WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said there is “no evidence” that any “bad actor” actually changed the ballot count in the presidential election.
Last week, President Obama ordered a review of possible Russian interference in the election.
“I think it’s important to note that on election night we had our guard up for this. We had our crisis action team ready on election night. We did not see anything that amounted to altering ballot counts or degrading the ability to report election results, nothing out of the ordinary,” Johnson said during a Washington Post Live event on Tuesday evening. “There’s always a certain amount of noise that goes on there but on election night itself, we didn’t see anything that affected the ballot count.”
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asked Johnson if he could assure the country that Russian hacking did not affect the outcome of the presidential election.
“We see no evidence that hacking by any actor altered the ballot count or any cyber actions that deprived people of voting. Whether the disclosures that we made that we pointed out in our Oct. 7th statement altered public opinion, that’s beyond my level of expertise,” he replied.
In October, a statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security claimed with high confidence that the Russian government was behind the hacks. The Intelligence Community and DHS said only Russia’s “senior-most officials could have authorized” the hacking of emails at U.S. political organizations such as the Democratic National Committee, based on the “scope and sensitivity.”
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak denied any Russian government involvement in the hacking of U.S. political organizations.
Johnson said the “comprehensive review” that Obama recently ordered covers the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said that Russia hacked his campaign in 2008.
“Part of that review will be, how do we situate ourselves going forward in this kind of cyber environment? And so I think it will be important for us to wait for the review,” Johnson said.
The DHS secretary told the audience the review would be completed before Obama leaves office. He said the administration would “declassify” as much of the review as possible.
“It’s important for the American public and for the U.S. government to understand fully what happened and how we better prepare ourselves for the future,” he said.
Ignatius gave Johnson an opportunity to elaborate on lessons DHS learned from election monitoring.
Johnson described the U.S. election system as “very decentralized” with more than 9,000 jurisdictions involved in national elections.
“Most of the reporting occurs off the Internet and as we delved into this in summer, early fall, we found a lot of state election systems have backups. They have ways to audit results, but a lot of them came to us and sought help in terms of vulnerability scans and the like,” he said.
Johnson explained that about “36 states and 38 state or local jurisdictions” came to DHS for help before Nov. 8. He said DHS found “a number of vulnerabilities” but some were not directly related to election systems.
The secretary said many attacks originate from attachments in email messages, so no one should open attachments they do not recognize as a way to prevent data breaches.