Two teams of federal officials assembled to fight foreign election interference are being dramatically downsized, according to three current and former Department of Homeland Security officials. And now, those sources say they fear the department won’t prepare adequately for election threats in 2020. “The clear assessment from the intelligence community is that 2020 is going to be the perfect storm,” said a DHS official familiar with the teams. “We know Russia is going to be engaged. Other state actors have seen the success of Russia and realize the value of disinformation operations. So it’s very curious why the task forces were demoted in the bureaucracy and the leadership has not committed resources to prepare for the 2020 election.”
The task forces, part of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), were assembled in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. One focuses in part on securing election infrastructure and the other focuses on foreign influence efforts, including social media disinformation campaigns.
One of the task forces is now half the size it was a few months ago, according to two DHS officials familiar with the task forces, and there’s no indication that DHS senior political leadership will staff it up or sustain it. Instead, there are concerns it will completely wither away. The other task force also shrank significantly shortly after the midterms, according to that official, and before its members produced a thorough assessment of what happened during the 2018 elections.
“Our key allies are wondering why the U.S. is not more coordinated and not more proactive in dealing with this,” said the DHS official. “They don’t understand why the U.S. is not getting its act together.”
A DHS spokesperson confirmed that some people have been taken off the task forces and moved to other roles in the department. The spokesperson added that the department is bringing on new people to do election security work.