The National Guard is pushing back against online conspiracy theories that its cyber operatives surveilled the Central Intelligence Agency as the spy organization attempted to steal the presidential election.
The theory’s adherents claim — with absolutely no evidence — that the National Guard cyber troops' findings will result in the arrest of “these Democrat officials involved in this colossal elecxion [sic] fraud.” Military Times observed the theory circulating in copy-paste form on Facebook, Twitter, Parler, and 4chan.
“That is absolutely ludicrous,” said Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, a spokesperson for the Illinois National Guard, when Military Times asked him about the online postings. Illinois is one of at least 11 states whose National Guard activated troops to assist with cybersecurity for the election.
The theory is being pushed by adherents of QAnon, a cult-like conspiracy theory that believes an anonymous military intelligence official has been leaving clues about how President Donald Trump is working to destroy an international cabal of Satanic pedophiles.
QAnon-connected election conspiracies have received a great deal of airtime and attention in recent weeks. Pete Hegseth of Fox News promoted the baseless Hammer and Scorecard theory — the parent conspiracy of the Guard one debunked here — on “Fox and Friends,” and President Trump tweeted about a debunked off-shoot theory about Dominion voting machines.
“The National Guard…has not surveilled any U.S. intelligence agencies for any missions,” said Master Sgt. Michael Houk, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.
“The Pennsylvania National Guard cyber team was under state activation…doing network security and ensuring that public-facing websites were not hacked,” said Lt. Col. Keith Hickox, the Pennsylvania National Guard’s state public affairs officer. “This was the fifth election where they have provided cyber support to the commonwealth.”
Asked if the Pennsylvania troops had participated in any electronic surveillance or collection, Hickox had a simple reply. “No.”
The idea that National Guard troops participated in such operations emerged from the false “hammer & scorecard” theory that holds the CIA was using a secret supercomputer to change election returns in real time.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which has been coordinating the federal cyber defense of the election, vehemently disputed the claims.
“Hammer and Scorecard is…a hoax,” said Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in a Nov. 8 tweet. Krebs also debunked a similar claim on Saturday about the Army.
After this story was first published, Trump fired Krebs over the matter Tuesday evening.
Earlier in Tuesday, Krebs tweeted out a report citing 59 election security experts saying there is no credible evidence of computer fraud in the 2020 election outcome.
Trump later fired back on Twitter. He repeated unsubstantiated claims about the vote and wrote “effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.”
Officials with CISA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, had no immediate comment.
Snopes, a fact checking site, traced the origins of the theory to Dennis Montgomery, who has a well-worn history of deceptive and false claims. Snopes ultimately rated the theory as “false,” after debunking its flimsy evidence.
Politifact rated the Hammer and Scorecard theory as “pants-on-fire” false on Nov. 9.
The version of the theory that incorporates the National Guard cites a “red castle” that is merely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers logo on a contractor’s website discussing a secure compartmented information facility built for USACE in Georgia. USACE is part of the active Army, not the National Guard.
The theory also rests on the existence of a SCIF in the Eisenhower Building, which is where the Trump campaign established an election night “war room.” But that means nearly nothing. There are hundreds of SCIFs in buildings across the District — to include the White House — and the existence of one in any particular federal building should not shock anyone, nor does it imply anything nefarious.
The bottom line is that the theory is “patently false,” according to Leighton, the Illinois Guard spokesman.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with news that Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was fired by President Donald Trump.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.