‘Extremely Alarming’ Threats Spark FBI Warning

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning secretaries of state nationwide of “extremely alarming” threats in anticipation of the elections taking place across the country.

Election security has become a significant issue since the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The close election that took days to officially call in Biden’s favor led to a litany of lawsuits and accusations by some conservatives, including Trump, that the results were compromised, eventually leading to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Trump awaits a criminal trial after being indicted on four counts in Washington, D.C., for allegedly working to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the Capitol riot. Charges include conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Last August, Trump and 18 others were indicted by a Georgia grand jury for allegedly attempting to overturn the state’s 2020 results. The Republican front-runner for the 2024 nomination has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“The threat environment, unfortunately, is very high,” Timothy Langan, executive assistant director for the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch of the FBI, said last week at the winter conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington, according to Stateline. “It is extremely alarming.”

Newsweek reached out to the FBI via email for comment.

Election workers open mail-in ballots in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 11, 2022. An FBI official warned last week of “extremely alarming” threats to this year’s elections.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Langan reportedly advised caution to gathered secretaries of state and election officials about familiar and new cyberattacks, including an urging of vigilance in the face of violent threats that may affect their safety.

Election officials were also reportedly told that voter databases could be targeted via phishing or ransomware attacks conducted by domestic or foreign individuals or entities who want to sow doubt in the electoral process. That includes spreading misinformation and disinformation and addressing rapid technological changes spurred by artificial intelligence (AI).

“You need to conduct assessments and there are groups out there to assist [the process], whether at state or county levels because unless you understand what your vulnerabilities are, you can’t do anything about it,” Aaron Thacker, spokesperson for Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, told Newsweek on Wednesday.

“We can’t just be afraid of these threats; we have to act on them,” he added. “And that means to prepare.”

Thacker said that Fontes and the state of Arizona, whose election officials were present at last week’s conference, have been working in various facets to show the public that its elections are fair.

That has included updating an elections procedure manual approved in December by Governor Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, correcting misinformation about ballot drop boxes, the successful completion of a “rigorous” certification and recertification training program for election workers, and multi-day “tabletop” exercises educating citizens and stakeholders in over a dozen counties on “deep fakes” and AI-related disruptions.

He said that future outreach will involve educating both the media and members of law enforcement on election-related protocols—saying the American public also needs to be critical thinkers and understand how elections actually work, as those who do not may spread conspiracy theories, which hurts overall confidence in institutions.

“At the end of the day, we have an elections process that works, and it has worked for a long time…Quite frankly, so much of this is less about actual manipulation of actual elections and ballots than themes people are buying into. So, we have to communicate that. We have always had free and fair elections.”

Even as recent as last August, a CNN poll showed that 69 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters viewed Biden’s victory as illegitimate—an increase from 63 percent who thought the same in early 2023.

Dominion Voting Systems is one of the privately-owned voting equipment companies that received financial restitution after suing Fox News for $1.6 billion for defamation due to statements made by Fox News hosts regarding the legitimacy of the 2020 election. They ultimately settled out of court for $787.5 million.