US officials paint sinister portrait of Russia hacking
A sinister portrait of Russia’s cyberattacks on the U.S. emerged Wednesday as current and former U.S. officials told Congress that Moscow stockpiled stolen information and selectively disseminated it during the 2016 presidential campaign to undermine the American political process.
The Russians “used fake news and propaganda and they also used online amplifiers to spread the information to as many people as possible,” Bill Priestap, the FBI’s top counterintelligence official, told the Senate Intelligence committee.
While he said the Russians had conducted covert operations targeting past American elections, the internet “has allowed Russia to do so much more” than before. But, he added, the “scale and aggressiveness” was different this time, with the primary goal being to sow discord and aid the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, the eventual winner.
Russia’s actions did not change the final election count, they said, but warned that Moscow’s efforts will likely continue.
“I believe the Russians will absolutely try to continue to conduct influence operations in the U.S.,” which will include cyberattacks, Priestap said.
Jeanette Manfra, Homeland Security undersecretary for cybersecurity, said there is evidence that 21 state election systems were targeted, but she told the Senate intelligence committee she couldn’t disclose the identities of the states because that was up to the states.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson from the Obama administration told the House Intelligence committee that Moscow’s high-tech intrusion did not change ballots, the final count or the reporting of election results.
Johnson described the steps he took once he learned of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, his fears about an attack on the election itself and his rationale for designating U.S. election systems, including polling places and voter registration databases, as critical infrastructure in early January, two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of (President) Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election — plain and simple,” Johnson said.
Johnson described his discussions with state election officials about ensuring the integrity of the voting process. He said 33 states and 36 cities and counties used his department’s tools.