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U.S. Homeland Security agency faulted for election planning around potential violence

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog body said on Tuesday that officials at its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had not adequately planned for potential violence at polling places and vote counting stations.

The watchdog’s report, issued with a week to go before the Nov. 3, comes as the threat of violence has crept up the national agenda. The shift in attention comes after years of election-related anxiety revolving around the integrity of vote tallying machines and electronic poll books or the threat of foreign disinformation.

The DHS Office of the Inspector General noted that the department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency - the DHS arm generally responsible for protecting U.S. infrastructure from digital and physical threats - offers an array of cybersecurity support to state and local governments.

But it said that while CISA’s plans covered potential digital disruptions to state and local election systems, those plans “do not adequately address other elements such as physical security risk, threats of terrorism, and targeted violence” at election-related sites.

CISA’s director, Christopher Krebs, pushed back against the watchdog’s report, saying it was poorly timed and “leads readers to believe that the election is not secure.”

In a message directed at U.S. voters, Krebs said that while CISA “can certainly update plans, use more resources, and coordinate better with partners, I am confident that the work we have done to protect the 2020 election means your vote is secure and you should vote with confidence.”

Local election leaders also defended Krebs.

Amy Cohen, executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, said the report “does not fully demonstrate how far the relationship between the election community and CISA has come.”

Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Tom Brown