Two teams of federal officials gathered to fight foreign elections were drastically cut short, according to three current and former employees of the Department of Homeland Security. And now, these sources say they are afraid the department will not adequately prepare for the threats to the 2020 elections
"The clear assessment by the intelligence community is that 2020 will be the perfect storm," he said. a DHS employee familiar with the teams. "We know that Russia will be engaged. Other state actors see Russia's success and realize the value of disinformation operations. It is therefore very curious why working groups have been reduced to bureaucracy and leadership has not taken resources to prepare for the 2020 elections
The working groups of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) were gathered in response to the intervention of Russia in the 201
One of the working groups is now half that less than a few months ago, according to two DHS officials who are familiar with the working groups and there is no indication that the senior political leadership of the DHS will hire or support it. Instead there are fears that it will completely disappear. The other working group also collapsed significantly shortly after the mid-term exams, according to this employee, and before its members gave a detailed assessment of what happened during the 2018 elections
. "Our key allies wonder why the US is not more coordinated and are not more active in dealing with it, "the DHS official said. "They do not understand why the United States is not uniting."
A DHS spokesman confirmed that some people were dropped out of the working groups and switched to other roles in the department. The spokesman added that the department introduced new people to work on election security.
Until recently, Krebs's director confirmed that election security remains a priority for CISA in his testimony to the Committee on Homeland Security, setting out the Agency's plan to work with state and local elections for wider engagement, better risk-setting for election systems, and understanding resources to manage this risk, "said Sarah Sandeck, a spokesman for DHS.
"By the 2018 elections, DHS hired the newly created working group for the elections and countered the foreign working group by temporarily appointing staff from the department. The work of these working groups continues to this day and is institutionalized as a constant effort. While some of the staff who have been assigned to serve these temporary assignment groups have returned to their regular roles, we are currently recruiting new permanent officials to build our team and support our efforts for 2020 and then, "added Cendek.
One MP with the knowledge of forming CISA said work groups were never meant to be permanent.
"It is not surprising that these changes are happening," he said. There was nothing in the stone to say that these teams would remain in formation. At least that was my understanding. "
Others said they found the change.
"The Trump administration administration heads in their global threat assessment have clearly stated that the use of influence operations by countries such as Russia, China and Iran poses a significant threat to the country," said John Cohen, former Deputy Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS. "If these reports are true, it is very worrying that the department and the administration are not more focused on dealing with this threat."
The Election Task Force works to protect the electoral infrastructure from foreign efforts to change the number of votes, the Foreign Influencing Working Group works to publicly reveal the efforts of foreign actors to shape American political discourse in social media – hoping to expand the Americans' understanding of the threat. It is also intended to improve DHS's coordination with foreign allies facing the same threat and to help DHS better alert the private sector to threats.
Changes in working groups can make it harder to meet these goals, say current and former employees.
"It will not be 2016 again and again – the threat is changing," said a former DHS official. "A working group working on this will not be equipped to cope with the enemy."
Several weeks before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, then Secretary of the DHS, Johnson, determined that DHS was responsible for election-protection infrastructure – polling stations, voting machines, voter databases and all other components that make the elections . The new, complex venture involved dozens of state and local authorities. Several years later, the department is still preparing. The changes described here have people close to the department, deeply concerned.
"Because this is a very difficult task, and because DHS has never done that before, there's a lot to catch up," said the former DHS official. "Even with the efforts that are fully secured, this would be an extremely high task. But if it is neglected and there is no access to senior management, it is virtually impossible.
This said that these changes reflected the White House's lack of interest in enhancing election security, according to Paul Rosenwave, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy for DHS.
"If the president does not care and has no strategy, it is no surprise that DHS is not wasting time," said Rosenwaveg, now a senior assistant at R Street Institute. "The failure of the White House to accept this seriously is perhaps its most essential abandonment of the debt."
The White House briefing on August 2, 2018 focused on election security and the Trump administration sanctioned Russian citizens and individuals in response to the 2016 elections
. "Since the start of his administration, President Trump has implemented a comprehensive government approach to the defense of our country's elections, "then press secretary Sarah Huckabi Sanders. "The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our election by any national state or other dangerous actor."
Prior to the interim deadlines, both groups reported directly to Chris Krebs, CISA Senate Director. But after the deadlines, it changed. Now they report to an official who is much lower in the chain of command. The change can seriously hamper their effectiveness, according to one of DHS officials, and suggests that their work is not a top priority for DHS's political leadership.
Krebs testified Wednesday before home affairs committee. Hearing Focus on Electoral Security Infrastructure and DHS-Public Relations Partnerships
Congress staff approached KISA on working groups prior to hearing Krebs as part of their preparation, according to a person with knowledge of the commission's work.
But Krebs did not turn directly to the reorganization or the decreasing size of the CISA working groups. Instead, he said his team should do more to secure the upcoming elections in 2020.
"While 2018 is behind us, the election season in 2020 is already under way. We are clear that the threat to our democratic institutions remains and we must continue to insist on greater security, "he said. "Like any other IT system, electoral infrastructure brings additional security and sustainability measures."
Later at the hearing, Krebs said US voters should be more sophisticated for disinformation campaigns.
"We need to build more awareness in this country, as we are just getting bogged down in information," he said. "There must be people who think where this information comes from? And why does he come to me? "
Inside the DHS, officials are disappointed that the emphasis on election security has diminished as the focus on border security has eroded. One employee told The Daily Beast that election security officials had discussed ways to transmit the message to the White House but had found no one to present it directly to Trump.
"It's very clear in which direction we go to DHS," said an employee for The Daily Beast. "Everything seems to be dictated by someone in the chain that makes it very clear to us that immigration and border security are the real focus."
A member of the DHS Advisory Board, a group of people in the public and private sectors who provide the secretary with instructions on DHS policy, reflects these concerns. The member told The Daily Beast that the calls with Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen has focused over the past six months on the migrant caravan and the need for more border guards. said. "So it is not clear why they would target more resources to the border than to deal with what the Intelligence Committee has identified as a serious threat to national security."