". That decision prompted alarm among state election officials, who expressed concern the federal government was trying to take over elections that have always been the jurisdiction of state and local governments. "We're in an all-out constitutional crisis", Rubio said.
For one, Homeland Security won't let coordinating the security clearances for as many as 150 relevant state election officials get in the way of handing down important election system intelligence.
Nielsen, echoing previous testimony from top US intelligence officials, said the 2018 elections are "clearly potential targets for Russian hacking attempts".
"Well, senator, the American people were told", said Johnson, who led DHS from 2013 until the end of the Obama administration.
"As each member of this committee knows, in 2016, the Russian government at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself orchestrated cyber attacks on our nation for the objective of influencing the election that year, plain and simple", he said.
But that decentralization also means local jurisdictions in places that can have an outsized effect on the outcome of national races - like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and MI - will be forced to defend against cyber-threats posed by entire nation-state adversaries like Russian Federation.
It was held on the same day that lawmakers were expected to unveil a federal spending bill that sources familiar with the negotiations said included almost $400 million for election security.
The committee is recommending that states make sure voting machines have paper audit trails and aren't capable of being connected to the internet. The bill will reportedly provide $380 million in grants to states for new technology to guard against cyberattacks, as well as millions of dollars in additional funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to combat possible Russian meddling in the 2018 elections.