Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has created a new role to coordinate the US intelligence community’s efforts to counter threats to election security amid rampant criticism that the various agencies’ efforts are not coordinated well enough.
Shelby Pierson will be the first Election Threats Executive and serve as Coats’s principal adviser on the issue as well as coordinating activities and initiatives across the intelligence community.
“Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC,” Coats said in a statement. “In order to build on our successful approach to the 2018 elections, the IC must properly align its resources to bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue. There is no one more qualified to serve as the very first Election Threats Executive than Shelby Pierson, whose knowledge and experience make her the right person to lead this critical mission.”
Pierson, a career intelligence official, essentially worked in the same role during the 2018 midterm election, when she had the title of Crisis Manager for Election Security, though Coats’s office had been more reluctant to put her job in the spotlight.
Since 2016, when Russian intelligence conducted a multi-pronged attack to meddle in the US presidential election, federal agencies have carved out more specific roles to address election security. The Department of Homeland Security handles attacks to election infrastructure, like voter registration databases, and the FBI is tasked with countering foreign disinformation campaigns. But no one agency is formally tasked to oversee election security as a whole.
While Coats and other senior intelligence officials have warned of the likelihood that Russia and other countries would try again in 2020, President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the significance of Russia’s attacks, leading to concerns that the government as a whole isn’t taking election security as seriously as it could.
“Ms. Pierson is a good choice for this role, which should help improve coordination across the intelligence community, but I do wish it had been established sooner,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia said in a statement to CNN.
The top Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a review of Russia’s election interference efforts, Warner has consistently criticized the White House as not having an overarching strategy for 2020.
“While all the relevant agencies recognize the challenges and have been doing a lot more in this area since 2016, the reality is that we still need to see leadership from the White House, which has failed to make this issue a priority,” Warner said.