CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner applauds the actions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enhance the abilities of Secretaries of State to communicate effectively and efficiently with Federal cybersecurity experts and local election officials.
In July, Secretary Warner made the request to the DHS to sponsor each state’s chief election official for security clearance to decrease barriers of communication between cybersecurity experts and to those that run elections.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome and the quick action from the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the communication between cybersecurity experts and states’ chief election officials,” Warner said. “If local, state and the federal government are going to work together to protect our elections systems and databases, we need the unrestricted ability to communicate with each other.”
In May, national media outlets reported that 21 states had their elections systems targeted by hackers in mostly unsuccessful attempts. The media credited their reports to information leaked to them from within the DHS. Secretary of State Mac Warner was alarmed to learn from these media reports, not the federal agencies involved, that West Virginia may have been one of those 21 states.
Secretary Warner’s concerns over the lack of communication between the DHS and the Secretary of State’s Office as to any threat in the state’s elections cybersecurity network prompted him to take the lead in addressing the issue at the national level.
“By working within the National Association of Secretaries of State’s (NASS) Cybersecurity Task Force, I was able to determine the scope and severity of the lack of communication and took the opportunity to personally discuss the matter with representatives from DHS.” Warner said.
Secretary Warner learned that the lack of security clearances for secretaries of state prevented the DHS from communicating classified information with the secretaries – even though that in most states the secretary of state is the chief elections official.
“Cyber threats launched from nation states into county clerks’ offices nationwide is not a fair fight, and we cannot continue to be reactionary due to lack of information.” Warner continued, “Protecting our democratic process against real and perceived threats demands that election officials share appropriate information. I am pleased that DHS has agreed to sponsor security clearances for the states’ chief election officials toward this goal.”
Secretary Warner penned a letter on July 12, 2017 to then DHS Secretary John Kelly, now the Trump Administration’s Chief of Staff (Attachment 1)
. Warner asked that Secretary Kelly implement an immediate policy to provide secretaries of state with security clearances in order to be able to communicate with DHS staff on the status of possible state-level security breaches detected by the DHS. In a letter to follow Warner’s original request, NASS threw the organization’s support behind Warner’s recommendation (Attachment 2)
On July 31st, NASS notified secretaries of state that DHS was starting the notification process for security clearances. The agency acknowledged that the DHS restriction towards communicating with secretaries of state and chief elections officials was an issue that needed immediate attention. DHS concluded that the issue could best be remedied with a security clearance process. The process would be implemented effective August 1st.
Attachment 1: Letter from Secretary of State Mac Warner to DHS Secretary John Kelly
Attachment 2: Letter from NASS to DHS Secretary Kelly