U.S. intelligence officials knew that seven states had been hacked by Russia-backed operatives before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but declined to actually inform any of them, NBC News reported Tuesday.
An intelligence report ordered by then-President Obama found that seven states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin — had their websites or voter registration databases compromised.
The breaches ranged from entry into state websites to the more serious penetration of voter databases, state and federal officials told NBC News, though they emphasized that no votes were changed and no voters were removed from the rolls.
In September 2017, the Department of Homeland Security informed 21 states that they had been targeted by hackers before last year’s presidential election. But in most of those cases, the hackers did not achieve an actual system breach.
Jeanette Manfra, the DHS’s head of cybersecurity told NBC News earlier this month that an “exceptionally small number” of them had actually successfully been hacked.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security flatly denied NBC News’ story, calling its report “factually incorrect” and “misleading.”
“We have no intelligence – new or old – that corroborates NBC’s reporting that state systems in seven states were compromised by Russian government actors.,” DHS Acting Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said in a statement provided to VICE News. “In fact, the formerly classified documents released to Mr. Moss and shown on NBC were working documents based on preliminary information and ongoing investigations, not confirmed and validated intelligence on Russian activities – in any case they do not show what NBC claims they do.”
None of the seven states had been told that Russia was behind the hacking, according to officials who spoke to NBC, and six of the seven states still deny they were hacked, citing their own investigations. Intelligence officials tell the outlet that in some cases, state officials could not be briefed because they did not have the sufficient security clearance.