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tv   Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff Discusses Election Security  CSPAN  January 29, 2021 4:18am-4:47am EST

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this is half an hour. >> hello, everyone, and welcome back to salt. i'm the managing director of salt, a networking platform at the intersection of finance, technology, and public policy. salt talks are a digital interview series with leading investors, creators, and thinkers, and our goal on these
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talks is the same as our goal at the salt conference series, to provide a window into the mind of subject matter experts as well as provide a platform for what we think are big ideas that are shaping the future. we are very excited to bring you to the first episode of our series on elections, covering election operations, election integrity, and election security, which will be the focus of our conversation today with our guest, a former department of homeland security secretary, mr. michael chertoff. i'm going to read a little bit about mr. chertoff's bio before i turned it over to our host, elliot burke. as secretary of the u.s. department of homeless committee from 2005 to 2009, michael chertoff led the cut--homeland security from 2005 2009, michael chertoff transformed fema into an effective organization following hurricane katrina. his greatest successes have
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earned if headlines because the important news is what didn't happen. at the chertoff group, mr. chertoff provides high-level strategic counsel to corporate and government leaders on a broad range of security issues, from risk identification and prevention to preparedness, response, and recovery. for heading the department of homeland security, mr. chertoff served as a header will judge on the u.s. court of appeals for the third circuit. during more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, he investigated and prosecuted cases of political corruption, organized crime, corporate fraud, and terrorism, including the investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. mr. chertoff graduated magna cum laude from harvard college in 1975 and from harvard law school in 1978. 1979 to 1980, he served as a clerk to supreme court justice william brennan, jr. posting today' -- hosting today's talk is elliot burke, an
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expert on everything related to politics including election law and election operation. we are pleased to have elliot join us as a first-time post on salt talks. elliot: thank you, john, and secretary chertoff, thank you for joining us today. we created these forms to address elections including the role of the federal government. our hope is that these talks will counter the noise and discrimination that is out there while clarifying the federal role in our elections and why the states largely have the discretion to administer the elections, but when the federal government does get involved. mike, thanks for joining us will we want to talk to you about the role it has in elections and oversight. you were there at the outset of the creation of the department. when you took over as the secretary, what role did you see the department having in our
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elections, and how is that changed over time? michael: when i took overcome the issue if electionswas not- a controversy- when i took over, the issue of elections was not a controversial one. but as with anything that relies to some degree on the internet, we became focused on the issue of security against hackers, anyone who might interfere with the electoral process over the internet. the good news, as you pointed out, elliot, is the actual management of voting is very widely distributed. essentially impossible at scale for an adversary to affect all of the different voting places nationally. the machines themselves that you vote on by and large are not connected to the internet. but we were concerned about the possibility of databases being interfered with, corrupted in some way, or simply shut down.
