Ousted Trump cybersecurity director debunks 2020 election rumors

Fired CISA director Chris Krebs told 60 Minutes that domestic disinformation around the 2020 election posed a greater risk than foreign.

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Christopher Krebs' unanimous Senate confirmation to run the newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, better known as CISA, on June 12, 2018, was a rare symbol of bipartisan support from a chamber frequently polarized by partisan divide.

President Donald Trump nominated the former director of cybersecurity policy at Microsoft to serve as the first director of CISA, a US cyber agency tasked with, among other duties, securing the Nation's election infrastructure.

Krebs' abrupt firing from the agency he helped build came from Mr. Trump's Twitter account five days after CISA and its election security partners stated that the 2020 election was the "most secure in American history."

The joint statement affirming election security directly contradicted Mr. Trump's unproven claims about "massive improprieties" leading up to and during the 2020 election. 

In his first interview since Mr. Trump fired him, Krebs told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley he stands by the November 12 statement. 

"The 2020 election was, as I've called it, the most secure election certainly in modern history," Krebs told Pelley. "I have no question about the security of the systems, of the process, of the vote, of the count, [or] of the certification."

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Aaron Tomlinson/60 Minutes

CISA says its mission is to "lead the national effort to understand and manage cyber and physical risk to our critical infrastructure." 

In January 2017, the Department of Homeland Security designated election systems as part of the Nation's critical infrastructure – a move that added additional federal protections to voting systems. 

"I think that we should be celebrating the successes of making the 2020 election the most secure election in modern history," Krebs said to Pelley. "I think that the administration deserves credit. I think that President Trump's administration deserves credit for securing the 2020 election."

Krebs led the effort to forge and strengthen relationships between the federal government and state and local election officials. He said CISA built an information sharing and analysis center that allowed thousands of jurisdictions across the country to share information and report security threats in real-time.

Acting Secretary Wolf Attends CISA Election Security Briefing
Election Security Briefing DHS Flickr

One of the threats Krebs said his team discovered was an email-based misinformation campaign perpetrated by Iran that targeted voters in late October.

Krebs explained that intimidating voters "creates chaos and confusion." His team and their federal partners in the intelligence and cabinet agencies attempted to establish a high level of transparency in an effort to stay ahead of false narratives and conspiracy theories. 

"We had to get facts out there," Krebs said. "The unfortunate thing is that the caller was inside the house. The domestic disinformation was what ultimately materialized, much more so than any sort of foreign disinformation."

Misinformation led CISA to create a new "Rumor Control" website ahead of the 2020 election. Its main goal was to debunk rumors surrounding the 2020 election that had been spreading throughout the country.

Chris Krebs debunks 2020 Election rumors 01:37

Krebs said his team frequently briefed state and local election officials, congressional members, cabinet agencies, and the White House about securing the infrastructure needed to protect the 2020 election.

After the election, Krebs said his team briefed members of congress about false claims that foreign governments were manipulating voting machines and flipping votes.

Krebs called the narrative "nonsense" and told 60 Minutes "it just didn't match up with reality."

Mr. Trump, his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, and recently separated counsel Sidney Powell continue to trumpet the unsubstantiated claims.

"They're false," Krebs said about comments Powell made at a November 19 press conference. "They're nonsense. It's disinformation. It's undermining confidence in our election. It's undermining confidence in our democracy. And I pledged an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, and I see this as an attack on democracy, an attack on the Constitution. This upsets me greatly."

Acting Secretary Wolf Attends CISA Election Security Briefing
Acting Secretary Wolf Attends CISA Election Security Briefing Benjamin Applebaum

The fight against disinformation has been at forefront of CISA's mission to ensure the American people remain confident in the security of their vote. Krebs says that this mission is what prompted him to release the statement that ultimately led to his dismissal. 

Though Krebs is no longer a public servant, he remains steadfast in upholding his oath to defend the constitution from threats foreign and domestic: "… if I can reinforce or confirm for one person that the vote was secure, the election was secure, then I feel like I've done my job."