Senate's Warner Faults Late U.S. Notification of Election Hacks

  • Homeland Security advised 21 states of hacking efforts Friday
  • Democrat compares DHS responsibility to home burglar alarms

Senator Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized the Department of Homeland Security Friday for its slow response in notifying some U.S. states that they were the target of hacking attempts ahead of the 2016 election.

The Homeland Security Department, then led by current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, revealed the hacking attempts on 21 states’ election systems to the committee at a June 21 hearing without revealing the names of the states.

Mark Warner

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Warner, in a statement released Friday evening, said the DHS notification now was "unacceptable" considering that it "took almost a year."

"DHS needs to notify states and localities in real time when their systems are targeted," Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said in the statement. Swifter notification for state elections officials is crucial "just as any homeowner would expect the alarm company to inform them of all break-in attempts, even if the burglar doesn’t actually get inside the house."

Warner’s statement didn’t name the states affected. The Associated Press reported Friday that it contacted all 50 state election offices. Not all replied, but confirmation of the intrusions came from officials in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, AP said.

Eyes on Russia

While the U.S. government didn’t specify the suspected actor or actors on Friday, according to AP, Warner referred to Russia specifically in his statement. At the June 21 hearing, Samuel Liles, acting director of the cyber division at Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, put the blame on Russia, and the Wisconsin Election Commission told AP on Friday that it suspected the Russian government.

Only Illinois said hackers had successfully infiltrated its voter systems, AP reported. Three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the hacking effort told Bloomberg News in June, before the Intelligence Committee hearing, that Russian hackers had hit election systems in a total of 39 states, and that Illinois had been breached.

While Warner’s statement Friday said the DHS notifications came today, Jeanette Manfra, acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at DHS, said at the June 21 hearing that the operators of the targeted election systems had been made aware of the attempted intrusions.

Warner’s statement noted the committee’s approval in August of a bill requiring DHS to provide "appropriate clearances to state elections officials so that they can receive timely and specific threat information."

Warner called that "a significant issue identified by the committee in the course of our investigation."

Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the U.S. election in November 2016 have spawned investigations in Congress and in the U.S. Justice Department through Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign or his administration colluded with Russian officials in any such attempts.

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