UPDATED: Homeland security says no sign Alaska vote tallies were tampered with

Photo courtesy: MGN
Photo courtesy: MGN(WLUC)
Published: Feb. 27, 2018 at 3:51 PM AKST
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A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security says a report that said Alaska's election information -- among six other states -- is not accurate.

NBC News reported Tuesday that Alaska is one of seven states that had election information compromised by covert Russian-backed operatives before the 2016 election, but the state of Alaska says it hasn't received any information from the feds that an attack was successful.

The report says three senior intelligence officials told NBC News that Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin were the states in which intelligence officials believed Russian operatives had compromised state websites or databases.

The officials said some of the system breaches were more serious than others, and ranged from entry into state websites, to penetration of actual voter registration databases.

But Tyler Q. Houlton, the acting press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement, that the report "is not accurate and is actively undermining efforts of the Department of Homeland Security to work in close partnership with state and local governments to protect the nation's election systems from foreign actors."

The statement continued: "We have no intelligence – new or old – that corroborates NBC’s reporting that state systems in seven states were compromised by Russian government actors. We believe tonight’s story to be factually inaccurate and misleading. In fact, the formerly classified documents released to Mr. Moss and shown on NBC were working documents based on preliminary information and ongoing investigations, not confirmed and validated intelligence on Russian activities – in any case they do not show what NBC claims they do."

Before the 2016 elections, Washington officials told some of those states that foreign entities were probing their systems, but none were told that Russia was behind it, the NBC report says.

In September of 2017, the Alaska Division of Elections said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had informed the state that Russian Cyber Actors “made a failed attempt to access Alaska’s Voter Registration Database” before the election.

Houlton, with Homeland Security, says "In nearly all (of the 21) states, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed. WE have said it before and will say it again: in no case is there any evidence that votes were changed or that Russian actors gained access to systems involved in vote tallying."

Tuesday, Josie Bahnke, the director of Alaska's division of elections, released a statement saying the state had no information to suggest the earlier-announced attack was successful.

"At that time, DHS officials stated that Alaska was one of 21 states that possibly were the target of an unsuccessful Russian-affiliated cyber incident in October 2016. We have not received any additional information from the federal government to dispute this statement," Bahnke said.

Bahnke compared the scan of the division's public information site to a home being cased by a potential burglar.

"Many businesses and governments have had threat actors scan systems, which is like a robber rattling the door knob or trying to peek in the windows. But scanning a system, versus breaking and entering, are two very different scenarios." Bahnke wrote. "We have extensive procedures to secure our information, with multiple layers of security which include a combination of people, processes and technologies to help us conduct secure, trustworthy and accurate elections," she continued.

Bahnke also said the state would work with the National Association of Secretaries of State and the Department of Homeland Security on the issue of cyber security.

Tuesday, Alaska state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, called for answers from the state Division of Elections. “Alaskans have a right to know exactly what occurred, if there were illegal entrances into our system during the election process, and to what extent it may have tainted Alaska’s election or Alaskans’ data.”

Wielechowski called on the Senate Majority to schedule hearings to investigate further.