By Kevin McKenna
Securing American elections against an array of foreign threats was the central theme of an evening panel discussion hosted by the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security on Monday, October 12th. Dean Mark Rozell of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, and the Hayden Center’s Executive Director Larry Pfeiffer provided welcoming remarks and introduced the moderator and panelists for the event, which was part of the Hayden Center’s “2020 Vision” series on the 2020 election and national security.
The event featured a panel of cyber and election security experts and practitioners, including Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chris Krebs, Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States Laura Rosenberger, and the founder and former Chief Technology Officer of Crowdstrike – and current advisory board member of the National Security Institute at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School – Dmitri Alperovitch. Schar School Distinguished Visiting Professor and Hayden Center Distinguished Fellow—and former Acting and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—Michael Morell moderated the event.
Morell opened the event by saying “I think this is an extraordinarily important discussion tonight, because no matter what side you’re on, you see this as one of the most important elections in decades. I think everybody agrees that American citizens should decide the outcome of this election, and in no way should foreign governments have any influence in that.”
Rosenberger provided viewers with an outline of several categories of foreign interference in our elections, which can range from cyber operations that distort the political discourse through the theft and weaponization of information, to the covert use of financial assistance to influence the course of a campaign. Krebs added that the increase of absentee ballots and mail-in ballots in this election means the attack surface extends after election day – while votes are being tallied – for adversaries who seek to “delegitimize the result, and ultimately, the process.”
Despite all the dangers Alperovitch remains optimistic about the security of this election. He cited a significant reduction in Russian hack-and-leak activity from the 2016 election until now. Krebs identified the massive coordinated effort between the Intelligence Community (IC), DoD, FBI, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), CISA, and others as another reason for optimism. He said, “the way the US Federal Government is working right now, I’ve never seen a single activity with this [level of] coordination and partnership. We’re all pulling in the same direction… defending democracy.”
The panelists also offered expert advice to voters. Rosenberger emphasized the importance of being an informed voter, finding reliable sources of information, and researching the candidates and issues. Alperovitch recommended voting as soon as possible. Don’t wait for November 3 unless you have to. Krebs reiterated his concept of being a “Three P Voter,” which requires one to Prepare, Participate, and be Patient.
Video of the full event can be found at the Hayden Center’s YouTube channel.
Kevin McKenna is a volunteer at the Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security and a current student in the Master’s in International Security program at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.