WASHINGTON – Members of Florida’s congressional delegation said Thursday it was unacceptable that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security will not publicly identify the two counties where Russian hackers gained access to voter databases before the 2016 election.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers said after a classified FBI briefing that they were told the names but were not allowed to share that information with the public. Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., had a similar briefing two days and also said afterward that he could not release the names.
The Florida lawmakers want the federal agencies to be more transparent and are pledging to work on bipartisan legislation to strengthen notification rules. They said the public has the right to know if their data was breached, similar to a credit card company notifying customers.
The FBI also told the lawmakers there was “suspicious activity” around other counties, but didn’t identify those counties by name.
“I don’t know who the hell they think they are to not share that information with us,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
The lawmakers said they were told with certainty that election results weren’t compromised, but it was less clear whether the Russian hackers were able to use the voter data in any way.
“We couldn’t get with certainly that the Russians were not actually able to manipulate the data that they had access to,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla. “They have no evidence but couldn’t say with certainty.”
Some Florida officials were taken by surprise last month when special counsel Robert Mueller’s report said hackers gained access to the network of at least one Florida county. The FBI identified the other county in the briefings with Florida officials.
The lawmakers confirmed what DeSantis said after his own briefing – that the hackers gained access through a spear-phishing email after workers clicked links. They said the law enforcment officials described it as the hackers gaining access to the “garage not the house.”
There has been speculation about the hackings since then-Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said last August that Russians had penetrated the systems of certain Florida counties and had “free rein to move about” before last year’s midterm election.
After Nelson’s comments, the FBI and DHS said in letter that they saw no signs of any “new or ongoing compromises” of state or local election systems. Some experts warned that hackers could have left malware on computer systems to be triggered later.
DeSantis said this week that he was frustrated when he saw the vague reference to hacking in Mueller’s report.
“Hey, this shows up in the Mueller report, no one ever said anything to me,” DeSantis said.
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