Warner chastises DHS for withholding state election hack details

Sen. Mark Warner tore into DHS Wednesday for not revealing which states Russian hackers targeted during the 2016 election, warning that its silence was making the nation less secure for upcoming elections.

The department’s decision to keep "secret" the number of states that were attacked is "just crazy in mind," Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said during a Wednesday hearing.

The Virginia lawmaker’s remarks come on the heels of a media report that 39 states suffered intrusions into their voter databases and software systems during the election. To-date, though, only two states — Arizona and Illinois — are publicly known.

"That makes absolutely no sense," said Warner, who sent a letter to DHS chief John Kelly on Tuesday demanding the agency release all of the information about the breaches.

If the government doesn’t "tell the public how many states were attacked, or potentially how many could be attacked in the next cycle, I don’t think we get to where we need to be" in protecting the election system for the 2018 and 2020 elections, Warner added.

Jeanette Manfra, DHS’ acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications, told the panel that 21 states were targeted during the election-year, reiterating information the agency released in October.

But Manfra declined to offer the names of those states, or any specifics about the attacks.

She argued that the agency wants to protect "the information around that victim," something it does for all sectors deemed to be critical infrastructure — like hospitals or the power grid. DHS slapped the critical infrastructure label on the electoral system in January.

Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, also told lawmakers that the bureau has "a number of investigations open" into state-level hacking attempts during the election.

"We continue to learn things," he added, but declined to commit to making those findings public.

Warner asked if states other than Illinois and Arizona are at least aware they were targeted by Russian hackers. Manfra said state officials did, but conceded it’s possible that local officials, including registrars, might not.

"I have no interest in trying to embarrass any state," Warner said, but added he didn’t want information swept "under the rug."

Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr suggested that he and Warner would send a letter to the 19 anonymous states, asking them to come forward.

Burr also vowed to bring in the FBI for a closed-door briefing with the panel on the open investigations into state-level hacking. The Intelligence Committee has been investigating the scope of Russia’s alleged digital meddling campaign during the election.

Once that investigation is done, Burr said, he would declassify as much information as possible so the "public gets a true understanding."

Warner stressed that such public disclosures were critical.

"We are not making our country safer if we don’t make sure that all Americans understand the breadth and extent of what the Russians did in 2016," he said, "and frankly, if we don’t get our act together, what they will do in an even more dramatic form in 2018 and 2020."


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