CISA director 'very concerned' about election influence from foreign adversaries

Voting booths at Village Hall on August 02, 2022 in Innsbrook, Missouri on primary day.

Voting booths at Village Hall on August 02, 2022 in Innsbrook, Missouri on primary day. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Jen Easterly, director of the nation's cyber defense agency, said foreign adversaries could potentially weaponize disinformation and misinformation to incite violence and undermine the public's confidence in the upcoming elections.

The director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said she remained "very concerned" about the potential for influence from adversarial nations on the midterm elections next week, in spite of news reporting that suggested otherwise.

CISA Director Jen Easterly said the agency was working to working to mitigate the threat of foreign adversaries potentially undermining the public's confidence in the integrity of the upcoming vote by weaponizing misinformation and disinformation "to sow discord" and "to incite violence against election officials," and said she wanted to "correct the record" about her concerns about foreign interference.

On the CBS public affairs program "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Easterly said she was "confident that elections will be safe and secure, and the American people should have confidence in the integrity of elections when they go to the ballot box, when they cast their vote." 

However, Easterly said it was "not true at all" that she was not worried about foreign election interference in the form of influence campaigns. The news website Axios later corrected a story to note that Easterly expressed confidence in the integrity of elections, but that she was still worried about foreign interference.

"In fact, we are concerned about Russia and Iran and China trying to influence our elections," Easterly said on Tuesday. "It's a significant concern."

The director's comments followed separate reports last week from both the FBI and Mandiant about foreign adversary groups working to undermine U.S. elections that were currently active. 

Mandiant's report specifically indicated that an ongoing Chinese influence campaign was targeting the midterm elections with familiar "aggressive attempts to discredit the U.S. democratic process, including attempts to discourage Americans from voting in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections." The FBI was also warning that an Iranian cyber group linked with attempts to interfere in the 2020 election "remains a cyber threat to the United States."

CISA has rolled out a series of initiatives to inform the public and organizations about the tactics around disinformation and the need for election literacy, including a website dedicated to exposing election rumors.

"Securing elections is a non-partisan activity," Easterly said. "Elections are the golden thread… If that unravels, then the public is at risk."