Jan 16, 2020

In policy shift, FBI will now notify state officials about election hacking

Photo: Xinhua/Han Fang via Getty Images

The FBI says it will now notify state officials about any attempts to hack their election systems, even when those breaches only affect one county, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: The FBI has traditionally only notified the direct victims of cyber breaches, which in this case would be counties since that's who administers U.S. elections. An FBI official told reporters that "traditional policy did not work in the election context," per NBC.

  • Only notifying localities "may leave the state officials with incomplete knowledge of the threats," the officials said.

Context: In Florida's 2018 Senate race, then-Sen. Bill Nelson claimed Russia had penetrated the state's voting systems, an allegation reportedly based on classified intelligence. His Republican challenger, then-Gov. Rick Scott, accused him of lying because state officials had no knowledge of the incident.

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller later revealed that Russian hackers had indeed penetrated a voter registration network in a Florida county.
  • FBI officials wouldn't confirm if this episode was a catalyst for the new policy, instead claiming that they "learned from a number of different experiences," according to NBC.

Go deeper: Russia has already won the fight to undermine U.S. elections

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Exclusive: How the FBI combats China's political meddling

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In May 2019, the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force quietly added a unit aimed at countering China's political influence in the United States. In an exclusive interview, an FBI official reveals for the first time the bureau's approach to countering China's interference in local and state politics.

Why it matters: "This is ultimately a potential systemic challenge to the world order that we've had for the past several decades," the FBI official tells Axios of China's efforts.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - World

China’s playbook for hooking local governments

Photo: Michael Macdonald/EyeEm

Several nations try to influence America's domestic politics, but China has its own distinctive set of methods and goals, according to an FBI official who spoke to Axios about malign foreign influence in the United States.

Why it matters: “Our concern at the end of the day isn't focused on an election event. It is focused on the integrity of our policymaking process and the policymakers' decision-making ability," said the FBI official.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - World

GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn blocks three election security bills

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) to pass three election security-related bills via "unanimous consent," calling them a "federal power grab."

Why it matters: Just last week, the third volume of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report found that the U.S. government was "not well-postured" to counter Russian interference in 2016. The Democratic-controlled House passed several election security bills last year, but none have been taken up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).