By Richard Pollock
State election officials still don’t know which 21 of their jurisdictions Russian hackers targeted, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
Secretaries of state — who are the top election officials in 40 states — told TheDCNF they were shocked to learn of the Russian hacking when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials first divulged it at a June 21, 2017, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing.
“We can’t find any secretaries of state who say they have been told they are part of this list of ‘targeted’ states.” said a spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), which is the oldest nonpartisan professional organization for public officials, representing top state election officials in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
The testimony of Jeanette Manfra, acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stunned NAAS.
“We have evidence of election-related systems in 21 states that were targeted,” she said.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican from Vice President Mike Pence’s home state, said she was shocked to learn of the hacking during the hearing and incredulous that federal officials have provided no further information.
“Well it is extraordinary and is somewhat ridiculous,” Lawson said. “It’s frustration beyond belief. I have never heard from any secretaries of state and I believe that NASS has not heard either from any secretary that they have been told that their state was one the states that was targeted during the 2016 election,” she said.
“Here’s what I’m learning unless a secretary of state gets the proper clearance, I’m not sure we will ever find out if our state was mentioned,” Lawson said. She is president of NASS and co-chairwoman of the group’s election cybersecurity task force.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, who is a Democrat and president-elect of NASS, agreed with Lawson. “We were not notified. None of the states were notified,” he said.
“One of the reasons why they said they couldn’t tell us about the 21 states is because we didn’t have security clearances. Doesn’t it make sense that they might find a way to give us a security clearance so we can talk to each other about this?” Condos added.
A DHS spokesman confirmed to TheDCNF that state election officials were out of the loop when the Russians targeted them. “When we become aware of a potential victim, DHS notifies the owner or operator of the system, who may not necessarily be the secretary of state’s office,” the spokesman said.
Owners and operators are usually private vendors that maintain election registration lists, according to the DHS spokesman. Russian hackers never attacked actual tabulation systems but voter registration rolls, most of which are public and available for purchase.
“If a local election system is hacked, you should notify the state system, and you probably should be notifying all state systems to let them know this breach was made so we can all take action to prevent it from impacting us,” Condos said.
State election officials are also disturbed that former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson designated state election systems as “federal critical infrastructure” with no prior consultation. DHS officials informed the states the federal designation was being considered in August 2016. But Johnson made it official in January 2017 just weeks before the Obama administration ended.
Both Democrat and Republican secretaries of state have opposed the federal designation. Many see it as a power play to “nationalize” our election system, which is now run at the state and local level. They also charge federal officials are clueless about how state and local election systems operate.
“The disconnect is what we’ve been saying since last August that they need to understand how our system works before they start creating regulations to secure it,” Condos said.
“We plan to work with secretaries of state and senior election officials to determine how best to share this information, while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners,” the DHS spokesman told TheDCNF.
“As part of this effort, we have begun the process to grant security clearances in coordination with the National Association of Secretaries of State, and have made this a priority for the election sector,” the spokesman said.
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