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May 15, 2024

King Warns of Potential “Chaos” From Foreign Interference in American Elections

Russia, other foes, could have “sleeper cells” in state election infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an open hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSCI), U.S. Senator Angus King pressed Jen Easterly, the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), about the current threat landscape six months out from the 2024 elections. In the exchange, King also urged Director Easterly to ramp up efforts combatting election disruptions and threats to state election infrastructure.

Senator King began the exchange by stressing that adversaries, like Russia, are using American first amendment freedoms to manipulate free and fair elections.

“What is going on here is our adversaries are using our strength against us. It is a geopolitical jiu-jitsu. The strength of our society is its openness, the first amendment, freedom of expression. They are using that in order to manipulate our most fundamental sacred right, which is the right of an election,” said Senator King. “So, we have got to be alert to it. And as I said, I disagree with my colleague. I do not think you are in the truth and falsehood business, I think you are in the disclosure of intelligence business.

“Thank you, Senator. Actually, as I mentioned, we are providing more services in more jurisdictions than ever before. We have actually enhanced our field force of cybersecurity advisors, physical security advisors, and then election security advisors who are former Secretaries of State or state election directors who are working hand-in-hand with Secretaries of State and current state election directors,” responded Director Easterly. “And I am in touch with chief election officials across the country to include [Maine] Secretary of State Bellows and others to ensure they are getting everything they need to run safe and secure elections and that has not been affected in any partisan way.”

Later in the hearing, Senator King touched on previous election interference and urged CISA to combat threats to state election infrastructure.

“Please ramp it up. We have about six months and we know that these adversaries are coming at us. Final question, we know that in 2016 and I believe in 2018 the Russians got into [some] states’ election infrastructure. They didn’t do anything with it, there was no effort to manipulate voting, but they weren’t doing it for fun,” said Senator King. “I am worried they are still there, and that the potential for people walking into a polling place in Miami and finding their name has disappeared off the list. The potential for chaos is very high. I hope all of you are pursuing those — I call them sleeper cells — that may still be there in state election infrastructure.”

I’ll just comment that since we have designated election infrastructure as critical, there has been enormous progress, in particular, raising the bar on cybersecurity,” replied Director Easterly.

In addition to serving on the Intelligence Committee, King is the Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC). He is recognized as one of Congress’ leading experts on cyber defense and as a strong advocate for a forward-thinking cyber strategy that emphasizes layered cyber deterrence. Since the CSC officially launched in April 2019dozens of CSC recommendations have been enacted into law, including the creation of a National Cyber Director. Previously, King has cosponsored legislation to shield American elections from threats by improving election cybersecurity and combatting foreign interference in U.S. democracy. He has also urged the Biden Administration to fund selection security efforts by allocating federal funds to modernize voting equipment and strengthen cybersecurity for election systems. In 2020, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report from a bipartisan panel detailing aggressive Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing, he pressed the Intelligence Community about election threats from Russia ahead of the 2024 elections, emphasizing previous Russian disruption during the 2016 and 2020 elections.


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