State, federal officials say they’re armed against attacks on 2020 elections – but won’t commit to disclosing breaches

Laurel Lee, Florida Secretary of State

State and federal officials expressed confidence Friday in the countermeasures they’ve erected against cyberattacks on Florida’s 2020 elections – but the state’s top elections overseer refused to commit to informing Floridians if they discover any breach attempts.

“We are committed to the maximum amount of transparency that’s possible. But to disclose specific information about weaknesses within our elections infrastructure or defensive protective measures is to share that information with those who would choose to do us harm,” Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee said during a news conference.

“Information about future breaches will certainly be shared among the supervisors of elections and the Department of State – and, of course, our law enforcement partners,” she said.

Not the public? “We’ll have to make those determinations on a case by case basis, depending upon the nature of the breach, the actor, and the information that is involved.”

Lee addressed reporters during a news conference in the offices of Lawrence Keefe, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee. Also present were representatives of the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and a number of county supervisors of election.

Roughly one year in advance of the general elections, Keefe promised the officials would work together “as a unified team” to prevent outside interference. Local supervisors will take the lead, he said. “The agencies of the federal government are here in a strong supporting role, to actively assist our local and state agencies in every way that we can.”

Authorities have seen no evidence of attacks to date, said Rachel Rojas, a special agent in charge with the FBI. “But we know our adversaries are relentless,” and are ever working on new avenues of attack, she said. The feds are working on new responses, meanwhile, including collaborations between national security and criminal investigators.

At the FBI, that includes naming agents in every field office to coordinate investigations, she said. Additionally, the FBI and FDLE are coordinating on threat assessments, working with supervisors in each of the state’s 67 counties.

State leaders have kept quiet about the details of election-security efforts since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election disclosed that one Florida county had its online elections infrastructure penetrated by hackers.

Following a briefing with the feds, Gov. Ron DeSantis subsequently said that two counties had been targeted, but declined to name them because of a confidentiality agreement he’d signed with federal authorities. News organizations subsequently identified one of the victims as Washington County.