Biden admin set to warn about threats to nation’s election infrastructure

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Top Biden national security officials are tracking multiple threats to the nation’s election security infrastructure ahead of the midterms and are set to issue warnings, including in an internal intelligence bulletin this week, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The bulletin will lay out details of cyber threats posed by China and Russia, as well as other non-state actors, and potential physical threats to election officials in jurisdictions across the country, the people said. The warnings come as the midterm elections near and amid increasing reports of intimidation at ballot drop boxes. The people requested anonymity to talk freely about sensitive national security and election matters.

Elsewhere on Monday, the Department of Justice addressed several malign influence schemes and alleged criminal activity by non-state actors. While those charges were unrelated to the intelligence bulletin warning, FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged during a press conference that foreign governments continue to pose a major threat to U.S. elections.

“Malign foreign influence — whether it’s from the Chinese government, the Russian government or other governments — is not just an election-cycle issue, but a 365-day-a-year problem,” Wray said.

The internal administration concerns about election threats come days after a call was held between federal officials and local law enforcement personnel about the midterms, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. Those on the call discussed the potential for violence in response to the spread of false narratives regarding the election process. Officials said election workers, including those working at polling stations, are likely to face threats and harassment from extrements both online and offline, the person familiar with the matter said.

“We are now hearing reports of people surrounding ballot drop boxes, some even wearing tactical gear, and questioning people,” said John Cohen, the former counterterrorism chief at DHS. “Are the police prepared for that? They need to be. All of this is being driven by the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen.”

The FBI, DHS and DOJ did not respond to requests for comment.

Already, there have been incidents of armed individuals in tactical gear showing up at ballot drop boxes in Arizona, prompting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to be called into the area.

Cyber threats to America’s election infrastructure have long been a concern of government officials. Indeed, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the intelligence community have been monitoring such threats to the midterms for months. But officials recently said foreign adversaries have not been actively targeting the election system.

“At this time, we are not aware of any specific or credible threats to compromise or disrupt election infrastructure,” CISA Director Jen Easterly told reporters on Oct. 13.

Even so, Easterly said, this year’s combination of misinformation, harassment of election workers and insider threats from rogue election administrators makes the current threat environment “more complex than it has ever been.”

CISA did not respond to a request for comment.

Officials consider misinformation and disinformation the biggest threats to the midterms, given how easy it would be for malicious actors — whether domestic partisans or foreign intelligence operatives — to seize on delayed results or isolated voting-machine glitches to spread lies about the security of the process.

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