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The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

Some of Trump's nuttiest election lies were around voting machines

The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

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Welcome to The Cybersecurity 202! Happy Flag Day! Here’s something to be proud of: The U.S. flag has more stars than any other nation's flag. Brazil's flag comes in second with 27 stars compared to our 50 stars and Uzbekistan has 12. Alas, Malaysia's flag beats ours when it comes to stripes. It has 14 of them compared with our 13. 

Below: Over 100 election deniers have won GOP primaries so far, and several election deniers are on the Republican ballot for secretary of state in Nevada tonight.

Trump aides considered his voting machine lies particularly silly

The master narrative of yesterday’s Jan. 6 hearing was that former president Donald Trump’s 2020 election lies helped prod the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and are continuing to press politics in a dangerous direction. 

Even some Trump campaign and administration officials didn’t buy his baseless attacks, which have riven the nation for nearly two years now. Those officials watched with alarm and dismay after the election as the president embraced easily disprovable conspiracy theories and ignored evidence, according to video testimony. Some of Trumps most unbelievable claims were around voting machines.

Insiders considered the claims about Dominion voting machines particularly ridiculous — and damaging

Barr called the Trump-embraced conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems machines had been manipulated to flip votes to Biden “idiotic” and “disturbing.” He said Trump allies promoted the allegations with “zero basis.” 

Yet, despite their absurdity, the false claims caught fire among Trump supporters — surging distrust in election machines and election workers. 

Barr told Trump the theories did not hold water, he said. But to no avail.

“[The claims] were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people,” Barr said. They prompted widespread belief “that there was this systemic corruption in the system and that their votes didn’t count and that these machines controlled by somebody else were actually determining it, which was complete nonsense.” 

The Dominion conspiracy theories split Trump officials between believers and skeptics

Trump campaign aide Alex Cannon disputed the phony claims in a conversation with Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro, Cannon told investigators. He also pointed to a report by state and federal officials finding the 2020 election was the most secure in history, which had been touted by then-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency [CISA] Director Chris Krebs

The response: “I believe Mr. Navarro accused me of being an agent of the ‘deep state’ working with Chris Krebs against the president,” Cannon said. 

Those Dominion claims also motivated Jan. 6 protesters

The hearing closed with a chilling video compilation of protesters at the Capitol claiming their votes had been stolen by Dominion machines. 

  • One protester argues the software on Dominion machines isn’t trustworthy. “Can’t really trust the software. Dominion software all over it,” he said.
  • Another claimed she saw a WiFi symbol on her machine while voting, suggesting that it was connected to the internet. Election officials say voting machines are always segregated from the public internet — though some election security activists argue officials haven’t done enough to ensure such connections are impossible.

Trump allies tried to steer him away from false claims about mail voting security

Those baseless claims, which Trump made during the height of the pandemic, were essentially a prelude to his post-election claims about hacking and fraud. In fact, mail voting is among the more secure options, experts say, because it ensures there's a paper record of all ballots. 

Democrats generally vote by mail more than Republicans do, but Trump campaign officials feared the president’s claims would drive down Republican turnout. 

Campaign manager Bill Stepien and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) organized a meeting with Trump to dissuade him from the claims — but to no avail.

“The President’s mind was made up,” Stepien said. 

Trump did reverse himself partially. He advocated for mail voting in Florida where it's a more common practice among Republicans — and where the former president himself voted by mail — while continuing to claim without evidence that it would lead to fraud elsewhere. 

Zooming out: Trump either didn’t believe the lies himself or was completely unconcerned with whether they were true or not. 

“There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” former Trump attorney general William P. Barr said in video testimony. 

Barr warned that Trump was “detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”

“What they were proposing I thought was nuts,” former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said. Here’s more on Trump’s inner circle disputing his phony election claims from Mike DeBonis and Jacqueline Alemany. 

The hearing offers the latest evidence that Trump’s false claims about election security were prompted solely by a desire to retain power rather than by any genuine concern for election integrity.

The consequences have been disastrous for some of his supporters. “Hundreds of our countrymen have faced criminal charges. Many are serving criminal sentences because they believed what Donald Trump said about the election and they acted on it,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a committee member. “They marched on the Capitol at his request, and hundreds of them besieged and invaded the building at the heart of our constitutional republic.” 

There are also consequences as the 2022 midterms approach. They include: 

It could get worse as election deniers run for top offices across the nation. More than 100 Republicans who dispute the 2020 election results have already won primaries, according to an analysis by my colleagues Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf released this morning. They found:

  • Voters have approved at least 108 candidates for state or federal office who have repeated Trump’s false election claims
  • That number rises to 149 when it also includes candidates who have campaigned to tighten voting rules or more stringently enforce existing rules despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
  • Voters have chosen 86 candidates for the House, eight candidates for the Senate and five candidates for governor who have embraced Trump’s denialism.

The keys

Candidates boosting 2020 fraud claims are on the ballot for top elections job in Nevada today

One of the leading GOP candidates in the race for Nevada secretary of state is Jim Marchant, Politico’s Zach Montellaro reports. Marchant has pushed to dump voting machines in favor of hand-counting ballots.

Marchant isn’t alone: His competitors are also questioning the integrity of U.S. elections, the AP reported. One candidate, Socorro Keenan, has compared U.S. elections to places “where they know how to cheat,” and candidate Richard Scotti said he thinks voting machines shouldn’t be used because “the data that they record in the evening is never the same in the morning.”

One GOP candidate is spurning dubious election claims. Sparks City Councilman Kristopher Dahir has taken the opposite tack, saying he thinks he is the “only candidate that is willing to accept the results,” and “will work hard to make sure as a Nevadan there is not a reason to have questions surrounding this incredible right we have.”

A Trump cyber official is on the ballot in tonight’s GOP primaries

Katie Arrington worked on the Pentagon’s cybersecurity efforts during the Trump administration. Today, voters in South Carolina will decide whether Arrington or incumbent Nancy Mace should win the Republican nomination for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, Paul Schwartzman reports.

Trump has backed Arrington in the race, which has in large part become about Trump’s hold over the Republican Party and the “meaning of integrity in Republican politics,” as Paul writes.

Questions about Arrington’s loss of her security clearance and departure from the Pentagon have become a campaign issue. At a recent debate, Mace said she “wasn’t the one who had my top-secret security clearance suspended,” referring to reports that Arrington had her clearance revoked during an investigation into whether she disclosed classified information. Arrington denies the allegation.

National security watch

Iranian hacking campaign that included former U.S. ambassador exposed (CyberScoop)

NSA quietly appoints new top lawyer (The Record)

Government scan

How DOJ took the malware fight into your computer (Politico)

Securing the ballot

Democratic meddling in GOP primaries prompts concern over elevating election deniers (Annie Linskey)

Encryption wars

Wall Street's top cop warns on encrypted texts, market FOMO (Bloomberg)

Daybook

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee hosts a hearing on threats to election workers on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on privacy legislation on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
  • FBI Supervisory Special Agent Steve Lampo and Special Agent Mackenzie Monarko speak at an Arctic Wolf event on cyberattacks in the wake of the Ukraine war on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
  • Carol House, the National Security Council’s director for cybersecurity and secure digital innovation, speaks at an Atlantic Council event on cybersecurity challenges with central bank digital currencies Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.
  • Assistant secretary for cyber, infrastructure, risk and resilience Iranga Kahangama and Eric Mill, a senior adviser to Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana, speak at a Billington CyberSecurity event on Thursday at 8 a.m.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on obstacles to implementing the federal government’s cybersecurity efforts on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

Secure log off

Denmark has the oldest continually used national flag, which dates back to 1625. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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