When floods swept through West Virginia polling places during the 2012 presidential election, the National Guard came to the rescue with tents and electrical connections. For the state’s congressional primaries next month, the Guard will be on the lookout for another disaster: Russian interference. West Virginia’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner, has embedded a member of the Air National Guard in his office to scour election networks daily. Short on funds and expertise, a number of Warner’s counterparts across the country are also tapping the Guard to bolster their cybersecurity before November’s midterms.
The threat is real: U.S. intelligence chiefs warn that Russians could repeat their attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. The response — seeking expertise from the Guard — is unexpected.
Best known for responding to hurricanes and tornadoes with “weekend warriors,” the Guard has been building its cyber-defense expertise, in part with volunteers whose regular jobs involve advanced technology. By next year, it aims to have cyber units in 38 states, with some 3,800 soldiers and airmen. With regard to election security, “there’s room to grow there in the unique space that the National Guard has as a state asset,” General Joseph Lengyel, chief of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau, told the House Appropriations Committee this month.