ASPEN, Colo. — An experienced official will oversee election security intelligence across the government in a newly created senior position, the director of national intelligence announced on Friday as part of an effort to improve coordination and speed response to attacks by foreign governments.
Intelligence officials said the new post reflects the reality that influence operations by Russia, China and other countries are likely to continue indefinitely. Shelby Pierson, who worked on intelligence issues surrounding the 2018 midterm elections, was named to the post, which will cover both potential attacks on voting infrastructure and influence campaigns.
Administration critics praised the appointment but said it did not obviate the need for a director at the National Security Council to coordinate not just intelligence but also the response to foreign interference campaigns. And critics in Congress warned that President Trump’s skepticism over foreign influence campaigns continues to undermine the government response.
Ms. Pierson’s appointment will help intelligence agencies direct resources to election security and “bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue,” said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, who called it an “enduring challenge.”
Mr. Coats also said he was ordering all of the intelligence agencies with a role in election security to appoint a senior official to oversee issues of foreign influence and infrastructure attacks. These officials will form an Election Executive and Leadership Board to ensure intelligence agencies are properly focused on voting security issues.
Critics of the Trump administration have long complained about a lack of coordination within the government on election issues. Responsibility for protecting elections is spread among the F.B.I., Department of Homeland Security, the military’s Cyber Command, state and local officials, and a variety of intelligence agencies.
Ms. Pierson’s appointment and establishment of senior officials at various agencies responsible for election security should both improve coordination and raise attention to the issue within the intelligence community, said Laura Rosenberger, a former Obama administration official who now leads the Alliance for Security Democracy, which works to counter foreign interference campaigns.
“In the past, some of these issues have fallen through the bureaucratic cracks,” Ms. Rosenberger said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “Establishing ownership on an issue also helps with focus and prioritization.”
Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pushing for better cross-agency coordination. He praised Ms. Pierson and said he supported the appointment.
But both Mr. Warner and Ms. Rosenberger said the problem was bigger than just the intelligence agencies, and that the government, particularly the National Security Council, needed to do more to help states with security and develop responses to foreign attacks.
Though the government is better positioned to detect and stop foreign inference campaigns than it was when Russia sought to sabotaged the 2016 election, Mr. Warner said he wished the new intelligence position had been established earlier.
“While all the relevant agencies recognize the challenges and have been doing a lot more in this area since 2016, the reality is that we still need to see leadership from the White House, which has failed to make this issue a priority,” Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Warner and other senators have introduced a number of bipartisan bills aimed at increasing election security, including improving cross-government coordination. While the House has approved an election security measure, Senate Republicans have not yet allowed a vote on the bills.
The intelligence community stepped up its election defense for the 2018 midterm races, work that Ms. Pierson led. Some outside analysts said that while that work was important, it had an ad hoc nature. But several agencies have moved to make their election defense teams permanent.
After the 2018 midterm elections, Mr. Coats conducted a review of election security and foreign interference efforts. He found that Russia mounted social media influence campaigns intent on spreading division and disinformation, but said no election infrastructure was compromised.
A team of intelligence officials will report to Ms. Pierson, who will serve as the principal adviser to Mr. Coats on election security and threats.
The administration is still wrestling with how to handle election threats, influence attacks and attempted cyber infiltration of voting systems. Some officials feel such foreign influence efforts should be quickly disclosed to the public; others fear that automatically putting a spotlight on minor influence efforts could inadvertently amplify them.
Ms. Pierson will likely have a voice, at least within the intelligence agencies, about how to handle influence campaigns and whether information on foreign efforts should be publicized.