Homeland chief says Russia trying to sow discord ahead of midterms, but not to scale of 2016
PHILADELPHIA — The secretary of homeland security said Saturday there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s midterm elections with the same ‘‘scale or scope’’ it targeted the 2016 presidential election.
Kirstjen Nielsen spoke at a Philadelphia convention of secretaries of state and other state election officials, an event that’s usually a low-key affair highlighting voter registration, balloting devices, and voting security issues that don’t get much public attention.
But coming amid fresh allegations into Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election, the sessions on election security have a higher level of urgency and interest.
Nielsen said US intelligence officials are seeing ‘‘persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns.’’
She said her agency will help state and local election officials prepare their systems for cyberattacks from Russia or elsewhere.
Top state election officials from throughout the nation are attending the meetings this weekend of the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors.
The conference follows Friday’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleged to have hacked into Democratic party and campaign accounts.
Trump has never condemned Russia over its meddling in the 2016 elections despite the findings of all top US intelligence agencies. In the past, Trump has reiterated Putin’s denials, but last week said he would bring up the issue when the two meet Monday in Finland.
Some of the state officials who run elections say it’s important for the president to take a tougher stance to avoid having the public’s confidence in fair elections undermined.
‘‘I believe as commander in chief, he has an obligation to address it, and frankly put Putin and any other foreign nation that seeks to undermine our democracy on notice that the actions will not be tolerated,’’ said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.
Trump has portrayed the investigation into Russian meddling as a partisan attack.