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National security officials brief Congress on protecting elections from Russian cyberattacks

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in prior to testifying before the United States Senate Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 15, 2018. (Alex Edelman/CNP/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON — With political primaries already underway and the November midterm elections fast approaching, top national security officials briefed members of Congress on Tuesday about gaps in election security.

The Trump administration has been under pressure to take stronger steps to deter Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. campaigns. Officials say election systems remain vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Intelligence agencies say Russian operatives attempted to hack 21 electoral systems in states during the 2016 campaign, breaching one system. There’s no evidence any votes were affected.

“This is an issue that the administration takes seriously and is addressing with urgency,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said in a joint statement.

After the briefing, Nielsen was asked about intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow used social media, leaks of hacked emails and other tactics in 2016 in an attempt to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

“That the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I’m not aware of that, but I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.”

Moscow “aspired to help” Trump’s campaign, according to a public report issued by intelligence agencies in January 2017. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported this month that after a 14-month investigation, it agreed with that assessment.

The committee also issued a detailed report on Russian targeting of election infrastructure during the 2016 campaign.

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