ATLANTA (AP) — Allegations that the federal government tried to hack Georgia's election systems were unfounded, according to a letter the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general sent Monday to Congress.
The conclusion comes more than six months after Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp accused the department of attempting to "breach our firewall" a week after the November presidential election.
The letter said investigators with the inspector general's Digital Forensics and Analysis Unit reviewed computer data from the federal agency, Kemp's office and also interviewed a contractor. They also recreated the contractor's actions. The data, Roth wrote, confirmed the contractor's statements that on Nov. 15 he used a public page on Kemp's website to verify security guards' weapons certification licensing, which he then copied into a spreadsheet.
"Based on this work, we did not substantiate the allegations that DHS attempted to scan or infiltrate the Georgia computer networks," the agency's inspector general John Roth wrote in the letter. "Rather, the evidence demonstrated normal and appropriate use of Georgia's public website."
Kemp, a Republican, previously described that event as a "large unblocked scan" and an "attempt to breach our system." The other nine incidents that Kemp's office questioned were also "normal and appropriate" use of the state's public website and none involved webpages on elections or voters, the letter said.
Georgia was one of two states to decline federal help to secure election systems before the presidential election amid concerns before and after the November elections. Kemp, who has launched a campaign for governor ahead of 2018, built a national profile on the issue and argued that the federal government had no role in states' election administration.
In a statement on Monday, Kemp said he spoke with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on Monday and acknowledged that "DHS did not knowingly attempt to breach Georgia's firewall or hack our systems." But he continued to blast the agency's leadership under former President Barack Obama and said former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson "ignored" his requests for an investigation.
"While I am disappointed that it took a new administration to investigate this highly important incident, I am pleased to learn this information and relieved that our federal government is not trying to interfere with elections in our state or others involved in this situation," Kemp said.
Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia requested the inspector general review in January along with former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
"Our nation operates best on a 'trust, but verify' system, and whenever allegations of abuse arise - be they cyberattacks, voter fraud, or voter suppression - it is critically important to conduct a robust investigation," Hice said in a statement.
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