FBI, DHS Undercut Florida Sen. Bill Nelson’s Claims About Russian Hacking

Chuck Ross | Reporter
  • Florida Sen. Bill Nelson claimed on Aug. 7 that Russians had hacked into Florida’s voting systems and had “free rein to move about”
  • But FBI Director Christopher Wray and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have sent a letter to Florida’s top election official pouring cold water on the claim
  • “Floridians can have confidence that when they visit the polls, their vote will be counted, and counted correctly,” they wrote in a letter obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have told Florida’s top election official that they are unaware of ongoing Russian efforts to hack into the Sunshine State’s voting systems, as Florida Sen. Bill Nelson claimed earlier this month.

In the letter, obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, FBI Director Christopher Wray and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner that U.S. officials “have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida.”

“Russian government actors have previously demonstrated both the intent and capability to conduct malicious cyber operations,” they added.

Nelson, a Democrat, claimed during an Aug. 7 campaign event that Russian hackers had infiltrated some Florida counties’ voter registration systems. He said that leaders on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asked him to “let supervisors of elections in Florida know that Russians are inside our records.” (RELATED: Mueller Indicts 12 Russians Involved In Election Hacking)

Russians “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about,” said Nelson, who faces a tough re-election fight in November.

The claim gained widespread attention for several reasons. The specter of Russian hackers infiltrating states’ voting systems has been widely discussed by lawmakers and in the press. Nelson also came under fire for disclosing information that the U.S. government would consider to be classified.

Nelson was accused of making inaccurate claims about Russian hacking, most prominently in a fact check from The Washington Post, however, he received some cover from NBC News. The outlet reported that government officials said that “there is a classified basis for Nelson’s assertion.”

The Wray and Nielsen letter, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, would appear to undercut Nelson’s claims and the NBC News report.

“We are focusing on assisting election officials with securing their systems for the 2018 midterms and ensuring Floridians can have confidence that when they visit the polls, their vote will be counted, and counted correctly,” Wray and Nielsen wrote to Detzner, a Republican.

They noted in the letter that Florida has “spent the past several months deploying more….intrusion detection sensors to state and local election systems than any other state.”

A spokeswoman for Detzner, Sarah Revell, blasted Nelson for making “unsubstantiated claims” about Russian infiltration.

Revell said that after Nelson made his public statement, Detzner’s office “began aggressively pursuing answers” by reaching out to the FBI, DHS and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“None of these agencies had information to corroborate Senator Nelson’s claims,” Revell said.

Detzner then contacted North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence panel. Nelson claimed that Burr, a Republican, and Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, told him of Russia’s hacking efforts.

Burr “also did not confirm Senator Nelson’s claims and advised us to continue working with DHS and the FBI,” Revell said.

Below is the DHS, FBI letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner:

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