Former CISA Head: Election Lies Are a 'Risk to Democracy'
Election misinformation is a “tactical and strategic" threat, as are the election deniers running for office, Chris Krebs said.
Republican lawmakers need to forcefully condemn election-related lies, as new opportunities emerge for bad actors to undermine confidence in the electoral process, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said during a Washington Post Live event on Monday.
“We need leaders to step up and speak truth to the American people about how our elections are working, because there’s no good way out of this based on our current trajectory,” said Chris Krebs, who served as the head of CISA until he was fired by former President Donald Trump after the 2020 presidential election for rejecting claims of voter fraud.
Krebs said that election-related falsehoods and misinformation represent “a tactical and strategic risk to democracy,” citing the number of election denialists running for statewide offices that “have the ability to determine the certification of the 2024 election,” as well as the chilling effect that election-related lies can have on voter turnout.
A report released by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future’s Insikt Group on Monday outlined how some political candidates and elected officials are already suggesting that voting systems “will be used to falsify the results of the midterms,” thereby questioning the accuracy of election results before any votes are tabulated.
Krebs said that lies about the 2020 midterm elections—as well as falsehoods about the accuracy of the midterm elections—exist, because “it’s a great fundraising mechanism” for the former president, his allies and political candidates, and also because “it’s a great clout-chasing mechanism.”
“It’s a benefit to them from an incentive perspective,” Krebs added. “And I think the real harm is that it is shifting the Overton window, it’s shifting what’s politically acceptable in American political discourse into something that’s much more dangerous and much more violent.”
To combat these claims, Krebs said it’s important for Republican lawmakers, in particular, to speak truthfully about the voting process and election security.
“I talk to a number of current GOP officials in the House and the Senate, and I encourage them to speak up and debunk” election lies, Krebs added, citing comments Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, made on a recent podcast pushing back on lies about the 2020 election, as an example of something that more Republican lawmakers should do.
Additionally, Krebs said that voters also need to be more mindful of where they are getting their news, citing a need to prioritize information from trusted sources, like state and local election officials, over more open-sourced content.
“Any discerning consumer of information should have multiple sources of information, not just the random person you saw on TikTok,” Krebs said, adding that “you want to have a diverse set of information sources that can allow you to understand what’s going on more broadly.”
Krebs also expressed concern about the potential impact of Twitter’s decision, under new owner Elon Musk, to begin offering a $7.99 per month subscription service that allows users to receive blue checks on their accounts—something that had previously only been reserved for verified accounts.
“If you upend that model at a time when authoritative information is absolutely critical, I think there’s a significant amount of risk,” Krebs said.
“Elon owns the platform, and he can do whatever he wants, but if he is going to make a radical change in the business model and the operating model, you need to clearly communicate to the users, so we can reset the expectation around what was historically a marker of trust,” he added.
Krebs echoed the same concerns during an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, saying that Twitter’s decision to change up its verification process “opens the information space to a broader community of influencers, clout chasers, election denialists.”
“We've seen reports lately of Russia, China and Iran back at their old tricks, and it is going to create a very chaotic environment,” Krebs added.
According to a report published by the New York Times on Sunday, Russia has reactivated its influence network of social media bots and propaganda accounts ahead of the midterm elections to promote misinformation and undermine U.S. support for Ukraine.
The news of Russia’s renewed influence operations comes after CISA and the FBI previously issued a joint public service announcement on Oct. 6 warning that “foreign actors may create and knowingly disseminate false claims and narratives regarding voter suppression, voter or ballot fraud and other false information intended to undermine confidence in the election processes and influence public opinion of the elections' legitimacy.”