Washington — Top federal officials responsible for securing the nation's election systems said Wednesday that they have no evidence of foreign powers attempting to compromise mail-in voting, undercutting claims by President Trump that voting by mail is susceptible to foreign interference.
"We have no information or intelligence that any nation-state threat actor is engaging in any kind of activity to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots," a senior official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a conference call with reporters.
For months, the president has railed against states that have expanded mail-in voting ahead of November's elections amid fears about in-person voting during a pandemic. He has insisted, without evidence, that allowing large-scale voting by mail will lead to fraud and open the door to foreign manipulation. "RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS," he tweeted in June. "IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!"
On Wednesday's call, senior officials from the ODNI, FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) briefed reporters about election security threats and the government's efforts to protect against them. They spoke on the condition that they not be named.
A CISA official said targeting of election infrastructure, such as voting machines, is "in the playbook" for foreign adversaries like Russia, but no effort to date has "inhibited the ability for people to vote or the integrity of the process."
"We saw it in 2016, we know it's an option now. We continue to receive reporting from state and local election officials of scanning and probing of election infrastructure as a whole," the official said, adding that the "vast majority of activity has been blocked, and unsuccessful."
Since 2016, the official said, sensors to detect intrusions into election systems have been installed in all 50 states, and "90-plus percent" of votes cast in 2020 are expected to have a record that can be audited. The official declined to make a direct comparison between the level of probing activity that has been detected this year versus 2016, saying the government's improved visibility now makes such a comparison "tough."
"We haven't seen, to date, a ramp-up in activity targeting election infrastructure over, say, the last few months," the official said. "Activity level and reporting from states has been relatively consistent."
On August 7, the nation's top election security official said the U.S. intelligence community had determined that Russia is working to "denigrate" Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and that some actors linked to the Kremlin are trying to boost the president's reelection bid. In his statement, National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director Bill Evanina also noted that China "prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection," and that Iran may attempt to "undermine" U.S. institutions and the president.
Mr. Trump was quick to dismiss the intelligence community's assessment, claiming that "the last person that Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump … I don't care what anybody says."
In a separate speech on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the government has "yet to see any activity intended to prevent voting or to change votes," but stressed that efforts to interfere by Russia, China and Iran are ongoing.
An FBI official on the conference call said Russia remains "very active when it comes to malign influence" and "works hard to get Americans essentially to tear each other apart politically."
The official also said China "is a significant malign foreign influence player," with the goal of gaining "an economic and technological advantage over the United States and, over time, manage what it hopes to be our decline on the world stage."
"And we certainly can't neglect the current malign foreign influence threat from several other actors, including Iran," the official added.
The officials stressed that Americans should be prepared for an "election time period," as opposed to Election Day, noting that mail-in ballots and other coronavirus mitigation measures will almost certainly mean a delay in final election results.
"We also recognize that the 2020 election looks like no other election we've had before," a CISA official said. "American voters will be casting their ballots in the midst of a pandemic and it's going to change a lot about what we are typically used to and what we see in the process."
The official urged voters to be "prepared, patient and participating" in November, saying uncertainty "is a fertile battle ground for our adversaries who seek to divide us and undermine trust in the process."