In the prelude to the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, law enforcement, intelligence services and election officials were on high alert for digital attacks and influence operations after Russia demonstrated the reality of these threats by targeting the 2016 presidential election. Six years later, the threat was. of hacking and malicious foreign influence remains, but 2022 is a different time and a new top-line risk has emerged: physical security threats to election officials, their families and their workplaces.
In July 2021 Ministry of Justice launched a task force to counter threats to election workers, and the US Election Commission released safety instructions for electives. But in public comments this week, lawmakers, top national security officials and election administrators themselves all expressed concern that misinformation about the security and validity of U.S. polls continues to shape a new threat landscape entering the midterm period.
“In New Mexico, the conspiracies about our voting and electoral systems have seized some of the electorate and got people to act,” New Mexico State Secretary of State and Chief Electoral Officer Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified before the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. yesterday. “During the 2020 election cycle, I was doxxed and had to leave my home for weeks under the protection of state police. Since 2020, my office has certainly seen an increase in trolling on social media, malicious emails and calls to our office and other communications leaving the misinformation circulating widely in the national discourse. But lately, especially since our June 2022 primary election, my office has experienced sharp threats that are serious enough to be referred to law enforcement. “
In a discussion on Tuesday on midterm election security at Fordham’s International Conference on Cyber Security in New York City, FBI Director Christopher Wray and NSA Director Paul Nakasone stressed that federal intelligence and law enforcement are looking at foreign opponents who have been active in previous U.S. elections – including Russia, China and Iran – as potential threats heading into the 2022 mid-term period. But threats to election officials are now at the top of their list.
“We are positioning ourselves to better understand our opponents so we have a series of operations that we are performing now and in the future as we approach the fall,” Nakasone said Tuesday. “But I think the other part of it is, this is not episodic, it’s for us a lasting commitment that we have over time, in terms of being able to understand where our opponents are, what they are trying to do. to do., where we need to influence them and understand how they get better. “
Asked how the FBI handles misinformation stemming from foreign influence but ultimately embedded in the domestic psyche, Wray said the Bureau simply has a set of enforcement mandates around elections that it focuses on implementing.
“We are not the truth police,” he told the conference. “It’s not to say that it’s not an important role to call falsehood versus truth, it’s just that our contributions are quite specific. We are targeting foreign malicious influence. We are investigating malicious cyber actors, whether they are foreign or in another way, which is targeted at election infrastructure – that is, cyber activity.We are investigating federal election crimes, and it covers everything from campaign funding violations, to voter fraud and voter repression to something we have seen an alarming amount of in the last little bit – threats of violence against election workers that we ‘will not tolerate. “