Pence vows to defend U.S. elections against foreign meddling

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence vowed on Tuesday to protect domestic elections from foreign interference, hours after Facebook said it had identified a new effort to use its site to influence November’s U.S. congressional elections.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to attendees during the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Summit in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Facebook Inc disclosed it had taken down dozens of fake accounts after identifying a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead users and organize rallies ahead of this year’s elections.

“Any attempt to interfere in our elections is an affront to our democracy and it will not be allowed,” Pence told business executives, government officials and security experts at a Department of Homeland Security cyber summit in New York. “The United States of America will not tolerate any foreign interference in our elections from any nation state.”

Pence did not specifically mention Facebook’s disclosure. But he said he and U.S. President Donald Trump accepted the assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has made conflicting statements on that assessment, sometimes saying he is not sure that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 race.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump campaign officials worked with Moscow to try to sway the 2016 presidential election. Russia has denied meddling and Trump denies any collusion took place.

Earlier in the day, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen unveiled plans to set up a national cyber risk management center, bolstering collaboration with the private sector to defend the nation against hacking.

The government will initially work with financial firms, energy companies and telecommunications providers to conduct 90-day assessments to identify industry security weaknesses, develop response plans and run cyber drills, Nielsen said.

The effort will operate using existing Homeland Security resources and budget, an agency official told Reuters. It marks the latest in a long series of government plans to combat cyber threats.

Executives from companies including AT&T Inc, Mastercard Inc and Southern Co addressed the gathering, sharing advice for fighting hacking by criminals and nations. The U.S. government has charged hackers from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia with carrying out a string of digital attacks on U.S. soil in recent years.

Reporting by Jim Finkle and Christopher Bing in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney