The following is a transcript of an interview with Chris Krebs, the former director of CISA and a CBS News cybersecurity expert and analyst, that aired on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023.


MAJOR GARRETT : Welcome back, up now CBS News cybersecurity expert and analyst Chris Krebs, who as head of CISA, we’ll get into what that means in a second, announced soon after the 2020 election that it was the, quote, ‘most secure election in history.’ The former president disagreed and memorably to Chris, fired him. Chris, it’s good to see you.

CHRIS KREBS: Good to see you, Major.

MAJOR GARRETT: What was the basis of that statement, that it was the most secure election in American history? 

KREBS: So let’s contextualize that statement a little bit. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Please.

KREBS: It was issued on November 12, by a group known as the Election Subsector Joint Coordinating Council. So this was leaders from the federal government, state government and local government, election- involved in the administration of elections alongside those from- from the private sector and those that support–

MAJOR GARRETT: –across the country. 

KREBS: –Yes, so this was not my statement. This was not CISA’s statement–

MAJOR GARRETT: –Not a red or blue statement. 

KREBS: –Correct. This was a bipartisan joint statement by those that are actually involved in the day to day administration of elections. And it was their real time, in the moment perspective of what was happening around the United States election at that point. And the important part is that it wasn’t just about November 3, and what immediately preceded- what immediately followed. It was a collective effort really spanning back from my perspective, back to 2017. That joint effort that we had worked to develop strong partnerships around election security within the federal government, but also with state and local election officials.

MAJOR GARRETT: And as I understand it, President Trump encouraged you to do that very work. Did he not?

KREBS: –That- we had the full support of the White House, the National Security Council and those that were immediately within the orbit of the president. In fact, I briefed the vice president, who was on earlier, several times on our election security. 

MAJOR GARRETT: What is CISA? 

KREBS: CISA is the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. It was established by President Trump in 2018. And it is, as Jen Easterly, the current director calls it, the nation’s civilian cyber defense agency.

MAJOR GARRETT: And at any time, when you were briefing either the vice president or the president or senior administration officials about the work you were doing and what it was leading up to in the 2020 election, did they raise any concerns about your ability, your acuity, your trustworthiness, or the trustworthiness of the data you were getting back to you?

KREBS: We had full support from not just the White House and the executive branch, but also from Congress. We- we briefed Congress. I personally briefed Will Hurd several times, briefed a range of senators and members of the House of Representatives throughout 2020 on our efforts to secure the 2020 election and received, as I said, full-throated support.

MAJOR GARRETT: And when you say security, what does that mean? Does that mean no penetration? And that’s it? Or does it mean other things under the umbrella of security and secure election? 

KREBS: Well, our efforts starting in 2017, were to work with and establish relationships where we could share information and provide cybersecurity services to state and local election officials so that they could harden their systems and increase the resilience of those systems. And the key takeaway, as I see it for the 2020 election, is that it was effectively the most audited and most papered election in- in recent history. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Why is that important? 

KREBS: Well, your- your colleague, David Becker, your co-author, runs the Center for Election and Innovation Research and he conducted a study that says that in 2016, less than 80% of ballots cast had a paper record associated with it. Paper records are important because you can audit the results. If there are any questions, you can go back, check your math, and ensure the- the counting was accurate. By the time the 2020 election rolled around, due to combined efforts of federal and state, local election officials, that number increased to around 95% of votes cast, including every one of those close call states. Importantly, Pennsylvania and Georgia both switched systems that had paper ballots associated with the vote, and you could count and recount and audit. In fact, Georgia recounted or audited several times post November 3.

MAJOR GARRETT: And those systems that do that auditing were secure? 

KREBS: Yeah, absolutely. You know, based on our work with the intelligence community, our understanding of– 

MAJOR GARRETT: And- what from state officials told you? And local officials?

KREBS: Look. Absolutely. Look, I- I- you know, I continue to think that there are any number of state election officials that had every incentive in the world to prove that something happened to deliver an outcome to President Trump, but that never happened. 

MAJOR GARRETT: So, with respect, there are those on the Trump side of this ledger who think you might just be a beltway insider, wise guy, who came to a conclusion and tried to sell it to the president and just because he didn’t believe you, he had a right to do other things. How would you respond to that? 

KREBS: Well, he certainly has the right to claim that he won or, you know, that it was stolen from him, but as we heard when he takes that action towards the criminal conspiracy, that’s a different matter, but again, our role at CISA was in support of state and local election officials and ensuring that their voices were heard and that the work that they were doing got to the American people to instill and restore confidence in our public institutions. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Were you interviewed by the special counsel? 

KREBS: I was.

MAJOR GARRETT: Would you appear as a witness? 

KREBS: Of course, of course. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Do you regard this case as persecution of the former president, politically or otherwise? 

KREBS: Well, it’s certainly a prosecution, but as for persecution–

MAJOR GARRETT: –That’s his- his word is persecution. 

KREBS: Yeah, I- look, this is going to play out as it plays out. And I, you know, it’s a duly authorized investigation by the attorney general, you know, it’s in- it’s in the courts now.

MAJOR GARRETT: What are your concerns- I know you’re on the outside now, but I know you keep in close contact with those who are monitoring 2024, about these underlying security and functionality issues? 

KREBS: Well, I think anytime that you put technology systems into a process or into any sort of workflow, there’s absolutely the possibility that there are vulnerabilities or misconfigurations, that can take place. The key for election systems is you don’t have single points of failure, what’s known as software independence, in this case, where a failure of the hardware or software doesn’t result in an undermining of the entire process. And- and the FBI and CISA continue to say that there’s no known capability by an adversary that has been able to change or disrupt the casting, the counting, and the certification of a vote. I continue to have concerns, however, that- that we are not moving fast enough to- to get rid of some of these legacy systems and reducing vulnerabilities to stay ahead of what’s an intelligent, continually improving adversary. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Very quickly. Chris Krebs, how concerned are you about threats to those who work at the local level on election administration? 

KREBS: Absolutely, the- as we saw in ’22, the- the threats to election administration officials is off the chart. And it’s resulting actually in these officials retiring and leaving the workforce so we’re seeing a sort of voter suppression of another kind, where there may not be enough opportunities to administer the election process, which will cut down on opportunities for people to actually vote. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Chris Krebs, thank you very much for coming in this morning. 

KREBS: Thanks, Major. 

MAJOR GARRETT: We appreciate it. We’ll be right back.