The Department of Homeland Security's top cybersecurity official, Jeanette Manfra, has told NBC News that Russia targeted the voter registration rolls of 21 states before the 2016 presidential election, successfully penetrating systems in "an exceptionally small number" of them.
"We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government." -Jeanette Manfra
Manfra said that the list of 21 states is a "snapshot in time with the visibility that the department had at the time." ABC reached out to five of the 21 states, including Texas and California, who said they were never attacked.
As we reported in September when word that the 21 states were being targeted (but before DHS claimed some had been breached), California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released a statement in response to the DHS, the whole thing was just a bunch of "fake news." Padilla noted that after requesting additional information from DHS on the "hacks" it quickly became clear that their "conclusions were wrong" and that "California's elections infrastructure and websites were not hacked or breached by Russian cyber actors.”
Former Obama DHS secretary Jeh Johnson said "2016 was a wake-up call and now it's incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again." In January, 2017 - weeks before Johnson left his post, he declared the nation's electoral systems part of the nation's federally protected "critical infrastructure," which puts it in the same category as entities such as the power grid, communications, and emergency services.
That said, Johnson told NBC News he is now worried that since the 2016 election a lot of states have done little to nothing "to actually harden their cybersecurity."
Of note, individual states are ultimately responsible for the security and operation of their own voter rolls.
Some state officials had opposed Johnson's designation of electoral systems as critical infrastructure, viewing it a federal intrusion. Johnson said that any state officials who don't believe the federal government should be providing help are being "naïve" and "irresponsible to the people that [they're] supposed to serve." -NBC
DHS's Manfra disagrees with Johnson, stating "I would say they have all taken it seriously."
Many of the states complained the federal government did not provide specific threat details, saying that information was classified and state officials did not have proper clearances. Manfra told us those clearances are now being processed
Other states that NBC contacted said they were still waiting for cybersecurity help from the federal government. Manfra said there was no waiting list and that DHS will get to everyone.
Russia, Bernie and Black Activism
Adding to the Russia narrative, BuzzFeed News reports that researcher Jonathan Albright has found evidence that Russian trolls pushed pro-Bernie Sanders / anti-Hillary Clinton content on Tumblr around the time of the election.
“The evidence we've collected shows a highly engaged and far-reaching Tumblr propaganda-op targeting mostly teenage and twenty-something African Americans. This appears to have been part of an ongoing campaign since early 2015,” Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, told BuzzFeed.
In many instances, Tumblr accounts featured their corresponding Twitter accounts, which were revealed by the company to be linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” that pushed misinformation on Facebook and Twitter around the time of the election. -The Hill
Several of the accounts featured names associated with black activism and BLM, such as "4mysquad," "Blacktolive," and "Bleepthepolice," and pushed messages of racial empowerment and incendiary content meant to spark outrage.
4mysquad, for example, galvanized outrage when it posted a video of a police officer assaulting a black teenager, falsely claiming that the officer worked for the New York Police Department.
BuzzFeed reports that the 4mysquad accrued hundreds of thousands of followers
The accounts also pushed anti-Clinton rhetoric during the election, including a video in which Hillary Clinton called black gang members superpredators in the 1990s.
The Tumblr news echoes an October report by CNN which alleged that Russian propagandists used the popular Pokémon Go 'outdoor scavenger hunt' game in an effort to stoke racial tensions, sending players to areas in which police brutality had occurred. Players were then encouraged to name their Pokémon after black victims, such as Eric Garner, who died after a NYPD officer put him in a chokehold.
To be clear, CNN is claiming that Russia tried to trick Americans into taking up a traditionally liberal cause, in alignment with Black Lives Matter (BLM), to divide America through racial tension and somehow drive voters into the arms of Donald Trump. The other logical conclusion which CNN somehow overlooked, is that said propaganda would have encouraged left-wing political activism – bringing sympathetic social justice warriors to the polls – ostensibly voting for Hillary Clinton.
The campaign, titled “Don’t Shoot Us,” offers new insights into how Russian agents created a broad online ecosystem where divisive political messages were reinforced across multiple platforms, amplifying a campaign that appears to have been run from one source — the shadowy, Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency
A source familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN that the Don’t Shoot Us Facebook page was one of the 470 accounts taken down after the company determined they were linked to the IRA. CNN has separately established the links between the Facebook page and the other Don’t Shoot Us accounts.
The Don’t Shoot Us campaign — the title of which may have referenced the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan that became popular in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown — used these platforms to highlight incidents of alleged police brutality, with what may have been the dual goal of galvanizing African Americans to protest and encouraging other Americans to view black activism as a rising threat.
CNN couldn't really figure out why the Russians would take up primarily liberal social justice causes, writing “It’s unclear what the people behind the contest hoped to accomplish, though it may have been to remind people living near places where these incidents had taken place of what had happened and to upset or anger them.”
CNN has not found any evidence that any Pokémon Go users attempted to enter the contest, or whether any of the Amazon Gift Cards that were promised were ever awarded — or, indeed, whether the people who designed the contest ever had any intention of awarding the prizes.
There you have it – Russians influenced US politics by taking up liberal social justice activism in alignment with Black Lives Matter, their endgame being to stoke racial tensions and somehow, some way, influence the election in favor of Donald Trump.