WASHINGTON — On Wednesday morning, national security officials were still trying to determine whether President Trump’s decision to oust his top election security official, Chris Krebs, would impact the ongoing work of his former agency, including a government Rumor Control website, where officials have been debunking popular conspiracy theories about the election in real time.
As of Wednesday afternoon the website was still up and running. Officials at the agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, including top cybersecurity adviser Matt Masterson, tweeted that they were still on the job.
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to “terminate” Krebs, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security in charge of election security. His apparent offense, according to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, was making “an inaccurate statement.”
The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud - including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, “glitches” in the voting machines which changed...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2020
Krebs has spent the past several weeks debunking inaccurate statements made by the president and his supporters about alleged widespread fraud in the election.
Most recently, CISA experts challenged assertions that a bad actor “could change election results without detection,” noting that “robust safeguards” including “canvassing and auditing procedures” can help detect and mitigate risks. If irregularities are discovered while votes are being tabulated, election officials can identify and correct them thanks to layers of resiliency, CISA wrote.
CISA also debunked the rumor that a large number of dead people were voting, noting that voter registration lists and audit trails prevent this kind of fraud.
Krebs, a former Microsoft executive who has helmed the fledgling agency since Trump himself signed its existence into law in 2018, tweeted on his personal account following the news, saying he was “honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow. #Protect2020.”
Krebs had been scheduled to speak about election security at two different virtual events on Wednesday, but both were canceled at the last minute. His deputy, Matt Travis, was also terminated Tuesday evening, following last week’s dismissal of Bryan Ware, another senior cybersecurity official at DHS. According to CISA’s chief of staff, Trump designated the agency’s executive director, Brandon Wales, as the acting director. Wales has years of experience at DHS, including focusing on threats to infrastructure between 2009 and 2014.
Despite news networks projecting Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race, bolstered by growing leads tallied by key states including Pennsylvania, Trump has so far refused to concede, tweeting on Sunday, “I WON THE ELECTION!”
National security officials have expressed confidence that they successfully prevented widespread foreign interference in the election, and technical experts have repeatedly insisted it would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, for foreign actors to tamper with voting infrastructure in a way that would impact results at scale.
Scientists working in election security, cryptography and cybersecurity came together on Monday to publish a letter concluding that there is no evidence the election was “rigged,” despite persistent vulnerabilities in technology used for elections. However, those experts stressed, there is still work to be done to “bolster the security of elections against sophisticated adversaries.”
Additionally, in late October, CISA published a joint cybersecurity advisory with the FBI concerning Russian cyber actors who compromised “a wide variety of U.S. targets,” including government and aviation networks. CISA noted that it would “continue to monitor this activity and its proximity to elections infrastructure.” Any potential that foreign actors had gotten anywhere near election infrastructure could create doubt in the results, even if they were not successfully disruptive.
Cybersecurity experts flocked to social media to bemoan Krebs’s unceremonious removal, arguing that his absence would make the country less safe. There was also an outpouring of support from his former colleagues, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and others who thanked him for the work.
“Chris Krebs is a dedicated public servant who has done a remarkable job during a challenging time,” wrote Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement. “Chris and his team at CISA have worked diligently to strengthen our election infrastructure, helping to shore up vulnerabilities and build trust between State and Federal Governments.”
Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and the co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, was more urgent. “The death throes of the Trump Administration increasingly put our national security in jeopardy,” he wrote in a statement. “Director Krebs’s departure opens the door for our adversaries to target us in cyberspace.”
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