Election officials in North Carolina and Maryland are probing whether top voting system vendors are foreign-owned and demanding more transparency after revelations in the Mueller report. Russian-backed hackers inserted malware into VR Systems’ voting registration system in Florida in 2016, and equipment from the same vendor caused Election Day glitches and slowdowns in North Carolina. Maryland officials learned last year that its election data host, ByteGrid LLC, was majority-owned by a private equity firm in which a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin had an investment.
Election security legislation has been facing roadblocks for over a year in Congress, thanks (or no thanks) to Sen. Mitch McConnell, and little activity on the issue is expected in the coming months. But other branches of government have made more progress. Here are some of the steps the federal government has taken to help secure elections in the U.S., as well as some of the possible disinformation threats that could reappear in 2020.
“Mueller has finished his work, and — save for foreign-policy bureaucrats keeping their actions secret from the president — there’s no obvious mechanism for identifying and limiting the threat of Russian leverage over him. For all we know, Trump is still being promised, or even receiving, payoffs from Russia. None of these actions would amount to crimes. They do, however, constitute a crisis — not just of national security but of national sovereignty.”
“We are well past wondering whether Trump is dishonest, and have been for quite some time. What is on the table is whether, at a time when a hostile foreign power is bent on undermining America for its own gain, the president of the United States is in its tank or on the same team as the rest of us.”
A group of 14 Stanford University scholars has published its recommendations for increased election security, addressing problems of cybersecurity, ballot security, and election transparency. Nate Persily, director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, said. “We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction… But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”
The two largest voting machine vendors in the U.S., which together supply more than 80% of the nation’s voting machines, have recently made contributions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign and joint fundraising committee. McConnell has steadfastly refused to bring any election security legislation to the Senate floor. Looks like for McConnell “money talks” in a dangerous way.
While the issue of Russian collusion is very clearly politically charged, concerns about election security and foreign interference have historically been more bipartisan. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that’s no longer the case.
Democrats are looking to pass legislation that ensures the abuses outlined in the Mueller report can’t happen again—at least not without clear legal ramifications. A package of legislation would address election security and obstruction of justice by a sitting president, prohibiting a president from interfering in a law enforcement investigation. Another likely piece of legislation, Duty to Report, would require campaign aides and entities to report foreign contacts and influence to law enforcement.
It’s not every day that you hear about a company calling for greater regulation of its own industry, but that’s exactly what voting machine vendor Election Systems & Software is doing. ES&S is urging Congress to pass legislation mandating paper trails for all votes as an anti-hacking protection, and requiring security testing of voting equipment by outside researchers. For its part, ES&S has pledged to no longer sell paperless voting machines as the primary voting device in an election jurisdiction.
Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Michael Waltz of Florida have introduced legislation that would force the government to notify the public if voter registration systems are hacked. Voters whose information is potentially accessed by hackers, as occurred in two Florida counties in 2016, would be alerted within 30 days of it happening or 48 hours before an election, whichever comes sooner. “It is unacceptable that the Russians know which systems were hacked and not the Americans affected,” Murphy said in a statement.
While speaking on the New START treaty, which sought to reduce the nuclear arms of the U.S. and Russia, Vladimir Putin said that he would not seek to renew the treaty if the U.S. is not interested in renewing it. The treaty is set to expire in 2021.
The Department of Homeland Security has agreed to conduct a thorough inspection of election equipment used in North Carolina that was supplied by a vendor, Florida-based VR Systems, who was targeted by Russian hackers in 2016. It has been three years since the machines — laptops used to check in voters in Durham County — malfunctioned on Election Day, telling voters that they had already voted, even though they had not.
The Senate paid attention to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s warning about Russian interference. Last night, the chamber unanimously passed the bipartisan DETER Act, which blocks individuals from obtaining a visa if they attempted to or had engaged in “improper interference in U.S. elections,” including violating voting or campaign finance laws, or interfering in a campaign while under the direction of a foreign government. An important win for democracy.
The head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) General Robert P. Ashley said that the U.S. believes that Russia has the capability to conduct low-level nuclear tests in violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Russia responded by criticizing Ashley, the U.S. military as an institution, and said such tests would not be possible.
Senate Democrats are redoubling their efforts to pass additional election security legislation, following Robert Mueller’s warning about the threat of election interference today. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner called for “legislation that enhances election security, increases social media transparency, and requires campaign officials to report any contact with foreign nationals attempting to coordinate with a campaign.” Amen.
The Mueller report isn’t just about Donald Trump and his allies. It’s about Russia and the serious threat it poses to election security. National security officials and U.S. intelligence agencies are working to bolster American defenses before the 2020 election as best they can, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to bring additional election security bills up for a vote. Why?
Manning spent 62 days in jail for refusing to testify about her former ties to Wikileaks before a Virginia grand jury. Manning is set to appear before another grand jury in a couple of days, and since Manning has already publicly stated she will not answer any questions, she will likely be headed back to jail.
Daniel Hale has been charged in federal court with leaking classified information on drone warfare to a reporter. He worked for both the National Security Agency and as a contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and had a top secret security clearance. He faces a maximum of 50 years in prison.
Donald Trump is still fighting the last century’s wars. A March report from the U.S. Navy said, “Navies must become information enterprises.” But on Tuesday, Trump reversed his decision to retire a 21-year-old nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, costing the Navy more than $20 billion it had planned to spend on advanced technologies.
When former White House official Carl Kline was asked questions about the security clearances of senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner during a closed-door meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday, a White House attorney shut down that line of questioning. “That’s one of the reasons we were so concerned about having the White House counsel there,” House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings said. “Whenever there was any mention of Ivanka or…Kushner, he shut him down.”