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to the extent dhs was involved in fact when i was secretary, it would have been giving cybersecurity advice to states. but that was still in the very early stage of learning about this set of problems. elliot: so now that you look back from your time as the secretary to today, how do you think that has changed? michael: i think it has changed in a number of respectful so first of all,--number of respects. first of all, there was a concern in the run-up to the last election with actual terrorist attacks on voting processes, meaning would somebody try to go and disrupt people waiting on line to vote in a particular location or committing an act of violence. that has been true of domestic extremism and the concern about efforts on the part of some extremists to interfere with voting in areas they feel are
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unfavorable to their preferred candidate. that is a new consideration that did not just when i was there for the disinformation, whether mounted by foreign adversaries or domestic actors, was not a real issue went i was at dhs. now it is a very big issue. it started in 2016 when the russians used their online presence to try to affect the way people voted or didn't vote in the election in 2016. finally, the issue of hacking into databases, freezing them, ransomware that may be difficult to verify who is enrolled to vote, those are much more salient now. if you look across the entire horizon of election security, we are concerned with the actual process of in-person voting, we are concerned with the disinformation that was used to influence our corrupt people's understanding of what is going
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on, and we are concerned about the possibility of attacks on registration databases that but at a minimum -- would at a minimum assault the process of voting and may actually make it difficult. elliot: you don't remember this, but i was actually counsel to the house majority leader when he took over as secretary and home antiquity was in my responsibility of issues-- homeland security was in my response believe issues, and i remember you talking about preparedness, an area that homeland security has jurisdiction over. how do you think we did this last election with preparedness? michael: i would say in many ways it was a good news story. i was concerned there would be efforts to interfere with voting in particular locations in the run-up to and on election day itself, particularly places which are compared to be candid,
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or heavily democratic and therefore might be viewed by trump's as being hostile. as it turned out, there was very little interference in the voting process. it went remarkably smoothly, particularly given the fact that the virus and the pandemic made people particularly nervous about going to public places where they might get infected. so that was a good-news story. second, there actually was very little actual interference with registration databases, with the voting process itself. i'm not aware of widescale reporting of efforts to either shut down registration databases or interfere with tabulation. again, that is a very good news story. in some cases, many cases, actually, you have paper ballots or records of in-person voting backup so you can verify and double check to make sure there
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was no problem with the machines. so that is a good news story. i think, frankly, the biggest problem we had was after the election. it was the contesting of the election results, notwithstanding the fact that 60 judges rejected these claims as focus, really resoundingly-- as bogus, really resoundingly rejected them, and the culmination was the infamous insurrection effort on january 6, which was obviously unsuccessful try to actually prevent the announcement of the vote in a way that was at least an effort to interfere with the election results, although, candidly, would not have succeeded. elliot: in the lead up, obviously, there were comments on both sides leading up to the election about attempts to steal the election and things like that. and then breaking down actually come as you said, mostly a good
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news story about the administration of the election. shortly after the election, the office of cybersecurity within the department of homeland security -- my understanding is a relatively new office in terms of how it operates -- issued a couple of statements, ultimately the latter of which resulted in chris kreb being fired by the president. slooking at those statements, kind of remarkable in that they really did speak to the administration and what was successful -- the first dealt with foreign actors and how there was confidence that there was no successful effort to change anybody's vote or stop them from voting. there were likely attempts, we have seen that.
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there were in 2016. we have seen hacking across our government and other department and agencies. why do you think these attempts have not been successful, where they may have been successful in actually getting data from other branches or other departments of our government? michael: well, first let me say, not only chris krebs, but attorney general barr said there was no problems with the election. the widely distributed nature of how we conduct elections actually is a strength. if you penetrate, you might actually affect the outcome that would have the national scope, you would have to enter and hack into 3500 databases and try to alter results. that is not practical from the standpoint of an adversary.
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the widely distributed and decentralized way we conduct our elections, while it can be frustrating sometimes when you see the unevenness in the levels of security, are ultimately a strength in the sense that a national election would be very difficult to affect using online hacking or similar tactics. elliot: one of the things with the election we did was we created systems information and we -- an agency that does not have any oversight. it is there to help the states. we have moved away from electronic machines in favor paper ballots, and i think that is very important. it goes to the underlying issue of when you talk about voter fraud and voter intimidation, both of those exist, and they shouldn't be tolerated at any level.
