The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t seen signs that China seeks to interfere in the midterm elections by targeting election infrastructure, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday — a statement that appears to be at odds with remarks President Trump made about Beijing last week. “We currently have no indication that a foreign adversary intends to disrupt our election infrastructure,” Nielsen told me at a cybersecurity summit hosted by The Washington Post. Nielsen did not endorse Trump’s alarming claim at the United Nations that China “has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election.” Without offering evidence, Trump said China does not “want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade” — an especially striking comment considering the president has repeatedly equivocated on his support for the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him win.
Nielsen drew a distinction between interference in election infrastructure – which would include voting machines and registration databases – and other Chinese influence operations that could influence public opinion. She said that China is more focused on a “holistic” influence effort that may not be directly aimed at disrupting the elections.
“It’s part of a more holistic approach to influence the American public in favor of China,” she said.
Still, Nielsen did not foreclose the possibility that China could change their tactics and move to target election infrastructure in the future. “We know they have the capability and we know they have the will. So, we’re constantly on alert.”