Joint Report from DOJ and DHS on Foreign Interference Targeting 2020 Federal Elections

We wrap up the week with this summary of a joint report complied by the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other partner organizations details the efforts of adversarial states to interfere with US federal elections during the 2020 cycle. Find the press release here:

Background "This product provides a declassified overview of findings and recommendations from a classified joint report from the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security addressing the impact of activities by foreign governments and their agents targeting election infrastructure or infrastructure pertaining to political organizations, candidates, or campaigns used in the 2020 US federal elections on the security or integrity of such infrastructure. Pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13848, the joint report relied on the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) addressing foreign threats to the 2020 US elections.

Scope Note In February 2021, the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Homeland Security, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), prepared a classified joint report to fulfill the requirement under EO 13848 § (1)(b) that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security deliver a joint report to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Defense evaluating, with respect to the 2020 federal elections: (i) the extent to which any foreign interference that targeted election infrastructure materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, the tabulation of votes, or the timely transmission of election results; and (ii) if any foreign interference involved activities targeting the infrastructure of, or pertaining to, a political organization, campaign, or candidate, the extent to which such activities materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, including by unauthorized access to, disclosure or threatened disclosure of, or alteration or falsification of, information or data. The purpose of this report was solely to evaluate the impact of foreign government activity on the security or integrity of the covered infrastructure. It did not address the effect of foreign government activity on public perception or the behavior of any voters, nor did it address the impact of non-state foreign actors like cybercriminals.

Sources of Information Foreign government activities were included regardless of whether the IC has assessed that they were undertaken with the purpose of interfering in a 2020 federal election. Foreign governments may target election or political and campaign infrastructure for a variety of reasons, including intelligence collection, and the purpose of any activity may not always be apparent. The impact to covered infrastructure was evaluated by considering, among other information, FBI forensic analyses; CISA cyber incident response activities, risk analysis, and stakeholder information; IC reporting; and open-source reporting.

Key Findings For the purposes of this report, the term security refers to protecting information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, and disruption. The term integrity refers to protecting against unauthorized modification or destruction of information. Additional definitions are included at the end of the report. We—the Department of Justice, including the FBI, and Department of Homeland Security, including CISA—have no evidence that any foreign government-affiliated actor prevented voting, changed votes, or disrupted the ability to tally votes or to transmit election results in a timely manner; altered any technical aspect of the voting process; or otherwise compromised the integrity of voter registration information of any ballots cast during 2020 federal elections.

  • Broad Russian and Iranian campaigns targeting multiple critical infrastructure sectors did compromise the security of several networks that managed some election functions, but they did not materially affect the integrity of voter data, the ability to vote, the tabulation of votes, or the timely transmission of election results.

  • Iranian claims that sought to undermine the public’s confidence in US election infrastructure were false or inflated. We identified several incidents when Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government-affiliated actors materially impacted the security of networks associated with or pertaining to US political organizations, candidates, and campaigns during 2020 federal elections.

  • In most cases, the IC has assessed that it is unclear if those actors sought these accesses to inform broader foreign policy interests or election-specific operations.

  • Several such actors gathered at least some information they could have released in influence operations, but ultimately we did not see any such materials deployed, modified, or destroyed.

The IC—including the FBI and the IC elements of DHS—has previously assessed that it would be difficult for a foreign actor to manipulate election processes at scale without detection by intelligence collection, post-election audits, or physical and cyber security monitoring of voting systems across the country.

  • We are aware of multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments—including Venezuela, Cuba, or China—owned, directed, or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed, or otherwise manipulated vote counts. Following the election, the Department of Justice, including the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, including CISA, investigated the public claims and determined that they are not credible.

  • We have no evidence—not through intelligence collection on the foreign actors themselves, not through physical security and cybersecurity monitoring of voting systems across the country, not through post-election audits, and not through any other means—that a foreign government or other actors compromised election infrastructure to manipulate election results"

How can federal law enforcement respond to nefarious efforts like these? Join the conversation here:

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