The federal government has determined there is no evidence that foreign interference in the 2018 midterm election “had a material impact on the integrity or security of election infrastructure or political [and] campaign infrastructure,” the Justice Department announced. DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security said Feb. 5 that they have submitted a classified report to President Donald Trump in accordance with an executive order issued last year to root out and investigate foreign interference targeting American elections or campaigns. The conclusions represent the second half of an interagency process created late last year to assess whether foreign governments made any efforts to hack into voting machines and election systems or alter voter behavior through covert influence campaigns on social platforms and other media.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence made an initial assessment to the president shortly before Christmas, when Director Dan Coats said there was “no intelligence reporting that indicates any compromise” of election infrastructure that would have changed vote totals. The report did find that Russia, China and Iran “conducted influence activities and messaging campaigns targeted at the United States to promote their strategic interests,” but ODNI did not assess whether those campaigns had any effect on the results 2018 congressional elections.
The joint findings broadly track with what DHS, DOJ and ODNI had publicly reported in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day. In 2016, officials had enough evidence to attribute a sophisticated cyber campaign, focused on penetrating voting and election systems and spreading disinformation online, to Russia. But multiple DHS and intelligence officials told reporters that they had observed far lower levels of suspicious or malicious activity in the 2018 cycle.
Steven Chabinsky, former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, told FCW, GCN’s sibling site, that while he is skeptical the government has put in place an effective strategy to deter nation-state adversaries in cyberspace, the findings on 2018 represent a victory on one critical front: bolstering the public’s confidence in the election system.