Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen: No Sign Russia Targeting Midterm Elections at Scope of 2016

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks on migrant children being separated from parents at the southern border during a White House daily news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Nielsen joined …
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JOSHUA CAPLAN

Russian interference in the run-up to U.S. midterm elections has dramatically decreased since President Donald Trump took office, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Saturday.

Speaking at a convention of state secretaries of state in Philadelphia on voter registration and election cybersecurity, Nielsen highlighted the Trump administration’s efforts to further protect state and local elections from foreign interference and noted Russian election meddling has dropped sharply from 2016.

“There is little doubt that adversaries and non-state actors continue to view elections as a target for cyber and influence operations,” Nielsen told attendees, adding there are “no indications that Russia is targeting the 2018 U.S. midterms at a scale or scope to match their activities in 2016.”

The Homeland Security official did note Kremlin-led efforts to tear at the U.S.’s social fabric using online platforms are still present. U.S. intelligence agencies are still witnessing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople, and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns.”

Christopher Krebs, the Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, testified before members of Congress on Wednesday that U.S. officials have “not seen anything, certainly, to the degree of 2016 in terms of specific hacking of election systems.”

“The 2018 midterms remain a potential target for Russian actors,” Krebs warned, later noting “the intelligence community has yet to see any evidence of a robust campaign aimed at tampering with our election infrastructure along the lines of 2016 or influencing the makeup of House or Senate races.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in March told Senate Armed Services Committee members that the White House is “actively engaged,” in election interference matters and has made the issue a “high priority.” The Hill reports:

Homeland Security officials have taken steps in the months since the election to help states secure voting systems, including offering remote cyber hygiene scans and more rigorous assessments that probe for potential vulnerabilities. Federal officials have also stepped up sharing information with state authorities on cyber threats in preparation for the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Nielsen’s remarks come after the Justice Department announced charges on Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking offenses during the 2016 presidential election. Federal authorities say the Russian operatives infiltrated the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and subsequently published documents and emails online leading up to November 8, 2016.

In response to the indictment, President Donald Trump criticized former President Barack Obama on Saturday for failing to protect the U.S. elections from Russian interference. “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration,” he tweeted from Scotland. “Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” tweeted President Trump.

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