Government Agencies Outline 2020 Election Security Strategy at Hearing

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 23, 2019

WASHINGTON—In a multi-hour-long hearing conducted by the House Judiciary Committee, high-ranking members from top government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice testified about strategies to fight election interference as the 2020 elections near.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission also gave testimony, which focused on collaboration and the sharing of cybersecurity information between federal, state, and local partners in order to the defend their infrastructure.

Most agencies also talked about working, assisting, or collaborating with social media companies or technology companies to rein in foreign influence operations that use social media platforms for their campaigns. The hearing held on Oct. 22 was titled “Securing America’s Elections Part II: Oversight of Government Agencies.”

For the 2020 elections, the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) identified four main lines of effort that will guide the department in its efforts: protecting election infrastructure, supporting campaigns and political infrastructure, raising public awareness and building resilience, and efficiently sharing actionable intelligence and identifying threats.

“CISA, through the EI-ISAC, now provides threat alerts to all 50 states and more than 2,000 local and territorial election offices,” Matthew Masterson, senior cybersecurity adviser at CISA, said in his testimony. “CISA also provides weekly vulnerability scans for 37 states, 145 local partners, one territory, and 10 private sector partners.”

Meanwhile, the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) said it’s reviewed its practices, in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections.

“As a result of this review, we further expanded the scope of the FITF. Previously, our efforts to combat malign foreign influence focused solely on the threat posed by Russia,” Nikki Floris, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in her remarks.

“Utilizing lessons learned over the last year and half, the FITF is widening its aperture to confront malign foreign operations of China, Iran, and other global adversaries.”

Floris said all their departments’ efforts are based on a three-pronged approach that includes “investigations and operations; information and intelligence sharing; and, a strong partnership with the private sector.”

Adam Hickey, deputy assistant attorney general at the DOJ’s National Security Division, noted that there are limits to what the department and the U.S. government as a whole can do to address foreign influence operations. He said the nature of such operations will also continue to change as foreign adversaries update their tactics and technologies.

“The Department plays an important role in combating foreign efforts to interfere in our elections. At the same time, it cannot and should not attempt to address the problem alone,” he said in his testimony, after outlining five of the key roles the department plays in investigating and disrupting foreign government activity.

“Combating malign foreign influence operations requires a ‘whole of society’ approach that relies on coordinated actions by federal, state, and local government agencies; support from the private sector; and the active engagement of an informed public,” Hickey said.

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