One of the nation’s top cybersecurity officials warned Saturday that those responsible with protecting the country’s voting systems must stay nonpartisan as a slew of complex and growing threats continue to loom over the country’s elections.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said she was focused on making sure the federal agency stays out of politics, builds trust among state and local election officials, and continues to provide critical support and guidance on how to improve cyber defences.
“It’s critical that we form the correct collaborative ties with all state and local election officials so that they understand that we are here to help them secure the safety, security, and resilience of their elections, regardless of which party they represent,” Easterly said.
As the elections for 2022 and 2024 approach, the agency will face a tremendous task in combating misinformation and deception without provoking partisan opposition.
After being confirmed by the Senate on July 12, Easterly has been at the leadership of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for just over a month. She takes over as election officials work to protect the country’s electoral process from cyberattacks by hostile countries seeking to undermine American democracy, ransomware attacks by cyber criminals looking for a quick buck, and a slew of misinformation and disinformation surrounding the 2020 election and voting in general.
Easterly was in Des Moines on Saturday for the National Association of Secretaries of State’s summer conference, where he spoke with state election officials. She asked officials to collaborate with her agency in the fight against deception and misinformation.
Easterly told election officials, “With respect to getting that information out, this absolutely has to be a team sport and, frankly, a whole nation effort.” “We’re going to have to work together in close partnership to ensure that we can tap into all of you to help amplify getting the truth out and destroying the myths that impede people from having full faith and confidence in our election system.”
Easterly, a former senior NSA official who also worked on counter terrorism and cyber concerns during the Obama administration, takes over an agency that is still in its infancy and has a wide range of responsibilities.
While state and municipal governments are in charge of elections, CISA is responsible for safeguarding the country’s key infrastructure, which includes voting systems. The organisation collaborates closely with election officials to share threat intelligence and offers cybersecurity resources and services such as complete security audits.
With concerns that Russia and other unfriendly nations would try to influence, the 2020 election proved to be a huge test for the agency. Officials at the agency had been working to improve cyber security at state and local voting offices, and the epidemic only made matters worse. Then there was a deluge of international and domestic misinformation and disinformation surrounding voting.
During the past election, one of CISA’s activities was to create a Rumor Control page on its website, where the agency disproved different conspiracy theories that had surfaced before and after the election. This includes details on how election officials handle ballots and how voting systems are tested to ensure they work as intended.
Former President Donald Trump and his supporters chastised the move, claiming massive fraud without evidence. Chris Krebs, the head of CISA at the time, was sacked by Trump after the agency — along with a number of other federal, state, and local officials — published a statement declaring the 2020 election to be the “safest” in US history.
Easterly stated that the Rumor Control programme would continue, adding that the hazards of misinformation and deception are a “generational concern.”
“In order to make the best decisions and have faith in the integrity of our elections, the American people need to have the facts,” Easterly added. “Nothing is more important to our democracy than a safe and secure election in which the American people have faith.”
Following Easterly’s address, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, expressed worry that the agency had become politicised and requested her to “depoliticize” the organisation during a question-and-answer session.
Easterly answered by referencing her military experience and describing herself as an independent who has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“I’m in this business because I believe in the United States of America’s national security. Easterly stated, earning applause from the audience, “It’s why I deployed three times in battle.”
Later, Warner expressed concern that people who have worries about the 2020 presidential race are being ridiculed as conspiracy theorists or worse.
“You’re going to keep having elections questioned, and when you have elections questioned, you lose confidence,” Warner added. “We don’t want another January 6th,” said the group. We don’t want things to go to the point where civil upheaval occurs.”
Arizona Secretary of State Kattie Hobbs, a Democrat, said CISA’s work on misinformation and disinformation is critical. Hobbs said she is still fighting election conspiracy ideas, citing the ongoing Republican ballot review in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, which she has opposed to.
Hobbs stated, “It’s awful how political all of this has gotten.” “Having people who are focused on the process’s integrity regardless of their political connections is critical.”
Jena Griswold, the Democratic Secretary of State of Colorado, was among many who praised CISA’s work last year. Krebs was praised with helping to “rescue democracy,” according to her.
State election officials, according to Griswold, play a critical role in pressuring the federal agency to do more to support election offices, and he encouraged agency officials to think broadly and critically about ways to help increase public confidence in elections regardless of which party is in power.
“Just because you happen to be a Democratic administration, just like Trump’s administration was Republican and CISA leadership was Republican,” Griswold added, “doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to provide excellent information to the American people.” “It does mean you have to do it in a bipartisan manner, but I have faith in the United States of America to figure that out.”