What the fired director of federal cybersecurity actually said about the election

That effort was made trickier but the release of a statement under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) last week. The sentence which attracted the most attention was the one which was offered in bold in the original: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

On Tuesday evening, Trump fired the head of the agency, Chris Krebs, over Twitter.

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate,” Trump claimed, “in that there were massive improprieties and fraud” — allegations Trump then outlined without much detail, for obvious reasons. “Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.”

Twitter dutifully slapped a “This claim about election fraud is disputed” label on the tweet, as it have for dozens of Trump’s tweets in the past two weeks. But that label itself was inaccurate, given that it treated as disputed claims for which there’s no evidence and because it failed to note that Trump’s overarching claim about Krebs was itself untrue.

The statement to which Trump appears to have been referring wasn’t from Krebs, as such. It was the product of two working groups, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council, which together are made up of numerous officials from federal and state governmental agencies and outside organizations. Its focus was on the security of the election broadly but also on the fact that there exists a viable process for recounting ballots in close races.

“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too,” the statement concluded. “When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”

None of this is controversial. On Twitter, Krebs himself touted the security of the election, though, on Wednesday, he offered an important qualification. His assertions about the election weren’t claims that no fraud occurred because “that’s not CISA’s job — it’s a law enforcement matter.” His job was to bolster the ability of elections officials to block interference attempts and to verify the accuracy of their elections. The point of the statement was that the systems for tallying votes were reliably secure.

Krebs’s group has been offering assurances to that effect for months. CISA published a website dubbed “Rumor Control” in October to debunk a number of common claims about the election.

Among them:

  • Election results couldn’t easily be changed without detection.
  • There exist robust measures to prevent people from casting illegal ballots on behalf of dead people.
  • So-called “overvotes,” where a ballot includes a vote for one contest but not others, are not necessarily suspicious.
  • Counting ballots in the hours or days after Election Day is simply how ballot tabulation works, and not evidence of fraud.
  • Incorrect results posted to a reporting website wouldn’t impact how votes are actually counted.
  • There are safeguards in place to prevent someone from submitting numerous homemade ballots by mail.

The site walks through the reasons that each of those statements can be considered reliable. It also included numerous links from governmental and independent authorities bolstering the claims.

But each of those is a claim which Trump has either entertained or promoted over the course of the year. Even in his tweet firing Krebs, Trump reiterated several of the above assertions as both factual and the rationale that Krebs needed to go.

Krebs was ousted because he suggested that he’d done his job properly when Trump demands that the country think the election was instead riddled with flaws. That the statement published by CISA simply reiterated that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security had fended off any interference efforts — something Trump has repeatedly attacked his predecessor for not doing — was irrelevant to the fact that it also presented as reliable election results which Trump wants people to see as unreliable.

After Krebs was fired, he lost his government Twitter account and began tweeting from his personal one. Among the tweets he shared was one including part of a speech he gave in 2018.

“The overall purpose of an election,” he said then, “is to convince the loser they lost. Right? Not convince the winner they won but convince the loser they lost so [there’s] this peaceful transfer of power.”

When he worked for the government Krebs had a broader, more important goal: assuring supporters of losing candidates that the candidate had lost. And the unacceptability of that to Trump was clearly a primary motivation for Krebs’s firing.

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