VIDEO - Focuses on electronic threats to voting systems, voter behavior.

Sen. Chris Coons, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, attended a Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Election Interference: Ensuring Law Enforcement is Equipped to Target Those Seeking to Do Harm.” 

Coons questioned Mr. Adam Hickey, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, at the Department of Justice, and the Honorable Matthew Masterson, National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security.

COONS: Thank you, Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein. Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Lankford did terrific work on this Secure Elections Act. I want to commend Sen. Klobuchar for her hard work on this and for her advocacy for the authorizing statute. I also worked with Sen. Lankford on the Appropriations Subcommittee, where he’s chair and I’m ranking, to ensure that the $380 million in grants to the Election Assistance Commission got out and are now being distributed.

Mr. Masterson, given your former role as chair of the Election Assistance Commission, help me understand what are the most urgent reforms you think states should be implementing. You mentioned there is a need for additional resources. Every state will get $3 million, my little state of Delaware will get $3 million, but we have some of the oldest election machinery in the country. And we’ve got dozens of states that I think aren’t fully prepared for an election that, as Sen. Durbin pointed out, is less than six months away. I’m concerned about the lack of a sense of urgency. Please give us some insight into how you think the EAC grants are being distributed, and whether you think there’s more resources needed, and to what you would put those resources, if made available, federally.

MATTHEW MASTERSON: Thank you, Sen. Coons. This was the focus of the work that we did with the Government Coordinating Council in looking at the funding. We were asked by the council members, state and local election officials primarily, to help provide insight as far as where the money could be used, both short and long term, to address risks to the process. And so, we focused first on addressing those common IT vulnerabilities that exist across IT systems, regardless of elections. Things like patching and training for phishing campaigns, and just manpower. Several states, Florida, Illinois as well, have looked at deploying cyber navigators down to the local level to provide a level of expertise on IT, support that is sometimes not available to county election officials. And so those are short-term improvements that several states are looking at using the money that was included in the GCC guidance.

Longer-term, it’s improving the overall resilience, so ensuring auditability, ensuring defensibility of the systems through a variety of mechanisms. Long-term investment in training and IT management: One of the things I do regularly is travel the country to do training with state and local officials on IT management, understanding the risks to their systems.

COONS: Mr. Masterson, forgive me I only have about two and a half minutes left. Do you think $380 million from the federal government is sufficient? How big a gap do you think there is, given assessments given by the Director of National Intelligence and other leaders in the IC community, that Russia and other foreign actors will interfere again in our impending elections?

MATTHEW MASTERSON: Yeah, in my experience in over a decade in elections, resources, whether it be money, or expertise, or support, are hard to come by for state and local officials. And so, an investment at the local level and state level, certainly, where elections are run, is necessary and I know that the $380 million was viewed by state and local officials as an important step by the federal government as well to continue to support what they do and provide resources.

COONS: Thank you and I look forward to following up with you further about this important work. And thank you again to Sen. Klobuchar for her real leadership on this.

Mr. Hickey, forgive me if I might. Based on Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, we know that three senior Trump campaign officials failed to register as foreign agents in violation of existing law: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, Trump Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates. Given Russia’s interference in the presidential election of 2016, and the statements of several senior intelligence officials, they will attempt to interfere again. Are you concerned about undisclosed foreign agents attempting to interfere with our democracy going forward? And if so, what steps are you taking to make sure that the department has the tools you need?

ADAM HICKEY: Thank you, Senator. In fact, increased and improved FARA enforcement has been one of my priorities and one of the department’s priorities over the last two years. We have been more aggressive in educating agents and prosecutors about how to investigate and prosecute FARA violations. We have stepped up our efforts to identify potential registrants, to open criminal investigations where appropriate, to compel or urge the registration of entities and individuals who should have registered. One example I think relevant to this hearing is the agents of RT and Sputnik, Russian-sponsored media organizations who recently registered as agents of a foreign principal.

COONS: Well, I appreciate your focus and urgency on this. I only wish our President conveyed a similar level of focus and urgency on protecting our elections. Last question, if I might, Mr. Hickey: In your prepared remarks, you note how the Department of Justice maintains relationships with social media providers, but it is those providers who — and I think I’m quoting, “bear the primary responsibility for securing their products’ platforms and services from this threat.” Do you believe social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are doing enough? Are they still vulnerable? And do we need to provide the Department with more tools to combat foreign interference in social media platforms?

ADAM HICKEY: So, I would describe it as an evolving relationship. I think our relationship is trending in the right direction. I think there’s more work to be done. At the moment, given the authorities we have, I think our focus — we’re following a little bit of the model we followed with respect to terrorist use of the Internet, where I think we as a society are comfortable with social media companies making decisions about content dissemination, or more comfortable with that, than we are with the government interceding based on content. And so, what we’re trying to do is identify situations where we think their users are violating their terms of service and bringing that information to their attention for them to take the action they view as appropriate. Whether they’re taking the right action or not, it’s a little bit beyond the department’s expertise. I think that’s a whole of society, Congress question.

COONS: My concern, in closing, Mr. Chairman, is that we fail to grasp how big a potential threat there was to our election through social media and I’ve been profoundly disappointed at what we’ve heard in testimony from leadership of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others about their response. And I’m concerned that with the next election six months away, we’ve got some unresolved work to do here together. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.