Government efforts to protect state and local elections from Russian cyberattacks in 2016 didn't go far enough, leaders of the Senate intelligence committee said Tuesday as the panel released recommendations to safeguard against foreign meddling in the 2018 primary season that's already underway.
"The Senate Intelligence Committee identifies numerous most important steps in protecting America's election infrastructure from hostile foreign powers", said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program.
The parallel House Intelligence Committee probe concluded its investigation into President Donald Trump and Russian collusion earlier in March, claiming it found "no evidence" of collusion between Trump officials and Russian agents.
In addition to the election security issue, three remaining reports will focus on Russian interference in USA social media, verification of an intelligence community assessment that said Russians meddled in the election and the issue of whether Trump's campaign and Russia colluded.
The committee's initial findings amounted to the most comprehensive and bipartisan recommendations to improve election cyber security since 2016. After that, Burr said, the committee would try to come to a conclusion on the collusion question that has roiled Trump amid the multiple probes on Russian Federation. "That's off election security", Warner eventually said, prompting laughter from the senators before they moved on to the next question.
Burr said the committee's investigation revealed that the Russian cyber effort exposed "some of the key gaps" in the security of the nation's election infrastructure. Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will appear in the first of a three-panel hearing, alongside Obama-era secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversaw the department during the 2016 election.
"We've got to get some standards in place", Burr said.
Burr and Warner said the federal government and the states were unprepared for Russia's attacks during the 2016 election, in which the Kremlin tried to access 21 state election systems and was successful in penetrating at least one state's voter database. The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation alerted states to the threat.
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Sen. Richard Burr, (R-N.C.) along with Sen.
Lankford said the funding was intended as a way to aid states but that it was not meant to be used in place of states investing in their own election infrastructure. In most cases, elections officials do not yet have adequate funds to do so. Senators also are pushing for better communication among the various US intelligence agencies and federal, state and local governments about cyber threats and vulnerabilities in computer systems.
At their press conference on Capitol Hill, avoided commenting about Trump's leadership on election interference, although they said they hoped the executive branch, Congress and state officials ultimately could work together.
"One of the most frustrating things were that in the aftermath of this information coming out, that it actually took the Department of Homeland Security almost nine months to notify the top elections officials that their states' systems had been messed with", Warner said. "In the ensuing months, I think DHS has picked up its game".
The draft recommendations called for clearer channels of communication between federal, state and local officials.
The panel recommends that states "rapidly replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems", and that "any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability".
Committee members offered several recommendations for addressing election security.