Thirteen Russians have been criminally charged for interfering in the 2016 US election to help Donald Trump, the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced on Friday. Mueller’s office said 13 Russians and three Russian entities, including the notorious state-backed “troll farm” the Internet Research Agency, had been indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington DC. A 37-page indictment alleged that the Russians’ operations “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” his Democratic opponent. Mueller alleged that Russian operatives “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign”, but the indictment did not address the question of whether anyone else in Trump’s team had knowingly colluded. … The Russians allegedly posed as Americans to operate bogus social media accounts, buy advertisements and stage political rallies. They stole the identities of real people in the US to post online and built computer systems in the US to hide the Russian origin of their activity, according prosecutors.
National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up vulnerable voting systems | Los Angeles Times
Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the United States should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Trump’s top intelligence advisor warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
There’s a Catch-22 when it comes to whether Congress will address the issue of voting security in time for this year’s elections. On the one hand, the threat posed by Russian hackers has brought significant attention to the issue, leading to the introduction of several pieces of bipartisan legislation to boost the nation’s cybersecurity. But some congressional Republicans worry that raising the Russian threat could call into question the legitimacy of President Trump’s election, so they don’t want to touch it. … Academic researchers and hackers at last year’s DefCon hacking conference showed that voting machines can be penetrated easily, often within minutes. The exercise drew considerable attention, but Lawson emphasizes that the experiment’s results wouldn’t be replicated in real-world conditions. Most of the machines at the conference weren’t certified for use in the U.S., she says, while poll workers would have to be napping for hackers to open them up.
With the threat of Russian interference continuing to loom over American elections, U.S. intelligence authorities are arming state officials with classified updates on risks to their electoral systems ahead of this year’s midterm races. Election officials from all 50 states will receive classified briefings on Friday and Sunday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join in the sessions. The meetings follow a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers that this year’s elections were a “potential target” for Russian interference. But he acknowledged under questioning that “there’s no single agency in charge” of blocking such meddling even after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The admission by President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations. The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress, Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment. He insisted that the payment was legal. The Wall Street Journal first reported last month that Mr. Cohen had arranged the payment soon before the 2016 election, as Ms. Clifford was considering speaking publicly about the purported affair.
National: Democratic Task Force Outlines Voting Security Plan, With First Primary Just Weeks Away | WIRED
In recent weeks, intelligence officials have said clearly that Russia will likely meddle again in the 2018 midterm election season—which begins in Texas in less than three weeks. United States election systems, though, have not yet adequately improved defenses since the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, House Democrats outlined a last-ditch effort to step up security while there’s still some time. The Congressional Task Force on Election Security—which counts not a single Republican among its members—announced a findings report and new bill outlining a comprehensive plan for funding and enforcing minimum security standards for all US election systems. Three other election security bills have already been introduced, but neither the Senate nor the House has held an election security hearing so far. President Donald Trump’s continuing skepticism that Russia interfered in the 2016 election process has also slowed momentum.
A Democratic congressional task force convened to study U.S. election security on Wednesday unveiled new legislation to help protect voting infrastructure from foreign interference. The legislation would authorize more than $1 billion in federal grants to help states replace outdated voting technology, train employees in cybersecurity and conduct audits of elections to ensure the accuracy of their result. It represents the latest push in Congress to address Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election through legislation and follows bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to address election vulnerabilities and deter future foreign meddling.
National: State and local election infrastructure vulnerable to attacks ahead of midterm elections, Democrats warn in new report | ABC
State and local election systems remain vulnerable to outside attacks ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, House Democrats warned in a new report obtained by ABC News. The final report issued by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, a Democratic working group formed last summer by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls for increased federal resources to protect local and state election systems and replace aging infrastructure and new regulations to help election technology vendors to improve security. The House Democratic effort is being released after the nation’s top intelligence officials Tuesday warned in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that Russia is actively working to interfere in the 2018 elections.
National: Russia Sees Midterm Elections as Chance to Sow Fresh Discord, Intelligence Chiefs Warn | The New York Times
Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections this year, the top American intelligence officials said on Tuesday, warning that Moscow is using a digital strategy to worsen the country’s political and social divisions. Russia is using fake accounts on social media — many of them bots — to spread disinformation, the officials said. European elections are being targeted, too, and the attacks were not likely to end this year, they warned. “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.
In Pennsylvania, a Republican lawmaker unhappy with a State Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering wants to impeach the Democratic justices who authored it. In Iowa, a running dispute over allowing firearms in courthouses has prompted bills by Republican sponsors to slash judges’ pay and require them to personally pay rent for courtrooms that are gun-free. In North Carolina, the Republican Party is working on sweeping changes to rein in state courts that have repeatedly undercut or blocked laws passed by the legislature. Rather than simply fighting judicial rulings, elected officials in some states across the country — largely Republicans, but Democrats as well — are increasingly seeking to punish or restrain judges who hand down unfavorable decisions, accusing them of making law instead of interpreting it.
