Warner wants info on Russian hacking
WHEELING — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is seeking national security clearance for himself and at least one of his office employees after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials told him the state’s election system was accessed by Russian hackers last year.
Federal officials recently told Warner West Virginia’s voting system was among those in 21 states reached by Russian hackers last year. There is no evidence at the state level showing the system was hacked, or that any election information was accessed or altered, according to Warner.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security have not been able to provide secretaries of state any detailed information about how the cyberattacks occurred because of high-level security issues, but Warner said security clearance and information about possible hackings is necessary for secretaries of state so these issues can be addressed and rectified.
The Department of Homeland Security informed Warner of the access made by Russian hackers into West Virginia’s election system as he attended the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Indianapolis last week. Warner serves on the association’s committee for cybersecurity and election security, which is working to develop a plan to protect election systems from hackers.
After returning to Charleston, he sent Department of Homeland Security Director John Kelly a letter suggesting that secretaries of state be granted the security clearance necessary to oversee their systems.
“Seeing the fact systems have been accessed causes a lot of us to stay on alert for cybersecurity,” Warner said. “Any reports that hacking occurred in West Virginia are unsubstantiated, and the system was not accessed as far we have information in the Secretary of State’s Office. But it causes a high interest in cybersecurity, and that is my concern now. All secretaries of state should be given a security clearance so we can discuss whether or not we have been hacked. Without it, we cannot have the dialogue.”
Warner said from his understanding hackers were able to access elections data in just two of the states where cyberattacks occurred — Arizona and Illinois — and it appears “nothing serious” resulted.
“Nothing nefarious that we are aware of occurred, but the fact they were able to get through that firewall concerns us,” he said. “An action took place, and we have to stay abreast of the situation.”
Members of the West Virginia National Guard have security access to information that would be helpful to the Secretary of State’s Office in helping to combat cyberattacks, according to Warner. He wants at least one member of his office to have the needed security clearance and be able to work alongside the National Guard in studying the information.
Warner said he also understands not all information should be made public, especially that prohibited from release under West Virginia law.
This month the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has asked states to provide data about registered voters living there, and Warner promises he won’t give out any information other than what is allowed by code.
The office may release a registered voter’s name, address and party affiliation, and data indicating whether they’ve participated in recent elections. What can’t be provided are voters’ email addresses, phone numbers or Social Security numbers, according to Warner.
He had previously asked to be a member of the commission, but was informed there were already enough Republican secretaries of state on the commission. They told him they actually needed a Democratic county clerk to join, and asked if he knew of someone in West Virginia.
Warner suggested Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes, and the West Virginian is one of two county clerks with a voice on the national commission.
Warner said he is “not in the camp” that believes President Donald Trump benefited from Russian election hacking last year. But he believes modernization is needed to make the systems more secure and assure American voters the election system is valid.
“When citizens don’t have faith in the elections process, they lose faith in the democratic system,” Warner said. “They think, ‘Why should I spend time to vote when irregularities occur?’ I want to clear that up in West Virginia. … As politically divided as the country is, it is important both sides have confidence in the system.”