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but what happens in specific cases and making it into something that is happening on a widespread basis is a disservice to the american people because it just undermines the integrity of our elections. if fraud is going on and intimidation is going on, we need to prosecute and investigate it. and even saying as some that whites right -- widespread fraud doesn't exist, if it is targeted from that is what matters. we didn't see that this time around. i think some of the lawsuits coming out of it challenging those assertions will have a self-correcting influence. i would love to get your thoughts on that, too. michael: there had been individual instances of fraud historically, observed to be focused on local elections,
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because there you actually could have an effect. if you had a 20,000 voters voting for a local official, a couple thousand my neck we have an impact. ironically--might actually have an impact. ironically, when i was a prosecutor in new york, i prosecuted and convicted a politician for voter fraud with absentee ballots. he went into homes for people mentally disabled, had a whole bunch of absentee ballots, and he basically fill them out and had them signed and sentiment, and essentially stole their ballot-- and sent them in, and essentially stole their values. it was like 50. relevant to his election, but could not have been scaled up now. in the follow-up to the election, attacking the integrity of the process itself, is it really undermines trust in government. essentially the argument being
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made is the presidential election is not valid, therefore the result is invalid. in those parts of the world where people are repeatedly told elections cannot be trusted and they are not valid, that is usually good for a dictatorship, where they say what is valid is me and my ability to use force. we fought wars against this. seeing our own public officials, some of them undermining confidence, is very dismaying. again, on the good-news site, the number of state and local officials who resolutely rejected claims of fraud, fidelity to the constitution 's still something most of our public servants believe in. elliot: i think those are
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excellent points, and going back to the statement that got chris krebs fire, looking back on it, to your point about the federal government does not work in a vacuum, it works with state, local, and private partners, that statement that became so controversial, at least to the president, was actually a joint statement that included the chairman of the election assistance commission, the secretary of state association, various parties across our federal and state governments, as well as private entities. can you talk a little bit about how that office deals with state partners? michael: the office we are talking about at dhs is basically a cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency, and it is what we used to call by a different name, but basically it has the principle
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dhs responsibility to secure infrastructure against terrorists attacks or similar efforts to undermine security. in 2060, as we began to experience a rise in russian disinformation, the then-secretary of homeland security, jeh johnson, made the election one of the critical priorities of the agency he works with. it deals with the oil and gas sector, transportation, communications, so it has a broad remit. with this election, what that agency did was work with state and local governments to hold them secure their infrastructure against an attack. however, the attack would attempt to affect the voting process or accounting process. the idea was to upgrade security across the board and give state and local officials the tools
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they need to protect themselves against an attack. i think they were able to do quite a good job with that, and that has got to continue. elliot: i think -- i'm not sure if you saw, but there were some critics on the right who attacked the statement of the office, saying that they are advisory in nature wholly and they are not in a position to weigh in on these things. i think it failed to appreciate what the role of the office is, as you just laid out, that it is advisory, but it is advisory in the sense that it works with state partners, and state partners also joined in the same conclusion, so ultimately you have got the validation of the federal and state and local and private parties here, and that is the way our system should work. it is not, as some critics have said, a federal icing of what is a state responsibility.
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it is showing federalism and how we work together. michael: correct, it is a partnership. that is the way in which dhs works with state and local partners on a whole host of security issues to protect our infrastructure against attacks like terrorists or foreign nations. elliot: i mentioned the dominion voting systems lawsuit, and i'm sure you saw this video that was going around about someone walking through and how votes could actually be changed. i'm wondering if you have any thoughts on that, or the lawsuits in general, where you think they are going to end up. michael: well, i haven't seen the video, but i'm not aware of any evidence that these machines somehow altered votes or were rigged in some way. frankly, i understand why these committees are suing. what they are basically saying is put your money where your mouth is. if you can prove something, fine.
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if you can't, you are going to pay us, because you damaged us. there needs to be accountability, and there are people who unbelievably responsible made up accusations that undermine faith in government, and also no doubt injured these businesses. elliot: i think that's right. i haven't seen -- can you think of a time when retractions at such a significant level have been made by major media outlets -- fox news, newsmax, the american thinker, they'll fall been forced to take a look at the statements and retract it for fear of litigation. do you think that itself will be self-correcting moving forward? michael: well, i do think having --removing impunity from people who deliberately make up nonsense and propagate it is helpful. there should be accountability.