America’s adversaries are circling like coyotes just beyond the light from the campfire, top intelligence officials warn — but that’s not the scariest thing to some members of the Senate intelligence committee. What bothers them is the need to convince people the coyotes are there. “My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say, ‘the whole thing is a witch hunt and it’s a hoax,’ because that’s what the president told me,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. The leaders of the U.S. intelligence community gave bleak evidence on Tuesday about the ongoing threat Russia poses to Western democracies — among many other threats around the world. King contrasted that with the frequent denials and equivocations about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by President Trump and the White House, which King said have led to a major disparity in belief around the country.
With the first primaries of the 2018 elections less than a month away, you might expect federal officials to be wrapping up efforts to safeguard the vote against expected Russian interference. You’d be wrong. Federal efforts to help states button down elections systems have crawled, hamstrung in part by wariness of federal meddling. Just 14 states and three local election agencies have so far asked for detailed vulnerability assessments offered by the Department of Homeland Security — and only five of the two-week examinations are complete. Illinois, for instance —one of two states where voter registration databases were breached in 2016 — requested an assessment in January and is still waiting. Primary voters go to the polls there March 20; state officials can’t say whether the assessment will happen beforehand. DHS says the assessments should be finished by mid-April.
National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up voting systems | Tribune News Service
Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the U.S. should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s top intelligence adviser warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.
Three of the nation’s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that the U.S. has seen Russian activity aimed at meddling in the upcoming midterm elections. “We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, agreed. They didn’t describe the activity, other than to say it was related to information warfare. They told Congress that they would provide more details in a classified session later in the day. The intelligence officials said the information will be shared with state and local governments and state election officials.
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said President Trump hasn’t directed him to stop Russian efforts to interfere in this year’s midterm elections. “We’re taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt Russian efforts,” Wray said when Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked if he’d been directed by Trump to do so. “As directed by the president?” Reed interjected. “Not as specifically directed by the president,” Wray responded.
As the Census Bureau finalizes the questions for the 2020 census, key voices in the Trump administration are pressing for surveyors to ask one critical question: Are you a United States citizen? Advocates of the so-called citizenship question say it is merely clerical, an effort to ascertain how many noncitizens reside in the United States. But the question would have broad ramifications, not only for the politics of redistricting that will emerge from the census but for an issue that goes beyond partisanship: public health. The fear is that immigrants — even ones in the country legally — will not participate in any government-sponsored questionnaire that could expose them, their family members or friends to deportation. But low response rates from any demographic group would undermine the validity of the next decade of health statistics and programs, health experts warn. Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of health conditions across the United States population. In turn, officials use the data to target interventions and distribute federal funding.
National: State Voting Systems Remain Vulnerable to Hackers Ahead of Midterm Elections, Report Reveals | Associated Press
With less than nine months until midterm elections, states still have a long way to go to protect their voting systems from security threats, according to a new report released Monday by the Center for American Progress. Following the nation’s 2016 elections, in which hackers targeted 21 states and breached Illinois’ voter registration system, states are racing against the clock to improve their election infrastructure. In 2017, Colorado became the first state to require risk-limiting post-election audits. Weeks ahead of its November elections, Virginia quickly switched from electronic voting machines to a paper ballot voting system. And many states are working hand in hand on the issue with the Department of Homeland Security or the National Guard. Still, no state received an A in Monday’s report, which evaluates how efficiently states (and D.C.) are protecting their elections from hacking and machine malfunction. Eleven states – including Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New York– received a B, 23 states received a C and 17 states received a D or an F.
The Department of Homeland Security on Monday pushed back against a recent NBC News report claiming that Russian hackers “successfully penetrated” U.S. voter roles before the 2016 elections, calling it misleading. “Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking,” Jeanette Manfra, the department’s chief cybersecurity official, said in a statement. The article published by NBC last week drew on an exclusive interview with Manfra, during which she told the publication that U.S. officials observed “a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”
The battle for control of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections may be decided in state legislatures this spring when voting rights legislation could be in bloom. So far this year, at least 16 bills aimed at making it harder to vote have been introduced in eight states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The proposals include a mix of photo ID requirements for voters, curbs on voter registration activity, cuts to early voting opportunities and new barriers to absentee voting. Meanwhile, 144 bills to expand voter access have been introduced in 22 states. Many call for automatic, same-day and online voter registration. Others would expand absentee and early voting. And with the legislation, campaign-style rhetoric has heated up.
The Trump administration’s pick for a key position overseeing the 2020 Census is out, the Commerce Department confirmed Monday, as civil rights groups applauded the decision. A Commerce Department spokesman said political scientist Thomas Brunell was no longer under consideration for deputy director of the Census Bureau but provided no further details. His selection had drawn criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups citing his lack of administrative experience and past support of Republican-led efforts to redraw congressional districts later determined to be excessively partisan. He authored the 2008 book, “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America,” which argued partisan districts allow for better representation.
