Former NSA head feels ‘really good’ about election security come November

Two months after retiring as head of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone is confident that the U.S. intelligence community and private sector have everything they need to detect and respond to possible U.S. election interference attempts this November.

“I feel really good,” said Nakasone, speaking to a group of reporters in a Saturday night media briefing ahead of an event held by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance honoring his service. He is set to spearhead a new defense institute at Vanderbilt University in the coming months.

Nakasone cited avenues like the Cybersecurity Collaboration Center — an NSA entity that shares threat intel between private sector cyber firms working for the defense industrial base — as a testament to the capabilities available for U.S. election defenses. The CCC has some 1,000 industry partners as of March.

“I know the template [the intelligence community] is using,” he said. “We’re going to know the threat better than they know themselves. We’re going to take all the information that we need, and we’re going to share it with both DHS and the FBI. And we’re going to take action when we see adversaries outside the United States trying to either influence or interfere in our election,” he added.

Officials, lawmakers and researchers have voiced increasing worries that AI tools could greatly enhance the spread of election misinformation or support disinformation efforts aimed at undermining the electoral process as November approaches. But Nakasone said he hasn’t seen ways in which adversaries have mastered using AI systems to a point where it’s become dangerous.

“There hasn’t been something that really shows me in another election in another country where [AI] has been utilized to a degree that says, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s concerning,’” he said.

Foreign adversaries have already been found deploying fake social media personas that have engaged with real-life users in an attempt to assess U.S. domestic issues and learn what political themes divide voters. Such machine-generated materials have already worked their way into elections around the world, but have yet to fully turn the tide of election outcomes.

But those AI capabilities will evolve over time, he said, pointing out synthetic media campaigns that continue to make headlines. “[It’s] disinformation. I think this is really the piece that we have to always be looking at. How do we detect it? How do we ensure that we can shine a light on it? How do we ensure that if this comes up that we can say this is not real?”

While still in service, Nakasone testified before a House panel in January that he believed the November election will be “the most secure” to date.

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