President Trump’s administration is better suited than Barack Obama’s to protect the U.S. election process against foreign interference, former intelligence officials Michael Hayden and James Clapper said Tuesday.
Speaking less than two months until the November midterms, both officials said the federal government is more adept than before in terms of countering the sort of election meddling witnessed in 2016.
“I actually think we are better defended under the Trump administration than we were under the Obama administration, and it’s simply because of a natural progression of the institutions of American government,” Mr. Hayden, the former head of both the National Security Agency and CIA, said during a panel discussion held at George Mason University outside Washington.
Mr. Clapper concurred, albeit while crediting Mr. Obama for authorizing the release of an unclassified intelligence community assessment involving the 2016 race days before his presidency ended the following January.
Mr. Obama “wanted everything we had at the time to be put together in one document, in several versions of various degrees of classification….to do as much as we could to educate the public,” said Mr. Clapper, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence through Jan. 2017. “So we left a baseline of knowledge with the public about what the Russians had done.”
“I think Mike’s exactly right,” Mr. Clapper continued. “Undoubtedly the institutions, the community, the Department of Homeland Security particularly, has, I’m sure, built on that.”
Released roughly three weeks before Mr. Trump entered office, the Jan. 2017 intelligence community assessment accused the Russian government of deploying hackers, propagandists and internet trolls to disrupt the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Russia is actively using propaganda to meddle in U.S. affairs prior to the November midterms, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned previously, and Microsoft reported evidence last month of a suspected Moscow-sponsored hacking campaign targeting political candidates.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, signed an executive order Wednesday imposing sanctions on individuals accused of meddling in U.S. elections.
“This is intended to be a very broad effort to prevent foreign manipulation of the political process,” John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters Wednesday.
“We are doing everything we possibly can, first of all, to prevent any interference with our election, and then to do a full assessment after the election,” added Dan Coats, Mr. Clapper’s successor and current director of national intelligence.
Security professionals beyond the beltway are less optimistic about the November midterms, however. The results of a poll taken during last month’s Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, released last week found that only 40 percent of respondents said election security has changed for the better since the end of the Obama administration.
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