U.S. intelligence chief creates election security position

By Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump for assessments that countered his policies, said on Friday he was creating a new position to focus solely on U.S. election security.

"Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC (international community)," 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."

Coats said he had tapped Shelby Pierson, the DNI's crisis manager for election security during the 2018 congressional elections, for the job.

Coats also created an Election Executive and Leadership Board to be chaired by the new adviser to focus on election threats.

U.S. intelligence officials including Coats told lawmakers early this year that they had protected the 2018 U.S. congressional elections from outside interference, but expected renewed and likely more sophisticated attacks on the 2020 presidential contest.

One of the five chapters of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Russian interference in U.S. politics will examine election systems and security issues. 

U.S. Senator Mark Warner said Pierson was a good choice for the job but called for more to be done, including for the Senate to vote on several bills aimed at improving election security.

"While all the relevant agencies recognise 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," he said.

Trump has challenged U.S. intelligence agencies in the past, including casting doubt on their conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help him win the presidency.

In January, he slammed intelligence chiefs including Coats as "naive" and "wrong" for their assessment that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 2015 nuclear agreement, which Trump abandoned last year.

Trump drew heavy criticism from both Republicans and Democrats after his summit last year in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he seemed reluctant to blame Russia for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tom Brown)