WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions conceded Wednesday that the U.S. government is not doing enough to prevent future interference in elections by Russia and other foreign adversaries.
“We’re not,” Sessions said, when asked by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., if the government is taking adequate action to prevent meddling in its elections. “The matter is so complex that for most of us we’re not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”
Sessions said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 election and may attempt to do so again. He said the Justice Department has been aggressively looking into the stealing of trade secrets in the private sector and noted that the FBI’s computer experts are also highly trained.
“Are we at the level we need to be yet? I don’t think so,” Sessions conceded.
He also said there is no review underway of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and how to address them.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Sessions the name of the person at the Justice Department in charge of making suggestions to Congress about what laws needed to change in order to protect the election system from foreign interference.
Sessions said the head of the national security division would be the best person to talk to, but admitted he was not looking into that specific issue.
“I’ll be frank I don’t know that we’re doing a specific legislative review at this point,” Sessions said. “I take that as a suggestion.”
Whitehouse shot back. “As you know there are multiple congressional committees that touch on cyber security and it really complicates life if there’s not somebody at the Department of Justice whose job it is to work with us on cybersecurity legislation and the silence has been deafening,” he said.
Several senators including John McCain of Arizona and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are introducing legislation requiring political ads placed on Facebook and other online outlets to follow the same disclosure rules as political ads that air on TV. This would likely close a loophole that allowed foreign nationals to advertise online in U.S. elections last year, violating the spirit of federal law.
Klobuchar asked Sessions for his support for that legislation during the hearing and he agreed the law does need “updating” given technology’s advances.
But some state voter registries are reportedly still vulnerable to hacking, and Congress is still looking for a solution to that ahead of the midterm elections in 2018. The Department of Homeland Security has taken the lead in alerting states about whether hackers have targeted their voter registry systems.
Sessions also said the problem of Russia and other foreign nations pushing “misinformation” in the United States was still not resolved.
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