- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Separate election security developments emerged Wednesday in the House and Senate by lawmakers responding to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Bipartisan legislation proposed in the House, The Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act, would make it a federal crime to hack any voting system used in a federal election. It was introduced by Reps. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, and Jim Himes, Connecticut Democrat.

The FBI meanwhile faced related questions from across Capitol Hill in the form of a letter sent by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. They wrote Christopher A. Wray, the director of the FBI, seeking answers about how the bureau responded to attempts by the Russian government to hack election technology vendors during the 2016 race.

Russian operatives participated in a state-sponsored effort to interfere in the 2016 race through attacking the U.S. electoral process and the campaign of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, according to federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. An investigation into those efforts conducted for the Department of Justice by Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, recently concluded that the Russia government attacked the contest in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” that included successful attempts to compromise elements of the U.S. election infrastructure.

Released on April 18, Mr. Mueller’s report revealed for the first time that the FBI assessed that Russian military officers had infiltrated “the network of at least one Florida county government” during the 2016 race by first hacking a voting technology company and installing malware on its network.

Individuals subsequently briefed by the FBI announced to reporters afterward that they were told two Florida counties had been hacked via the vendor, which has been identified publicly as VR Systems of Tallahassee, but that ultimately no votes had been altered.

Passage of the proposed voting systems act in its current iteration would amend the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, the government’s existing federal anti-hacking statute, to specifically cover voting systems and computers “used for the management, support or administration of a federal election.”

“It’s not enough to speak out against hacking our voting systems, but then do nothing to actively deter it. We must ensure that those who attempt to interfere in our elections will face strict punishment for their actions,” Mr. Ratcliffe said.

The letter to Mr. Wray sought answers about how the FBI responded to the VR Systems breach, meanwhile, raising questions about the bureau’s investigation as security concerns swell nearly a year until the next presidential race.

“While the Mueller report revealed several new details about Russia’s attempts to interfere with our election in 2016, Congress and the American people still do not have a complete picture of the federal government’s efforts to detect and defend against this attack against our democracy,” wrote Mr. Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Ms. Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential hopeful.

The FBI declined to comment on the request when reached by The Washington Times, and VR Systems did not immediately respond to a similar inquiry.

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 race in spite of evidence cited by the U.S. intelligence community and private security researchers. Reality Winner, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and former National Security Agency contractor, is currently serving a 63-month prison sentence for leaking classified information to the media involving the VR Systems hack.

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