In the fallout from being fired, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is concerned about how his experience will affect the recruitment of future leaders.
Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs, broadly commended for standing up to President Trump in the face of pressure to stop controlling rumors about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, said more than ever before about the president’s fraud claims Wednesday.
Krebs was fired via tweet on Nov. 17, days after releasing a statement—along with election officials from across the country—telling Americans they should be confident in how the elections were conducted.
But as plaudits abounded for Krebs disputing Trump’s claims of “election fraud,” the former CISA director consistently maintained fraud was not his department.
“Rumor Control: I never claimed there wasn’t fraud in the election, bc that’s not CISA’s job - it’s a law enforcement matter. We did provide info on measures elec officials use to prevent and detect dead voters, tho. Don’t buy it. And think 2x before sharing,” Krebs tweeted Nov. 18.
Krebs was referencing CISA’s Rumor Control website, set up to separate facts from mis- and disinformation. Krebs actively shared information from Rumor Control that contradicted the president and some of his allies prior to his dismissal.
On a Washington Post Live event Wednesday, Krebs said Trump’s repeated tweets attempting to discredit the election approaches what he termed a “perception hack,” which was what the Rumor Control site was designed to counter.
“The concept behind rumor control was an additive feature,” he said. “Because we had been focusing over three and a half years through a range of scenarios to harden and improve the cybersecurity of the systems, but there's a second aspect, so we're not just doing the actual security improvement. We’re also defending against what's known as a perception hack, where an adversary of whatever origin could say that a system was compromised or an insignificant event has a greater impact or implication than it actually does.”
“When you put security and fraud up against each other, they’re two different things,” he explained.
On Tuesday, law enforcement joined the conversation in a big way on fraud. In an interview with the Associated Press, Attorney General William Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents continue to investigate claims, but “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
During the live event Wednesday, Krebs again had a by-the-book response when asked for his reaction to Barr’s comments.
“That’s his job to talk about it,” Krebs said, adding, “I also think it’s temporal, it's a sense, you know of today or leading up to when he made that statement and if more evidence is out there, then folks will bring that forward and, and they'll investigate.”
Krebs continued: “To me, it was, in some sense, a confirmation and affirmation of what we understood. I think it's consistent with everything that we've thought about fraud for years and years. And so I think it's just a, it's a good, perhaps a coda of the controversies out there and we just need to move forward.”
Krebs also said “We need both parties to just cut it out and come clean and acknowledge that this was a legitimate election,” in response to a question about the number of Republicans who believe fraud was involved in the election.
In an opinion piece Tuesday, Krebs detailed some of the problematic claims that were very much within his jurisdiction and continued to promote the resilience measures he pushed for—with significant success—as the head of CISA.
“Paper ballots and post-election checks ensured the accuracy of the count,” he wrote. “Consider Georgia: The state conducted a full hand recount of the presidential election, a first of its kind, and the outcome of the manual count was consistent with the computer-based count. Clearly, the Georgia count was not manipulated, resoundingly debunking claims by the president and his allies about the involvement of CIA supercomputers, malicious software programs or corporate rigging aided by long-gone foreign dictators.”
President Trump’s legal team has attempted to distance itself from some of those claims, but also challenged Barr’s comments, saying there has been no proper investigation into the president’s complaints. And on Monday, Joe diGenova, a lawyer for the Trump campaign invoked images of medieval torture, saying Krebs “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager on Tuesday referred to Krebs as a patriot and said Trump and Republican Senators who have failed to disavow that kind of language are complicit in dangerous, un-American behavior. Sterling, who, like Krebs, is a Republican, described disturbing texts, and death threats, including images of nooses, received by the state’s election officials and their family members, and said, “it has to stop.”
Krebs echoed Sterling’s calls Wednesday and expressed concern about how such actions might affect recruitment of individuals into important civic roles.
“How the heck are we going to recruit election workers and election administration officials going forward, if they think they're going to get death threats online and in person?” he said. “This has got to stop, it has to stop. We have to let the professionals do their jobs, and it's been well beyond time for everyone on both sides of the political spectrum to call for an end, and to call for our process of certification and moving on into the next administration.”
Before that happens, Krebs said the annual National Defense Authorization Act must pass “for the entire national security community.” Trump recently renewed threats to veto the bill, which includes a number of provisions that would expand CISA’s authorities.