In an interview on Friday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Russia “poses a very significant counterintelligence threat.” And while he said “enormous strides” have been made since 2016, he warned that adversaries are going to “keep at it,” and the intelligence community very much viewed the 2018 midterm elections as the “dress rehearsal” for 2020.
Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for the Russian government, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison, although she’ll get credit for the nine months she’s already served. She will be deported back to Russia once she has served her sentence.
“Barr testifies before Congress on May 1 and 2. And, with Barr having said publicly that he has ‘no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying,’ Mueller’s own appearance on the Hill likely won’t lag far behind. We are recommending key questions that each should be asked about their work on the investigations of Trump-Russia links, their anticipations and recommendations for what comes next, and — perhaps most intriguingly — their interactions with, and expectations of, each other in the context of the Russia investigation.”
As Maria Butina awaits sentencing on Friday, the DOJ now suggests the young Russian who pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent isn’t a “spy” in the traditional sense. While her courting of influential Republicans in the months before the 2016 election was “entirely consistent” with an intelligence operation, Butina played the role of “spotter,” an untrained person used to gather information about Americans who could be susceptible to Russian influence.
China is leading the U.S. in a race to deploy hypersonic missiles that would defeat existing air defense systems, according to senior U.S. officials. The combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude of these missiles makes them difficult to track and intercept. The U.S. falling behind in this area could spell real trouble for Taiwan, as China has made it clear “liberating” it is a top priority.
“While Chris Krebs, director of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, is providing assistance to state and local election officials to help scan their systems to protect databases, etc., there is no whole-of-government effort to mitigate the threat of disinformation and cyberattacks like hacking of the candidates and campaigns. Nothing has been coordinated among the NSA, DNI, CIA and FBI, a mission that Nielsen believed was critical but was discouraged from creating.”
Xinyue “Daniel” Lou, a Chinese-born American citizen, former writer for Chinese media, and a U.S.-based promoter for the Chinese Communist Party, is an avid supporter of Donald Trump. He’s even signed a contract with the Republican National Committee to become an official fundraiser for President Trump’s reelection campaign. It’s not about ideology; it’s about gaining access. And Trump has been all-too-willing to oblige.
No time to read Robert Mueller’s voluminous 448-page report in detail? No worries. Here are reactions from key national security experts.
FBI and law enforcement officials in Colorado are searching for a woman who they said had made threats in the Denver area and was armed and “extremely dangerous.” Security was tightened at schools across the region, with the threats coming just days ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
The Secret Service is confirming that a man attempted to light himself on fire in front of the White House. The man succeeded in lighting his clothing on fire, but was arrested shortly thereafter.
“[The president] could be working with Congress to change asylum laws and make it easier to return illegal immigrants — including children — to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And he could work with those countries and Mexico to deter migration and reduce its causes. But this would mean seeking help from the same people he disparaged as he went it alone on the border, aggravating the problem. It would be an acknowledgment that he alone couldn’t fix it. In fact, he broke it.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer on Monday called on outgoing Secret Service Director Randolph Alles to testify about potential security vulnerabilities at Mar-a-Lago after a Chinese woman was arrested after entering the property with malware. Earlier Monday, the White House announced that President Trump is removing Alles from his position as director of the Secret Service, adding that he will be “leaving shortly.”
Yujing Zhang, the woman who allegedly breached security at Mar-a-Lago last month while carrying Chinese passports and a flash drive containing malware, had a signal detector, other electronic devices, and thousands of dollars in cash in her hotel room, federal prosecutors said Monday, strongly suggesting the possibility she was trying to spy on the U.S.
“President Trump is the commander-in-chief — he could choose not to visit Mar-a-Lago, where he knows there are serious risks, or he could shut down the club while he is President. At the very least, he could suggest that Mar-a-Lago consult with the FBI on how to mitigate counterintelligence risks associated with members’ access, considering what an prime target it is. Keeping members happy might keep the cash flow steady, but presidential security should be the priority, not an afterthought.”
Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen has resigned her post at a meeting with President Trump on Sunday. Nielsen’s departure is a part of a massive DHS overhaul engineered and directed by top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, according to a senior U.S. official. Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, will become acting secretary.
“This wall is unnecessary, and an abuse of power that will take away resources that could be used to help Americans across our nation,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a Twitter post.
An attorney for former White House security official Carl Kline has written to House Oversight and Reform Chair Elijah Cummings saying Kline is willing to be interviewed by the committee for an investigation into the White House security clearance process, asking that he not be subpoenaed. Cummings and his panel are anxious to hear from Kline after another ex-White House official testified on Monday that dozens of clearance denials were overruled by the Trump administration.
The Missile Defense Agency intends on Monday to fire two interceptors tipped with the latest Raytheon Co. warheads within seconds of each other in a test that hasn’t been publicly announced. The first interceptor would attempt to crash into a dummy target representing an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile. The second would use its sensors to detect another ICBM or other countermeasures.
“Over the longer term, rising corruption threatens America’s soft power, and especially its reputation for competence. Other countries are more likely to follow America’s lead when they believe the core institutions of U.S. society are run by people who know what they are doing, and when foreign governments have confidence that the information provided by U.S. officials is accurate. But when grifters rule the roost and privileged elites use their current positions to hog even more for themselves, their offspring, and their cronies, our core institutions will function poorly and other states will lose confidence in our ability to deliver as promised.”
Citing national security concerns, Attorney General William Barr has asserted the state secrets privilege in a lawsuit brought by Twitter over its bid to publish a more complete account of government surveillance requests. In the four-year-old case, Twitter contends its First Amendment rights are being violated by the government’s refusal to allow the firm to publish more detailed statistics on National Security Letters and surveillance orders the firm receives under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.