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Politics

Russians Hacked Two Florida Counties in 2017, Says DeSantis

May 14, 2019 - 2:45pm
Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis

Two Florida counties were hacked by Russians prior to the 2016 elections, but there was no “manipulation” of voting results, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Tuesday morning.

DeSantis said the FBI recently briefed the governor and other members of his administration on what he called an “intrusion” into the two unidentified counties.

“There was no manipulation, or anything, but there was voter data that was able to be got,” DeSantis said. “Now, that voter data I think was public anyway. Nevertheless, those were intrusions. It did not affect any voting, or anything like that.”

The meeting at the FBI offices in Tallahassee, which did not appear on DeSantis' public schedule, came following last month’s release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that said a Russian intelligence agency gained access to at least one Florida county-government computer network in 2016.

Others who attended the Friday meeting were officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and DeSantis’ chief of staff, Shane Strum, the governor said. DeSantis said he could not identify the counties because he signed a non-disclosure agreement, at the FBI’s request.

DeSantis said he was frustrated that the FBI did not immediately provide additional information about the hacks after Mueller’s report was released. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who was governor at the time of the voting-related breach, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have expressed similar frustration.

“We are trying to figure out what the state knew at the time,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

DeSantis said the FBI told him there were “state agents on a task force who had access to some of this information.”

“Obviously the previous administration and the FDLE did not have that information. So we’re trying to figure out what was the breakdown. Was it that FBI didn’t want to share, or was it just simply that the information didn’t get reported up. So we hopefully will be able to run that aground pretty soon,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who took office in January, said he was never told about the intrusion, either by federal officials, or by his predecessor, Scott.

“No one ever said anything to me. Granted, I took office in 2019. This happened in 2016. So I get why the FBI wouldn’t necessarily rush to tell me something that happened several years ago. But it was the position of people who were in the agencies at the time, and who are still serving, that the FBI did not brief them on this and that this was not something that they knew was going on. The FBI’s position is that there were members on the FBI task force who had access to some of the information,” he said.

The hackers used “spearfishing” through emails to access voter files, DeSantis said.

“Someone clicked on it, so someone was able to get access to things, but nothing that affected the vote count. I was pleased to hear from both the FBI and DHS during that meeting that Florida is one of the most engaged states in the country on election security, in their judgment,” he said.

The two unnamed Florida counties had been working with the FBI prior to the 2016 election, according to the governor.

After the release of Mueller’s report last month, officials with the Florida Department of State said federal officials told them in 2017 that hackers had unsuccessfully targeted Florida in 2016. The Department of State was unable to verify the intrusion, however.

“Upon learning of the new information released in the Mueller report, the department immediately reached out to the FBI to inquire which county may have been accessed, and they declined to share this information with us,” Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in a prepared on April 18. “The department maintains that the 2016 elections in Florida were not hacked. The Florida Voter Registration System was and remains secure, and official results or vote tallies were not changed.”

According to the Mueller report, the FBI believed the Russian spearfishing operation “enabled the GRU (a Russian intelligence agency) to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”

The election-related hacking became an issue last year in Scott’s successful bid to unseat long-serving U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson, a Democrat, told reporters that “Russians are in Florida’s election records,” but he refused to elaborate.

Scott repeatedly criticized Nelson’s comment, demanding that the Democrat reveal how he received the information or admit it wasn’t true. At the time, Nelson was the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity.

Nelson told reporters last summer that local election officials could get help to secure their databases and records from Russian cyber-hacking, noting the Russians had “penetrated” some voter-registration systems.

DeSantis on Tuesday said the cyber threats go far beyond elections offices.

“Really, agencies, private sector, this stuff is very, very significant, in terms of what it could affect, far beyond just this,” he said.

DeSantis acknowledged that “core information” regarding elections is “very sensitive," but said he disagreed with the secrecy involving the identification of the counties.

“I think it should be named,” he said.

As part of the budget that awaits DeSantis’ action, county election supervisors would be able to draw from a $2.8 million grant to continue cybersecurity improvements in advance of next year’s presidential election. County supervisors, in part, would be required to provide detailed descriptions of the programs being implemented.

DeSantis said he was confident that Florida's 2020 elections would be secure.

“Obviously, for me, my main concern is that people go in, they vote, the vote gets counted and we have a fair result," he said. “DHS has said we’ve taken good action. … Look, we obviously want to protect against any intrusion, but if something happens like that, there’s not a way to then get into what I would consider core election infrastructure.”

Comments

Every hacking brings an “assurance”, no votes were stolen or changed. I say, “Prove it!” Reveal the hacked counties and examine the votes. The validity of our voting system is now doubtful. Non-transparency furthers the doubt.

Now I understand why Socialist Shalala got elected in Southern Miami-Dade.

The Russians got Trump elected in the first place and they'll make the effort again in 2020 - bigger, better, and stronger. Trump can't win in 2020 unless he wins Florida which is, of course, why his administration has done absolutely nothing to prevent or combat the Russian meddling problem.

You better start paying attention to what is going on in this world of creeping LIBERALISM. Internet, Artificial Intelligence and Super High-Tech hacking have already put the world where almost nothing is out of the range of possibilities... no, it wasn't Russia that elected Trump - it was people who wanted the REAL America BACK. Our World is filled with Super-Hackers who can truly affect Anything - heard about the city of Baltimore being held for RANSOM, and all of their computer system DEAD - and no one seems to be able to fix it? Only fools who think that COMPUTERS can't effect violent change anywhere, in ANY Government in the world. The Russians, Chinese, NOKO, India or any other country is able to conduct pure SPYING almost anywhere. You need to raise your level of thinking about where we are TODAY. ANYTHING hackers, anywhere, CAN do harm - the "White Hat" hackers can (and will) eventually 'beat them... and the race to evil (Fascism, Socialism, Communism) is open to the smartest of "who knows where". When elections come, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, et al will win the day - with or without ANY spying.

Funny, in the last campaign elections, they all said Nelson was lying when he brought this up. I guess we all now know who was really lying...

I am appalled at the stupidity of "journalists' like Craig Patrick who cannot see that they, and "the public" have no right to security information like WHO was hacked. What would they do with the information? Create more lies like geriatric Bill Nelson who created stories about 2018 which were not true Some things do not need to be broadcast to satisfy alleged journalists need for self aggrandizement

And it's absolutely clear that the Russians wanted Adolph Rodham Hitlary to win since she's politically identical to them.

The U.S. House's Committee on Oversight and Reform needs to investigate this ASAP.

In 2017 Susan Bucher stood before a delegation of Florida legislators in Belle Glade and told them all that FL had been hacked by Russia.

I wanna free guess at the TWO Counties that were involved. Then, the real question is...Hacked, or given the portal?

After a lifetime here, it's getting to be time to move on. Florida has become untenable and unsustainable on just about every front that really matters to most thinking, reasonable, people.

Consider California or New York as your next destination. The extreme left wing lunacy they have will probably appeal to you. Floridians would be pleased to lose as many left wing nuts as possible.

I'm pretty sure Trump and the Republicans will get their clocks cleaned in 2020, so, if it was me, I'd wait and see. In the meantime, should the Draft-Dodger-In-Chief actually win again, I'd probably consider retirement to places in Portugal or Spain, which already have sizeable international retiree communities, including many Americans.

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