Senator Collins Questions Experts at Intelligence Hearing on Russian Interference in U.S. Elections

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Washington, D.C. - At a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing this morning on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the committee, questioned Bill Priestap, Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Division at the FBI, and Jeanette Manfra, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

A transcript of Senator Collins’ Q&A with Mr. Priestap and Ms. Manfra is below:

COLLINS: Mr. Priestap, let me start by saying that it’s a great pleasure to see you here again. I remember back in 2003 you were detailed to the Homeland Security Committee, when I was the Chairman, and how helpful you were in our drafting the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Thank you for your continued public service. You testified this morning and answered the question, “What does Russia want?” and you said that the Russians want to undermine the legitimacy of our elections and sow the seeds of doubt among the American public. Despite the exposure and the publicity given to the Russians’ efforts in this regard, do you have any doubt at all that the Russians will continue their activities in subsequent elections?

PRIESTAP: I have no doubt. I just don’t know the scale in aggressiveness, whether they’ll repeat that, if it’ll be less or if it’ll be more. But I have no doubt they will continue.

COLLINS: Is there any evidence that the Russians have implanted malware or back doors or other computer techniques to allow them easier access next time to our election systems.

PRIESTAP: I’m sorry, Senator, I just can’t comment on that because of our pending investigations.

COLLINS: Secretary Manfra, the secretaries of state who are responsible for the election systems have a pretty blistering attack on the Department of Homeland Security in the testimony that will be given later this morning. And I want to read you part of that and have you respond. They say “Yet, nearly six months after the designation,” and they mean the designation of election systems as critical infrastructure, “And in spite of comments by DHS that they are rushing to establish election protections, no secretary of state is currently authorized to receive classified threat information…” that would help them to protect their election systems. Why not?

MANFRA: Thank you ma’am for that question. I would note that this community, the secretaries of state, and for those states where they have a state election director, is not one that the department has historically engaged with. And what we have done in the process of building the trust and learning about how they do their work and how we can assist, we have identified the need to provide clearances to that community. And so we have committed to them to work through that process between our department and the FBI.

COLLINS: Let me ask you about your own agency, which is the agency that focuses on critical infrastructure, including our election systems. Now MPPD is not an official element of the intelligence community that would have routine access to especially sensitive classified information. So how do you know with any certainty whether you and others in the agency are read into all the relevant classified information that may exist regarding foreign threats to our critical infrastructure, including our election systems?

MANFRA: Yes, ma’am, I would say despite the fact that we are not a part of the intelligence community and our focus is on network defense and operations and partnership with critical infrastructure in the federal government, we feel very confident that with the partnership, with our own intelligence analysis division that serves as an advocate for us within the intelligence community, as well as our direct relationships with many of those individuals in organizations such as the FBI, NSA, and others, that we receive information quickly and when we ask to declassify that, they are responsive, and we work through our partners at the intelligence analysis office to ensure that that happens quickly. So, is there room for improvement? Absolutely, of course. But we have the full commitment of the intelligence community to support us and get us the information that we need and our stakeholders need.

COLLINS: And finally, how many states have implanted all the best practices recommended in the document developed by DHS regarding the protection of election systems?

MANFRA: Ma’am, I’d have to get back to you on a specific number of states I don’t have that.

COLLINS: Do you think most states have?

MANFRA: In our informal engagement, many of them noted that they had already adopted some of these, and to the extent that they weren’t, they were incorporating them.

COLLINS: I would ask for a response for the record. That’s a really important point.