Cybersecurity

CISA says it's ramping up election security efforts for 2020

election security (Shutterstock.com) 

The head of the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity wing is pushing back on a media report that the agency has scaled back personnel and resources from its combatting foreign election interference.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs hosted a conference call with reporters less than 24 hours after The Daily Beast published a story that quoted multiple anonymous DHS officials who said two CISA task forces focused on coordinating the department's response to foreign influence in U.S. elections were significantly downsized shortly after the mid-terms.

Krebs didn't deny that personnel levels for the task forces were reduced. He characterized the task forces as temporary vehicles to address an emerging threat while CISA worked to hire staff and build more permanent institutional capacity to tackle the issue.

"Task forces are stood up to address emerging issues that you're not resourced for at that time," he said. "We're pulling people in from across the agency, across the department. In some cases, we had detailees that were on detail for 18 months. That is an exceptionally long time."

Krebs said reductions to the task force did not represent a drawdown of efforts on election security or countering foreign influence. At the same time, CISA appears to be focused more on technical aspects of securing infrastructure than on combatting foreign influence.

"There's a problem in if you look at election security as a bucket, like 'well the machine is secured or the website for unofficial tallies are secured the best they can be' and then you ignore the broader influence operations or the [political] parties," a staffer for a Democratic member of Congress with cybersecurity oversight responsibilities told FCW.

The impression left on many lawmakers and journalists is that CISA is playing a supporting role to the FBI and Department of Justice task force when it comes to addressing foreign influence campaigns.

The same day The Daily Beast story was published, Krebs testified before the House Homeland Security Committee that DHS was "clear-eyed that the threat to democratic institutions remain" and that the agency would be expanding its engagement with local election officials in the next two years after establishing working relationships with all 50 state governments.

CISA received a $111 million boost over the administration's funding request for fiscal year 2019 in a funding bill hashed out this week to avoid another government shutdown. CISA gets $1.34 billion for the year. Krebs said that includes an increase in year-over-year funding for fiscal 2019 for election security operations.

Krebs has been telling staffers that the 2020 elections are a big priority. Shortly after the shutdown, the agency held a staff meeting to discuss priorities for the next year, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Krebs reportedly laid out five strategic priorities that the agency would be focusing on for the upcoming year, with election security being one of them. Ramping election security efforts back up was also one of the first priorities for the agency coming out of the shutdown, as FCW reported last month.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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