No Foreign Meddling in Super
Tuesday Primaries, US Officials Say |
March 4, 2020
voters who headed to the polls to cast ballots in Super Tuesday
primaries encountered scattered problems, some causing long
lines or delays, but nothing that could be attributed to foreign
interference, U.S. officials said.
The updated assessment late Tuesday came as polling stations
were preparing to close in the last of the 14 states and one
territory giving voters a chance to determine U.S. President
Donald Trump’s opponent in November’s presidential election.
Problems included issues with voter registration databases as
well as problems with voting machines in Texas and California.
In Minnesota, a tool on the state’s website that helps voters
find their polling stations also went down.
“We have obviously sporadic reporting on IT systems issues
throughout a number of states,” a senior official with the U.S.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) told
reporters late Tuesday.
“But our understanding at this point is, generally speaking,
everything is back up and running,” he added. “We don’t have any
reports of malicious cyber activity.”
The update backed up previous assessments by CISA officials, who
earlier said there were few signs Russia or other U.S.
adversaries had stepped up their efforts to cause confusion or
even mayhem as American voters began casting ballots Tuesday.
Concerns had been running high in the weeks leading up to
Tuesday’s voting after a series of leaked intelligence reports
suggested Russia has been trying to put its mark on the upcoming
election by aiming to sway public opinion.
While intelligence officials have denied reports there is any
evidence to back up claims that Russia is seeking to boost
Trump’s reelection bid, Senator Bernie Sanders confirmed he was
advised Moscow was meddling with his campaign to win the
Democratic Party nomination.
But so far, a senior CISA official told reporters there was been
nothing to suggest any uptick in activity to coincide with
Tuesday primary votes.
“There is no spike. There is no appreciable increase,” the
official said regarding ongoing influence operations. “There’s
just that chronic level of mis- and disinformation, where
whether it’s the Russians or frankly anyone else, it’s finding
those divisive issues to amplify.”
Fears Russia or other cyber actors might target state election
infrastructure, like voter databases, likewise failed to
A warning to US voters
As a precaution, U.S. security and intelligence officials warned
voters Monday to expect foreign actors to try to sway their
views as they prepared to vote in key presidential primaries.
“Foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment
and shape voter perceptions,” the statement, from the
departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice,
said. “They spread false information and propaganda about
political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to
cause confusion and create doubt in our system.”
Earlier Tuesday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf
also told lawmakers that the threat, whether it manifested
during Tuesday’s primary elections or during the general
election in November, is growing.
"We see an ongoing influence campaign by Russia,” he said,
adding “We would not be surprised if other adversaries are not
also looking at what they're doing."
But Wolf said while election security officials have increased
their efforts, some of the responsibility also rests with voters
"A vital component of this is also the voter, making sure that
the voter has information, continuing to push information to the
voter to recognize what might perhaps be disinformation, or not
reliable information,” Wolf said, pointing to a number of
efforts to better educate voters about the need to seek out
trusted sources of information and to not rely on anonymous
information on social media.
"We're better positioned today than we were four years ago," he
2016 election meddling
In an unclassified report following the 2016 U.S. presidential
election, the U.S. intelligence community assessed Russia had
ultimately sought to help Trump win election.
The U.S. intelligence community also concluded that Russia, as
well as Iran and China ran influence operations designed to
impact the 2018 elections.
Since then, numerous officials have warned those countries and
others, even non-state actors, may try to meddle with the
upcoming presidential elections in November. And a report
earlier this year from Estonia’s foreign intelligence service
also warned meddling by the Kremlin was likely.
"Russia wants to show that the West is failing to hold fair
elections," it said.
Some election security officials and analysts caution that while
more significant information operations or cyberattacks may yet
target U.S. voters, so far, Russia has been content to stick
with its 2016 social media playbook.
"In general from Russian state-backed media, we’ve seen a focus
in their primary coverage on the division within the Democratic
Party and the idea that the elections are “rigged” against
Bernie Sanders,” Rachael Dean Wilson, with the Alliance for
Securing Democracy, said of the activity by 140 Russian-linked
diplomatic and media accounts on Twitter.
But other experts say unless something changes, Russia in
particular, has no reason to change what it sees a successful
don’t think the cost-benefit ration has been increased enough
for them to roll out new stuff, frankly,” said Nina Jankowicz, a
disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center’s Science and
Technology Innovation Program.
“We’ve not increased the costs, as the U.S. government, to deter
Russia or any other bad actor from engaging in these behaviors,”
she said. “In fact, I would argue that we have actually
normalized that behavior.”
Despite signing an executive order ahead of the 2018 elections
authorizing the use of sanctions against any country found to
have meddled in that election, such sanctions have only been
applied once, against a Russian oligarch in September.
Still, Tuesday’s statement by U.S. security and intelligence
officials warned any meddling will not go unpunished.
“We continue to make it clear to foreign actors that any effort
to undermine our democratic processes will be met with sharp
consequences,” it said.