SEATTLE – We’ve been warned before, but the threat is far from over.
Foreign governments and operatives have and will continue to influence U.S. elections using coordinated disinformation campaigns and sophisticated computer hacking: all to undermine American democracy.
But, is Western Washington a target? The head of the Seattle FBI Field Office says we are.
Multiple federal agencies say they are working to protect the integrity of our elections – and some warn you could play a pivotal role.
“In the past it was primarily spy versus spy, and foreign nations attempting to obtain state secrets to get themselves an advantage on the global stage,” said Special Agent in Charge Raymond Duda from the FBI Seattle Division. “That has changed dramatically.”
The ‘Protected Voices’ initiative by the FBI intends to educate businesses, campaigns and voters on how to protect themselves.
The feds insist America’s enemies aim to hack elections, infrastructure, even fund counter-information campaigns.
“Over the last few years, this threat has risen to the point where it is a close number two for the FBI,” said Duda.
It’s not just presidential campaigns that are being targeted either. Duda warns state and even local races could also be vulnerable.
“I think our adversaries look at this as a long-term project,” he said. “Seattle is a very significant area on a global stage. The technology that is developed here in Seattle is extremely significant and valuable and of great interest to our foreign adversaries.”
“We always do everything in teams of two, we use tamper evidence seals and that has been historically best practice,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall told Q13 News earlier this week. “I think what’s changed is the way we secure our equipment.”
The Auditor recently showed how Homeland Security helped safeguard ballots. Plus, the agency is using USB blockers and disconnecting sensitive equipment from the internet to minimize the risk of hacking.
“It would be very difficult for a foreign actor to come in and hack our elections,” said Hall.
Plus, according to the FBI, defeating foreign influence can also happen at home. In some cases, hackers access dormant social media accounts owned by those you know and trust.
‘Protected Voices’ offer strategies to campaigns, businesses and the public on how to minimize their risk. Because, while spies are still among us, many who wish to see America suffer can now reach us using the social media channels we’ve come to depend on.
“Their objective is to create conflict and divisiveness in our country to weaken our social fabric,” said Duda.
To learn about the FBI campaign, more information can be found at this website.