WASHINGTON — After a classified briefing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Thursday, Florida lawmakers are urging the feds to release more information about the two counties hacked in 2016.
- Florida lawmakers briefed Thursday on election hacking
- Delegation frustrated with lack of information in timely manner
- FBI, DHS asked to review notification systems
- PREVIOUS: DeSantis Says 2 Florida Counties' Voter Databases Hacked in 2016
The circumstances of the breach and which specific counties remains a mystery.
The FBI told the delegation the information is classified to protect intelligence methods, sources and victims. However, lawmakers emphasize that argument doesn't hold up since it is the voters who are victims who have yet to be notified.
"I don't know who the hell they think they are not to share that information with us," said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida 1st District.
The classified briefing was requested by Reps. Michael Waltz, (R) Florida 6th District, and Stephanie Murphy, (D) Florida 7th District, both former national security specialists at the Pentagon. They sought these briefings after the Mueller report revealed that Russia gained "access to the network of at least one Florida county government."
They said the fact that they weren’t briefed on the compromises in the system sooner is a major problem.
"Why Congress, who authorizes and appropriates the funds to protect our system wasn't in the loop in this notification system, why we had to ask for this briefing years later, that notification system still is not clear to us," he said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say voters deserve to know the truth, highlighting that keeping the information classified is undermining voter confidence.
"The public needs to know what counties are being hacked and what steps are being taken to hold the bad actors accountable. I believe this lack of transparency is counter-productive," Murphy said.
The FBI revealed Russians attempted to penetrate local elections systems in all 50 states. They also sent multiple warnings to state officials, a reversal from previous speculation that the counties were unaware.
"They did notify some of the supervisors of elections, there were some people that were notified. Clearly the lesson learned from the communications that occured after the 2016 election was that much needed to be improved," Murphy said in an interview with Spectrum News.
"There was a healthy back and forth in terms of the FBI dealing directly with some of the counties. Some of the counties proactively came back to them and said we’ve looked at our systems, I believe the number was 11," Waltz said.
"It was after that, that two of the counties came forward and said we've seen some suspicious activities," he added.
"There is more to follow there and we have a lot of questions across our delegation about how the FBI came to that determination,"Waltz said.
There are still questions that remain among this bipartisan group as to whether voter rolls were compromised.
"They found no evidence of that, but they couldn't say with certainty that they didn't manipulate that data," Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell, (D) Florida 26th District, said.
The penetration of voter databases in two counties was the result of phishing emails sent to election workers across the state. VR systems, the Florida elections vendor at the center of it, maintains it was not the source of the intrusion after reaching out to the FBI this week.
"VR Systems was not the source of any penetration into any county supervisor of elections systems. Based on this information, we stand by our assessment that a spear phishing email impersonating our company was the likely source,” Ben Martin, VR Systems Chief Operating Officer wrote in a statement in response to an inquiry from Spectrum News.
Now, the delegation is looking for solutions to ensure this never happens again.
"The key is that we get the grants and the other updates to the technology to our supervisors of elections this year to prep for next year’s presidential election," Rep. Darren Soto, (D) Florida 9th District, explained.
"Regardless of whether the information becomes public or not, Congress must act," he added.
Lawmakers say they have asked both the FBI and DHS to go back and review their notification system. They are also considering legislation that would require mandatory reporting from the FBI to Congress and local election partners if there is a breach in the future.