California State Capitol Building

The Russia investigation took a bizarre turn last month when California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was told in the space of a few days that his office’s websites had and had not been “scanned” in 2016 by “Russian cyber actors.” Under further pressure from Padilla’s office after the initial notification, the federal Department of Homeland Security identified the actual target of the bots, the California Department of Technology, an Internet provider agency that receives and repels millions of such “scans” daily, according to a department spokesperson.

The Department of Homeland Security first revealed early this summer to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that 21 states, including California, had experienced the probes. The states had been notified, said the official testifying, Jeanette Manfra, a DHS acting undersecretary, but Homeland had actually forgotten to tell California, and “two or three” other states, until September 22, 2017, Padilla stated in a press release.

As an election official, Padilla complained hotly that he found the one-year delay “completely unacceptable” as his office had made repeated requests for information. He’d written to the National Security Agency in June, but he’d apparently learned more “about potential threats from leaked NSA documents or media reports” than from federal sources.

Then, five days later, his office issued a second press release contradicting the first. After further questioning, DHS was now saying that it was California Department of Technology networks that had been scanned, not Padilla’s office’s websites. California’s “elections infrastructure and websites were not hacked or breached by Russian cyber actors,” Padilla said, Homeland’s initial information had been “bad.” Requests for comment from DHS were not returned by press time.

Padilla further took note of an Associated Press report that DHS was backtracking on its statement that Russian hackers had attacked the voter registration system in Wisconsin, a state where Trump’s win marked a turning point on election night.

According to the state Department of Technology, which manages Internet service to many California departments, low-level automated scans of its systems is routine, and millions of such efforts are detected and stopped daily. Homeland’s identification on September 26 of Russian bots as one the sources, however, was not previously known.


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