The following is a transcript of an interview with CBS News cybersecurity expert and analyst Chris Krebs and Kara Swisher, tech journalist and host of the podcasts “On with Kara Swisher” and “Pivot,” that aired on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to threats to election security and efforts to combat false information online. We’re joined by CBS News Cybersecurity Expert and Analyst Chris Krebs and Kara Swisher, tech journalist and host of the podcasts On with Kara Swisher and Pivot. Good to have you both here.
KARA SWISHER, HOST OF “ON WITH KARA SWISHER”: Thanks for having us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We were just talking about this to Dr. Gottlieb, but on the election front and, Kara, I want to start with you, there have been these recent studies talking about Facebook, TikTok approving even ads with political misinformation on them. How does this continue to happen with vaccines and with political misinformation? Why can’t these platforms get control?
SWISHER: Because they don’t want to make those decisions. They want to opt themselves out of decision-making on editorial, and you heard Nick Clegg, who’s running as number two at Facebook right now essentially, just gave an interview where he talked about that. We shouldn’t be the arbiters of this, we shouldn’t do this. It should be government. But then- then we have the First Amendment, so government can’t intercede. So, I think they don’t — there’s just so much of it, and it floods the zone so much, and they make money from it, but they don’t want to — they don’t want the responsibility for it, even though it’s on their platforms, and they should have the responsibility.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And some of it sort of dances or flirts with distortions, and so you have to be in that government business of spotting this. But Chris, how do you even do that?
CBS NEWS CYBERSECURITY EXPERT AND ANALYST CHRISTOPHER KREBS: Well, it’s- it’s a challenge, as Kara pointed out with the First Amendment issues. You know, DHS launched their disinformation governance board earlier in the year, and that was not actually met with with any kind of fanfare, and they ultimately sort of backed down, even though efforts they were taking through that group have been underway for a decade or more within DHS. So, one of the things that we looked at back in the 2020 election was not so much the specific claims or the specific elements of myths or disinformation, but it was more the thematics that were emerging, so not pinning it to a single individual, instead, looking at, hey, these are some of the claims we were seeing and here are the security controls or preventions in place that would actually not allow that to happen in an election. And we’re seeing some continuation of that, but once again, you know, there’s so much of it. And, you know, once it hits, it’s really hard to go bit by bit and pull it back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to show our viewers some of the video that — our CBS affiliate out in Arizona filmed multiple incidents of possible voter intimidation. They had armed individuals wearing tactical gear, as you can see there, camped out by a voter drop box. There were other two with handguns that were concealed yesterday. So, some of this is driven towards a very specific conspiracy that emerged, right? So, Chris, how does the FBI head this off and not allow it to go into political violence?
KREBS: Well, I think the important thing here is that if any voter or election official sees these sort of things happening in Arizona- Arizona, they- they make a report. They tell the, you know, the relevant officials, and they can investigate, and they can look at these people, they can investigate it. And then, you know, there’s a deterrence measure–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But it takes a guy in tactical gear before that happens?
KREBS: Well, and that’s the biggest challenge here, as I see it, is that the continued efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election are resulting in candidates that are incentivized to push these lies, but also then you have a radicalization and activation across the voter base that are effectively — this is performative, these- this doesn’t happen. You know, the claims of mules and ballot trafficking, it doesn’t happen, particularly in a way that someone like this would- would be able to detect anything. Moreover, what’s happening is the people that are being accused of ballot trafficking or being a mule actually report it to the officials and say, Here’s my name. Here’s my contact information. I was accused of this. Would any legitimate fraudster or mule do that, and then report on themselves? Of course not. So, it’s all performative. And unfortunately, I am concerned that it results in violence–
SWISHER: More importantly, chaos is the point. Chaos and discord, it’s actually from the Russian playbook. Chaos is what they want, discord problems, making people radical — radicalizing people and it’s- it’s in the mainstream. Before, it was sort of, it bubbles up from the bottom, but now it’s pushed down from the top. And so, just last night, you saw Trump say a number of things that were radicalizing. I don’t know what else to say. And so, that goes down, and then it goes back up. And it’s- it’s hit the mainstream now. They don’t even need these- these ads or anything else because it’s now infected some of the public so much. And so, this is where people get their news, a lot of news, and before this, we had sort of information obesity, not enough people got good news. Now, they get a lot of information, but not actual facts.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re going to take a quick break and come back. Talk more about this in a moment. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation. We continue our conversation now with Chris Krebs and Kara Swisher. Kara, I want to pick up with you. We’ve been talking about social media, Twitter may find a new buyer, billionaire Elon Musk.