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if these news media are not able to demonstrate a good-faith basis to report what they did, they ought to own up to that fact and retract it or they ought to pay a price. elliot: speaking of paying a price, in terms of the process of the insurrection and the fbi resting numerous people--resting numerous people involved, there has been some debate within the justice department about whether to charge people recently -- they may not have been violent but they may have been trespassing and a sense -- in a sense. what are your thoughts on that -- never been in a place like this in our history, but in terms of the disinformation campaign that led to this, to what degree do you think people should be held responsible? michael: well, first of all, anybody who broken, it is not
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that they merely wandered into someone's backyard by mistake. if they broke in and wandered around, they ought to be held accountable. obviously, there are going to be different charges for different people, and the higher priority are those who committed acts of violence, install documents or items from -- stole items are documents from the capital, and a number did-- from the capitol, and a number did, those are the highest charges. the incitement issues a serious issue. first of all, there were people who came deliberately expecting to commit acts of violence. if you look at what some of them were carrying, i have to say there was a good reason to believe they intended to capture and kill members of congress fulfilling the certification of the vote. that is a very serious crime. really to me is essentially
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tantamount to treason. if you wanted around to disrupt, you committed crimes. but we also need to look at inciting, and the language use within the veiled -- was thinly veiled to go to the capitol and commit violence against legislators. that cannot be ignored. over time, as they develop more and more evidence, there will be cases against those who incited this and inspired it and argued for it. one of the ironies of the modern world is when people commit crimes like this, they record themselves and they advertise it and they make it easier for law enforcement to find them. i laugh because when i was on organized crime cases, the government would try to record or wiretap organized crime figures committing crimes, and
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they would go out of their way to try to make it difficult to do. nowadays criminal say, "look at me," and they posted publicly. i think we will see a lot of cases come out of this, and i think that is what should happen. elliot: yeah, what you said is one of your concerns in the lead up is a version of this. we didn't see it on election day, but it did come to fruition as you expressed. michael: and i think that physical violence and acts of domestic terrorism will continue to be an issue in this country for the foreseeable future. we have lived through this before. we had review page--- ruby r idge, we had waco, we had the oklahoma city bombing in the '90s.
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it was a bit of a reaction against extremism because they saw the kids blown up at the daycare center. unfortunately, what sometimes happens is as time passes, people forget how bad these terrorist acts are and they start to rev themselves up with extremism again. i hope that after january 6, a lot of these folks will take a deep breath and realize that what they did was way, way beyond the line. elliot: whe do your think we go from here? there will be postmortem within the departments. election assistance commission as slated hearings to look at this. a lot of good stories there, too, but in terms of moving forward in light of what happened, what you think we need to do to better prepare ourselves moving forward? michael: i think, first of all,
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we need to continue to work with state and local officials to shore up their defenses against cyber attacks on databases. i also think we need to help them employ more people and get more resources in order to help with, for example, mail-in ballots, which are a very useful way to vote. i voted that way in the past. you want enough people to distribute the ballots, to verify them, and ultimately to count them. there may even be ways with paper ballots to build in more security using qr codes and modern technology they have. i think that is where we focus on in terms of moving forward to better secure our election process. elliot: that's grateful to mike, thanks very much. i think that's all the time we
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have today. john, back to you. john: thank you, secretary chertoff, for joining us for the first session on elections equity. thank you so much, elliot, for moderating the conversation today. our goal is to get the facts out in the sunlight. there is a lot of misinformation about everything ranging from security to how elections are operated. we are looking forward to sharing this episode with our community as well as sharing the upcoming episodes in this series with georgia secretary of state brad raffensperger, the michigan secretary of state -- that will be a great bipartisan discussion from two people on the ground in two key battleground states, as well as john palmer from the election assistance commission. thank you again, everybody, and to secretary chertoff for joining us on this first episode of salt talks focusing on the election. michael: my pleasure. john: thanks again, everybody,
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for joining us. if you missed any part of this episode or you want to watch a previous episode, find them at please follow us on social media -- we are on twitter, instagram, facebook, and subscript to our channel on youtube. we love growing our community. on behalf of the entire salt team, this is john
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