U.S. of­fi­cial: Rus­sia us­ing so­cial me­dia to di­vide Amer­i­cans

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY GE­OFF MUL­VI­HILL As­so­ci­ated Press

The U.S. home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary said on Satur­day there are no signs that Rus­sia is tar­get­ing this year’s midterm elec­tions with the same “scale or scope” it tar­geted the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen spoke at a con­ven­tion of state sec­re­taries of state, an event that’s usu­ally a low-key af­fair high­light­ing voter reg­is­tra­tion, bal­lot­ing de­vices and elec­tion se­cu­rity is­sues that don’t get much pub­lic at­ten­tion. But com­ing amid fresh al­le­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s at­tempts to sway the 2016 elec­tion, the ses­sions on elec­tion se­cu­rity have a higher level of ur­gency and in­ter­est.

Nielsen said her agency will help state and lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials pre­pare their sys­tems for cy­ber­at­tacks from Rus­sia or else­where. She said U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are see­ing “per­sis­tent Rus­sian ef­forts us­ing so­cial me­dia, sym­pa­thetic spokes­peo­ple and other fronts to sow dis­cord and di­vi­sive­ness amongst the Amer­i­can peo­ple, though not nec­es­sar­ily focused on spe­cific politi­cians or po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.”

The con­fer­ence of top state elec­tion of­fi­cials she ad­dressed was sand­wiched be­tween Fri­day’s in­dict­ments of 12 Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers al­leged to have hacked into Demo­cratic party and cam­paign ac­counts and Mon­day’s long-awaited meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Trump has never con­demned Rus­sia over med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion de­spite the find­ings of all top U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and the Krem­lin has in­sisted it didn’t med­dle in the U.S. elec­tion. In the past, Trump has re­it­er­ated Putin’s de­nials, but this week he said he would bring up the is­sue when they meet on Mon­day in Fin­land.

“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ ” Trump said days ago at a news con­fer­ence in Brus­sels. “And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”

Some of the state of­fi­cials who run elec­tions say it’s im­por­tant for Trump, a Repub­li­can, to take a tougher stance to avoid hav­ing the pub­lic’s con­fi­dence in fair elec­tions un­der­mined.

“I be­lieve as com­man­der in chief he has an obli­ga­tion to ad­dress it and, frankly, put Putin and any other for­eign na­tion that seeks to un­der­mine our democ­racy on no­tice that the ac­tions will not be tol­er­ated,” Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of State Alex Padilla, a Demo­crat, said in an in­ter­view this week.

Some of his peers de­clined to go that far.

“I don’t go around telling the pres­i­dent what to do,” said Jay Ashcroft, the Repub­li­can sec­re­tary of state in Mis­souri.

Trump por­trays the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a par­ti­san attack, but not all Repub­li­cans see it that way. This month, the Repub­li­cans and Democrats on the U.S. Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee backed the find­ings of an as­sess­ment from U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia tried to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion and acted in fa­vor of Trump and against his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

As part of that ef­fort, Rus­sian hack­ers tar­geted at least 21 states ahead of the elec­tion and are be­lieved to have breached the voter reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem in at least one, Illi­nois, in­ves­ti­ga­tors say. With­out nam­ing the state, Fri­day’s in­dict­ment said the Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers stole in­for­ma­tion on about 500,000 vot­ers from the web­site of one board of elec­tions, a breach un­de­tected for three weeks.

There’s no ev­i­dence re­sults were al­tered, but the at­tempts prompted the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and states to re-ex­am­ine elec­tion sys­tems and tighten their cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials also say it’s pos­si­ble that mal­ware might have been planted that could tam­per with vot­ing or par­a­lyze com­puter sys­tems in fu­ture elec­tions.

DMITRY ASTAKHOV AP

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has de­nied Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion. Pres­i­dent Trump said he said he would bring up the is­sue when they meet on Mon­day.

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