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Feds release new processes of notifying public about foreign election interference

Russia will "be back" in 2020: Top election security official

A group of federal agencies on Friday released a set of new processes that will govern how lawmakers, government agencies, the private sector and the public would be notified of foreign interference in U.S. elections.

The processes, summarized in a one-page document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), stated explicitly that "partisan politics shall not play [a] role in the decision to provide notifications," and that the integrity of political and social discourse would be protected.

The summary document said the U.S. Secret Service will be notified of "all activity" targeting major presidential and vice presidential candidates. Notification decisions will take into account whether sources and methods could be compromised by any public disclosure.  

It also specified notification decisions will be made by "a group of experts from different Intelligence Community agencies," including representatives from ODNI, Homeland Security, the State Department, National Security Agency, CIA and FBI. Officials from those agencies will determine whether any disclosures would deter – or amplify – attempted interference, including by "re-victimizing" targeted entities.

In the event a broad public notification is necessary, the document said the Director of National Intelligence "will convene a meeting of Principals to assess whether the notification should be made."

The U.S. government issued a now-infamous warning about Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in October of that year. The joint statement from DHS and ODNI on October 7, 2016 was largely eclipsed from headlines by revelations of prior vulgar remarks made by then-candidate Trump.

The newly established process "supplements existing laws and policies" governing the process by which victims of potential foreign interference, e.g., election officials or owners or operators of critical infrastructure, are currently made aware of those attempts. Those notifications are currently issued by a trio of agencies – the FBI, DHS and the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) – which determine when and how victims of a potential crime are notified.  

"The decision to notify will be in service of the national security interests of the United States and our responsibility to protect the American people," the document said, "including to secure the integrity of our elections."

CBS News previously reported on how elements of the intelligence community grappled with public disclosures of potential threat information related to U.S. elections.

Anne Neuberger, who heads the NSA's newly reorganized Cybersecurity Directorate, told reporters last month that the agency "thought hard" about disclosures that had the potential to shake the public's trust in the voting process during the 2018 midterm elections.

"Trust is a really hard thing to regain once it is taken," Neuberger said.

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