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Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today examining worldwide security threats to our nation’s election infrastructure, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Committee, questioned Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security, on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to improve election security.
At a hearing held last June, the Committee learned that not a single chief state election official had received a security clearance nearly eight months after the 2016 elections. In response to a question by Senator Collins today, Secretary Nielsen revealed that only 20 out of 150 officials have received full clearances so far.
“We know for certain that the Russians were relentless in their efforts and also that those efforts are ongoing. And yet, when I listen to your testimony, I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,” Senator Collins told Secretary Nielsen. “What, specifically, is DHS doing to accommodate what you said was sponsoring three officials per state for clearances? How many have actually received the clearances, and what specific actions did you take in the elections that have already occurred?”
“We certainly look forward to working with this committee government-wide on how we can speed up the security clearances, but the good news…is if we have something to share, we will share that day, with or without a clearance. We’ll read them in and share it. So it won't limit our ability to get the information to them any longer,” Secretary Nielsen responded.
Today’s hearing included discussion of the Committee’s six recommendations that would strengthen states’ defenses against a hostile nation-state seeking to undermine democracy by:
- Reinforcing states’ primacy in running elections;
- Creating an effective deterrence;
- Improving information sharing on threats;
- Securing election-related systems;
- Taking steps to secure the vote itself; and
- Providing assistance for the states.
As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Collins has worked to protect the United States from foreign interference to ensure the integrity of our future elections. In December, she joined a bipartisan group of six Senators in introducing the Secure Elections Act, a bill to strengthen election cybersecurity. In addition, this week Senator Collins sent a letter with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to Secretary Nielsen, calling on DHS to step up its efforts to protect the United States from Russian interference in our elections.