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New Agency Says 2020 Election Secure   10/24 10:08

   Earlier this month, President Donald Trump was predicting on Twitter that 
this election would be "the most corrupt" in American history. A day later, the 
head of an obscure government agency he created offered a much different 
message.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Earlier this month, President Donald Trump was predicting 
on Twitter that this election would be "the most corrupt" in American history. 
A day later, the head of an obscure government agency he created offered a much 
different message.

   Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure 
Security Agency, closed an online conference with a warning about "bad guys, 
whoever they are," trying to "sow chaos, sow doubt" about the integrity of the 
U.S. election.

   "I have confidence that your vote is secure, that state and local election 
officials across this country are working day in and day out, 24/7, that the 
2020 election is as secure as possible," Krebs said.

   It was just one of many ways that CISA has been offering a counternarrative 
as it works behind the scenes to not only help safeguard the election but also 
to reassure the public despite messages to the contrary from the White House.

   That conflict could be on display on Election Day. Krebs and CISA will be in 
the national spotlight, monitoring the election amid the inevitable voting 
glitches and delays, which could be worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, under 
a president who has said he might not respect the results if he loses.

   Krebs warned voters this week to "be prepared for efforts that call into 
question the legitimacy of the election" without mentioning that it's the 
president who has questioned mail-in voting and has called attention to 
relatively minor incidents in which a small number of ballots had apparently 
been discarded.

   That conflict is all the more notable since CISA was signed into existence 
by Trump in November 2018 as part of the Department of Homeland Security, which 
itself has been accused of politicizing its missions under this administration.

   Krebs and Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of DHS, spoke to 
journalists Thursday and said that, with tens of millions of votes already 
cast, there has been no sign of any foreign interference, unlike in 2016.

   Still, there have been attempts to disrupt the election, including a 
campaign to send threatening emails to voters in several states that CISA and 
other federal agencies attributed to Iran, and election security is a 
widespread concern.

   "It is true that the defense has gotten better since 2016, but it's also 
true that the offense has gotten better still," said Tom Warrick, a former 
deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy at DHS who is now with 
the Atlantic Council. "I don't know of anyone who has absolute confidence that 
this is all going to go well from an election process standpoint."

   CISA has been largely out of the public eye. It works with the state and 
local officials who run U.S. elections as well as private companies that supply 
voting equipment to address cybersecurity and other threats while monitoring 
balloting and tabulation from a control room at its headquarters near 
Washington.

   Krebs, who with his collar-length hair looks more like a tech executive than 
a senior Trump administration official, also keeps a low profile. His carefully 
calibrated remarks at government or cybersecurity conferences rarely make major 
headlines.

   That has helped him avoid the wrath that Trump has directed at FBI Director 
Chris Wray for saying there was little evidence of fraud with mail-in 
balloting, among other things.

   Krebs should be praised for "staying focused on the mission and not getting 
caught up in the fray," said Kiersten Todt, managing director of the nonprofit 
Cyber Readiness Institute.

   "The importance of him staying in this job certainly through elections is 
pretty critical, and I think he feels that, too," she said.

   CISA also enjoys a good reputation among its core constituency -- the state 
and local election officials who rely on its advice and services at a time of 
near-constant cyberattacks.

   "They have really established themselves as kind of partners and 
facilitators," said Trevor Timmons, chief information officer for Colorado's 
secretary of state. "I have been really impressed with how CISA has really 
upped their game in the face of what is a threat to our democracy."

   The agency emerged from rocky beginnings. Just before President Barack Obama 
left office, the U.S. designated election systems as critical national security 
infrastructure, like dams or power plants, as a result of the interference by 
Russia, which included the penetration of state elections systems as well as 
massive disinformation.

   Some state election officials and Republicans, suspicious of federal 
intrusion on their turf, were opposed to the designation. The National 
Association of Secretaries of State adopted a resolution in opposition to the 
move in February 2017.

   But the Trump administration supported the designation, and, eventually, 
skeptical state officials welcomed the assistance. West Virginia Secretary of 
State Mac Warner said a turning point was when CISA and DHS began providing 
election officials with previously tightly held information on foreign threats.

   "We started seeing DHS more as an ally or a friend than another one of the 
frustrations we had to deal with," Warner said.

   CISA, which has about 2,000 employees and a budget of around $2 billion, 
deploys advisers throughout the country. It hasn't received anywhere near the 
criticism directed at DHS, which has been blasted by former senior officials 
and members of Congress for seeming to push the administration's political 
agenda on immigration and civil unrest. But there are still concerns.

   "We have seen DHS involved with activities outside of CISA that I found, and 
most people in the country found, extremely troubling and inappropriate, and I 
think that does pose a challenge for CISA," said Phil Reitinger, the president 
of the Global Cyber Alliance and a former federal official and prosecutor.

   Todt, who as a congressional aide helped craft the legislation that created 
the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, 
said it may be time to either make CISA a standalone agency or at least give it 
a more prominent role within DHS given the extent of the threat.

   "CISA has had four years to build out this capability, but I think we 
absolutely have to allocate resources to election infrastructure moving 
forward," she said.

 
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