Jeh Johnson worries U.S. still "vulnerable" to election meddling

Election infrastructure
Election infrastructure 07:06

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Sunday he is concerned that the U.S. remains "vulnerable" to election meddling, and that the cyber threat facing the U.S. is "going to get worse before it gets better."

"The Department of Homeland Security very much was on alert on Election Day and in the days leading up to it, along with the FBI. And we were very concerned," Johnson said on CBS News' "Face the Nation." He said that "a number of vulnerabilities" in election infrastructure were identified and addressed.

"But that process needs to continue," he said. "I'm concerned that we are almost as vulnerable perhaps now as we were six, nine months ago."

"Bad cyber actors are becoming more aggressive, more ingenious, and more tenacious," he added. "And that's why we need a national campaign from the president, from the next secretary of Homeland Security to really address this problem. Nothing would surprise me at this point in terms of their capabilities."

Johnson said that back in October, while he was serving as Homeland Security secretary, a statement that the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued declaring that Russia intended to interfere with the U.S. election was not given the level of media attention he and others expected -- and that it deserved.

"I think that in the heat of the campaign, there were a lot of things going on, a lot of charges back and forth," he said. "We thought it was critical that the American voter and the American people know that there was a superpower attempting to put his thumb on the scale of our American elections before the elections occurred, so that the American people could know what was behind a lot of the activity that we were seeing. There's still, however, a threat out there to our election infrastructure that this administration needs to address."

When asked about cyber threats directed at President Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster calling for his termination from the White House, Johnson said he was "certainly suspicious" of a concerted effort directed at McMaster.

The New York Times reported that many critics on the right were angered by McMaster's move to push out several conservative staff members on the national security team who had been brought on by Michael Flynn, McMaster's predecessor. The hashtag #FireMcMaster has been tweeted more than 50,000 times since Wednesday, the Times reported, including by accounts linked to Russian cyber operations.

Looking ahead, as Mr. Trump now faces a vacancy at DHS left by his current chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, Johnson said the administration should look for "a national champion and a national spokesperson when it comes to cybersecurity."

"DHS is charged with the cybersecurity mission and cybersecurity has become, in my judgment, the other cornerstone of the department's missions, along with counterterrorism," he said. "So we need someone to champion and drive cybersecurity policy for the government, and we need to continue to focus on countering violent extremism here in the United States."

When asked how he feels Kelly will do as chief of staff, Johnson said that based on his first five days in the position, "so far so good."

"John is a Marine. And he is dedicated to his commander in chief's mission, whatever that mission may be. I don't believe John is a political animal, he accepts the mission and he follows it and will do it energetically," Johnson said.

  • emily-tillett-220x140.png
    Emily Tillett On Twitter»

    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"