San Juan, Puerto Rico – West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner was a featured speaker Wednesday at a national conference for state officials with a focus on election security. Recognized as a leader in educating government officials and the public on foreign interference in U.S. elections, he used the opportunity to share new information with officials about why the Federal Government chose to classify elections as "Critical Infrastructure" in 2017.
Warner's audience included a broad group of state officials, including governors and policymakers, at The Council of State Governments 2019 National Conference in Puerto Rico. In addition to sharing information about interference in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections, he presented evidence tying the election interference to Russian schemes during the Olympics and Malaysian Airline shoot-down. He explained how this affected the United States' decision to declare elections as "Critical Infrastructure." The new slideshow presentation created based on this information is can be viewed here.
Through recent communications with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Warner learned how Russia’s online disinformation campaigns in the 2016 U.S. elections had origins in the country's retaliatory efforts to undermine international anti-doping efforts stemming from the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Three Russian cyber-hackers involved in undermining the World Anti-Doping Agency investigating the Olympic Games are in the same group indicted in the U.S. for election interference.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the goals of the indicted Russians were to publicize stolen information as part of a disinformation campaign to undermine, retaliate, and delegitimize the efforts of international anti-doping organizations. Similarly, the Russians tried to hack investigations into the downed Malaysian Airline to spin the story and confuse the public. In both cases, hackers attempted to harass and expose officials who had publicly embarrassed Russia for its state-sponsored actions.
Prior to Warner taking office, the Federal Government had given scant explanation about why it declared U.S. election systems critical infrastructure. Warner’s pursuit of those reasons brought him to the conclusion that elections were given the special designation to provide financial resources and federal assets to thwart Russian and foreign governments meddling with American elections.
Regarding the critical infrastructure designation presentation, Secretary Warner said, “It is imperative Americans understand Russian Intelligence spreads disinformation to turn people against one another. Russia uses social media, propaganda, and artificial intelligence to divide us politically, economically, and socially. They want Americans to question each other, and to wonder whether we should trust our government.”
Warner’s release of the new material continues West Virginia’s effort to inform citizens about election cybersecurity and increase confidence in future American elections.
“Not one vote was changed in either 2016 or 2018,” Warner said. “Rather, the Russians were trying to hack our minds using social media.”
West Virginia became a leader in educating Americans about Russia's disinformation campaigns following the 2016 general election. Warner pushed for all state secretaries to receive secret security clearances, and he and his team started receiving information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that was previously classified or unavailable.
As news agencies started openly reporting the information, Warner's office assembled a presentation and accompanying video titled “Russia’s Campaign to Influence U.S. Elections.” This presentation is now used across the country.
The National Association of Secretaries of State named Warner Co-Chair of the NASS Elections Committee heading into the 2020 election year. Warner is using his leadership position to encourage voters to look to federal, state, and local election officials as their trusted source for election information. Warner has also joined NASS's educational effort to promote #TrustedInfo2020 for public awareness of official information shared by election officials on social media.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner spoke on a panel about disinformation and election security at The Council of State Governments 2019 Annual Conference in Puerto Rico.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner spoke to attendees at The Council of State Governments 2019 Annual Conference about Russia's meddling in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. Elections.