Attorney General William Barr, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and other top officials in President Donald Trump’s administration urged Americans to be on the watch for election interference ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.
“Election season is in full swing, and Americans have already begun to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential primaries. As we exercise this precious right, we must be mindful that foreign interference and malign influence in our elections are still threats to our democracy,” the officials wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today on Wednesday.
“Combating these threats requires a whole-of-society approach that deserves the attention of all Americans. While these threats to our elections are perennial, our efforts to defend our democracy are unwavering. As leaders of our government, we are committed to defending our democracy, but we need your help, too.”
No activity designed to prevent voting or change votes has been detected but officials are looking out for any malicious activities from foreign actors like Russia, China, and Iran.
States have plans in place to prevent interference and federal agencies are providing information and support.
The officials said Americans should participate in the election process, engaging with local and state officials and potentially volunteering as a poll worker, while avoiding “untrusted sources” of information about elections.
Candidates, election officials, and others involved in elections should report suspicious cyber activity. And, the officials said, everyone should be cautious of foreign governments trying to “shape public opinion and voter perceptions” through hacking, revealing private information, and spreading disinformation.
Efforts include sharing information with technology companies, including social media companies, and being aware that foreign adversaries are attempting to spread information that discredits some lawmakers and views.
“We cannot prevent all disinformation, foreign propaganda or cyberattacks on our infrastructure. However, together, we can all help to mitigate these threats by exercising care when we share information and by maintaining good cyber hygiene to reduce the risks that malicious cyberattacks will succeed,” the officials wrote.
Barr and Wray were joined by Joseph Maguire, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; and Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Wray, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, said that interference attempts by Russia “never stopped.”
“While I don’t think we’ve seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016, we certainly are seeing and have never stopped seeing, really, since 2016 efforts to engage in malign foreign influence by the Russians,” he told lawmakers.
Still, officials have said previously that there’s no evidence any votes in 2016 or 2018 were changed through foreign interference.
Lawmakers also asked Wray about the unsubstantiated dossier that ex-British spy Christopher Steele promoted among government officials, leading to a years-long special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. A number of Steele’s sources were Russian.
“Seems to me a big part of the Russian interference was the idea that a document … the information came from Russia and and Christopher Steele put together, is scary,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
Wray replied that U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation is looking at, among other things, the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane probe.