Three senior Democratic senators on Monday introduced a resolution pushing President Donald Trump to use the new authority over Russia sanctions that Congress overwhelmingly gave him last year. The symbolic measure from Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Robert Menendez of New Jersey marks the latest Democratic effort to pressure the Trump administration on its delay in implementing a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill — designed in part as a response to Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election — that the president signed only reluctantly.
It’s been roughly two years since the first signs that Russia had launched an interference campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential race, and now the United States is hurtling toward a set of pivotal midterm elections in November. But while some states have made an earnest effort to secure the vote, the overall landscape looks troubling—and in some cases, it’s too late to fix it this year. While Russian meddling inspired many election officials to take cyberthreats seriously and double down on security, each state oversees its own elections process. In the limited window to make defense improvements before the midterms, regional officials can approach the risk in whatever way they see fit. As a result, some citizens will go to the polls in precincts and states that have audited their systems and plugged holes. Some will vote in places that have strong protections on digital election assets, like results-reporting websites and voter registration databases. Some will vote with paper ballots—that’s good—or on machines that automatically generate a paper backup. But election officials and security experts who have participated in or observed the scramble to improve defenses agree that most voters will encounter a mishmash, with some of these protections in place, and some still years away.
National: U.S. Spies, Seeking to Retrieve Cyberweapons, Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets | The New York Times
After months of secret negotiations, a shadowy Russian bilked American spies out of $100,000 last year, promising to deliver stolen National Security Agency cyberweapons in a deal that he insisted would also include compromising material on President Trump, according to American and European intelligence officials. The cash, delivered in a suitcase to a Berlin hotel room in September, was intended as the first installment of a $1 million payout, according to American officials, the Russian and communications reviewed by The New York Times. The theft of the secret hacking tools had been devastating to the N.S.A., and the agency was struggling to get a full inventory of what was missing. Several American intelligence officials said they made clear that they did not want the Trump material from the Russian, who was suspected of having murky ties to Russian intelligence and to Eastern European cybercriminals. He claimed the information would link the president and his associates to Russia. Instead of providing the hacking tools, the Russian produced unverified and possibly fabricated information involving Mr. Trump and others, including bank records, emails and purported Russian intelligence data.
Donald Trump is blocking the release of the Democrats’ rebuttal to a Republican memo that accused the FBI of a politically biased investigation into the president’s ties to Russia. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, released a letter Friday night arguing that disclosure of the Democrats’ memo would “create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests” and claiming that Trump was “inclined to declassify” the document, but could not at this time due to “classified and especially sensitive passages”. Democrats on the House intelligence committee, which is investigating Russian meddling into the US election, authored the new memo, which they said provided context for a four-page memo authored by Republican Devin Nunes, a close ally of Donald Trump.
The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, “2016 was a wake-up call and now it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”
If anyone knows how easily voting can be disrupted, it’s a county election supervisor in the state of Florida. That’s one reason several dozen of them gathered in Orlando recently to discuss ways to protect against the most recent threat — cyberattacks by Russia or others intent on disrupting U.S. elections. Marion County elections supervisor Wesley Wilcox said he realizes the threat has evolved far beyond the butterfly ballots and hanging chads that upended the 2000 presidential race. And even beyond the lone hacker. “It’s no longer the teenager in his basement eating Cheetos that’s trying to get into my system,” said Wilcox. “There are now nation states that are, in a coordinated effort, trying to do something.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the latest intelligence official to warn the Russians will likely try to interfere in this year’s elections, as they did in 2016. And Florida was among at least 21 states that intelligence agencies say had their election systems probed by Russian hackers during the last election cycle.
House Democrats on Thursday urged the Judiciary Committee to hold “immediate hearings” on the cyber threats facing America’s electoral system. The gatherings are necessary because the Justice Department “appears to have taken little — if any — action to secure our election systems” in the wake of a 2016 digital meddling campaign that intelligence officials have pinned on Russia, said Democrats on the panel in a letter sent to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). The request is the latest in a string of Democratic actions meant to pressure Republicans on Moscow’s election meddling.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to issue a report on vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system — the first such product of the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the intelligence committee is working on the report and hopes to complete it by March. Even after it’s completed, however, the report will still need to be vetted to ensure that it does not put classified information at risk. Still, the committee hopes to release the document ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that the report will “hopefully” be released before the primaries begin.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sounded an alarm this week: The Russians are already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. “The point is that if their intention is to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Tillerson told Fox News. “I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it, and you need to stop.” A new poll shows that a clear majority of Americans believe Russia will try to meddle in the next U.S. election. But Tillerson also noted that Russia’s tactics for interfering in U.S. politics are constantly changing. A bipartisan effort is shedding new light on how Russian methods evolve.
A U.S. cybersecurity official said Wednesday that Russia “successfully penetrated” the voter rolls in a small number of states in 2016. Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told NBC News that Russia targeted 21 states and “an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” DHS previously notified the 21 states that Russia had attempted to hack their elections systems before the 2016 election. It was Manfra who first revealed to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that the states had their systems targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the election.