Anti-hacking election group started by ex-U.S., European leaders

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(Bloomberg) -- U.S. and European governments have failed to effectively respond to growing threats from Russia and elsewhere to meddle in elections, according to former officials including former Vice President Joe Biden who say they’re going to help close that gap.

More than 20 elections in North America and Europe over the next two years will provide ‘’fertile ground’’ for interference like that seen during the U.S. presidential election in 2016, former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters Friday in Washington.

“We’re at a stage now that it’s important to make sure we have a well-rounded exploration of the ups and downs of various policy choices, but that we also treat this with some urgency — we have elections this year,” said Chertoff, who’s co-chairman of the new Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO Secretary General and Danish prime minister.

The group, which plans its first meeting in Copenhagen on June 21-22, stemmed from a call Rasmussen made to Biden after the former U.S. vice president said last year that there should be a review of the 2016 Russian meddling. Rasmussen said he told Biden that it’s a European problem too. Among the other veteran officials in the group are former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Nick Clegg, the former U.K. deputy prime minister.

Microsoft Funding

The group aims to conduct studies on how to better reduce risks to elections from Russian cyber threats, including looking at new technologies, and share their findings with governments. Microsoft Corp. is providing the commission with technical expertise and $300,000 in funds. Rasmussen said other ‘’seed’’ funding has come from his consulting company, and the group will continue to raise money to back its work.

Chertoff said he hasn’t yet talked to the Trump White House about the group’s plans but has met with some lawmakers. He said Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, which he headed under Republican President George W. Bush, have taken some steps to help U.S. states to bolster election security, but the efforts are still in early stages.

Chertoff said voters may experience a repeat of efforts to disrupt this year’s elections with probing and attacks of election systems, the release of stolen documents and manipulation of social media. He and Rasmussen said cooperation across the Atlantic is needed because of the shared exposure to Russian interference.

Among countries with major elections this year, U.S. voters will decide control of Congress and Mexico will choose its next president.

‘’I have no doubt that the Russians and also other autocrats will continue to destabilize democratic societies,’’ Rasmussen said. ‘‘They will develop more and more sophisticated methods.’’

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