While Republicans in Congress continue blocking further efforts to bolster election security, Russian operatives may have already set their sights on their latest target.
On Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told the Tampa Bay Times that Russian operatives had penetrated a number of Florida’s county-level election systems. Said Nelson, Russian operatives “have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.” He added that “Russians are in their records.”
Nelson, however, wouldn’t go into further details about the “penetrat[ion],” saying the information was “classified.”
The Times noted that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote a letter last month to all 67 of Florida’s county election supervisors, recommending that county election boards accept offers of election protection resources offered by the Department of Homeland Security.
Today, I sent a letter with @marcorubio to the Supervisor of Elections in all 67 counties in Florida urging them to heed the warnings of DHS and take advantage of all federal resources available protect our upcoming elections from foreign interference. https://t.co/adbunVAF3l
— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) July 2, 2018
Florida’s August 28 primary is less than three weeks away, and is one of the first major primaries since Senate Republicans blocked a proposal to allocate $250 million in grants to shore up election defenses. It’s also one of the first major votes since nearly two dozen attorneys general filed a letter calling for further election security improvements. A recent bipartisan Senate bill was filed last week that would target Russian election interference mechanisms, including malicious botnets, but it has not yet passed.
Nelson’s revelation also comes shortly after The Daily Beast reported that Russian intelligence agents had targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), making her, as the article read, “the first identified target of the Kremlin’s 2018 election interference.”
Florida, as it is, appears to be a popular target for Russian hackers. The state is rumored to be the home of the congressional candidate who reached out to Russian hackers to access stolen emails, a situation detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s most recent indictment. The identity of that congressional candidate has not yet been revealed.
In 2016, Russian hackers additionally specifically targeted the state’s congressional races. As the New York Times reported, “a handful of Democratic House candidates became targets of a Russian influence operation that made thousands of pages of documents stolen by hackers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington available to Florida reporters and bloggers.”
It’s unclear what next steps Nelson will take regarding Russian hacking operations in the state. But as he told the Tampa Bay Times, “This is no-fooling time.”