SWISHER: Yes, probably on Friday.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Friday is the day, I believe.
SWISHER: Yes, supposedly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Mark Warner, who chairs the Intel Committee, has said that there is no American more dependent upon the largess of the Communist Party than Elon Musk. He’s the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, the rocket ships. Bloomberg saying that the administration is going to have to do national security reviews potentially of businesses he owns. So how much of a risk is it if this transition- transaction goes through?
SWISHER: It depends on what they find, I guess. You know, I mean, I think the issue is- is he- he already does a lot of defense work and a lot with the rockets and everything else. And it’s considered very innovative. And he’s done amazing things. The International Space Station is- is — depends on Elon Musk and his rockets. And so, he does a lot of — you know, obviously, with transportation, that’s another area that’s important to look at and who owns it. And Twitter also, who this is a big communications platform, even though it’s a terrible business. So, who owns it matters. And so who were his investors, who was putting money into it, etc, etc, should be looked at as a matter, of course.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. I mean, it’s almost kind of amazing, Chris, that- that there isn’t more scrutiny. I mean, there is FCC scrutiny of ownership of news organizations. When it comes to social media and a company like TikTok, it’s owned by a Chinese firm, an increasing number of Americans are relying on it for actual news, not just tweeting about themselves, but actual news. Is this a risk?
KREBS: Well, I- I think just to your point, as more people use these platforms, as they get more information, as they’re shifting away from traditional media that we’re all used to, the intelligence services of our adversaries are seeing the shift as well. And so it’s not necessarily specifically about TikTok, it’s all platforms, and it’s all avenues. But TikTok represents a specific risk. And a colleague of mine wrote a paper, Dakota Cary wrote a paper for Cyberscoop, talking about how it’s not necessarily the data security challenges, it’s that the Chinese Communist Party may have the ability through the parent company of TikTok to actually shape narratives, suppress, lift, shape, what we see on a daily basis, and it doesn’t have to be everything you see all the time. It can just be enough. It can just be enough, a little bit. And I think about what happens if- if the, if the Chinese invade Taiwan, what happens in the runup to the ’24 election if they’re not happy with some of the more, you know, the stronger stance that this administration is taking on China? There is significant amount of risk exposure we have here.
SWISHER: And then, who owns Twitters, who- who are its investors? I think that’s a normal question for a government to ask, you know. The CCP doesn’t own CBS to my knowledge, so.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Chinese Communist Party, no. But, for Elon Musk, I know you know him, and last question here on this. Russia watcher Fiona Hill said, Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role, but in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin. She just gutted Elon Musk when he was pushing pro-Russia positions. I mean, is it really that? I mean, are our adversaries using business icons to further their foreign policy?
SWISHER: Why yes, that’s happened before. I don’t know if you’ve heard about President Donald Trump. I mean, people have talked about that. So yeah, I think- I think Elon is doing this on his own. But he’s, you know, he’s, he’s, a lot of people in Silicon Valley are also mouthing the same thing. There’s sort of a certain class of tech bros that are into this idea–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you still think this transition- transaction–
SWISHER: Well they have no policy- foreign policy experience, so they have no business doing this, but that doesn’t stop them, which is about everything. They are experts on everything case- because they’re the richest people in the world, case you didn’t know. I think it’s slightly dangerous. I don’t know. Chris?
KREBS: Little bit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We could keep talking about this. I want to keep talking about this. But I have to take a break here and bring some important information to you from voters themselves, actually.