On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on foreign cyber threats directed against the United States. In effect, the bulk of the hearing focused on the Russian Federation.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called for the public hearing in anticipation of the intelligence community’s publication of a comprehensive report on Russian hacking activities next week.
While some information will remain classified, the CIA, NSA, and other agencies have assured the public that they will release as much information as possible about Russia’s role in interfering with the U.S. election despite the fact that the redacted material may not “ be completely persuasive to everyone.”
Here’s what the intelligence community has revealed so far:
- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Mike Rogers, and Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre collectively confirmed that senior-most officials from the Russian government were involved in the cyber attacks directed against the U.S. during the presidential election. In a joint statement issued before the hearing even began, the intelligence community’s commander officers called Russia “a full-scope cyber actor that poses a major threat to U.S. Government, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical infrastructure and key resource networks.” The statement continued: “We assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets.” In other words, Russian President Vladimir Putin likely had a hand in the cyber attacks.
- The Russians launched an aggressive propaganda campaign to undermine American democracy in tandem with their cyber attacks. “I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process,” stated Clapper. The Kremlin’s “multi-faceted campaign” consisted of spreading “classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news,” and peddling one-sided stories via state-news site RT. “Of course, RT, which is heavily supported by — funded by — the Russian government, was very, very active in promoting a particular line, point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, et cetera, et cetera,” the director of national intelligence (DNI) asserted. “Whatever crack they could fissure, they could find in our tapestry, if you will, they would exploit it.”
- Clapper and his colleagues insisted that they’re more certain of Russia’s role in the election interference today than ever before. “Our assessment is now resolute,” emphasized the DNI. According to top intelligence officials, the U.S. has detected mounting evidence of Russia’s involvement in the months since Clapper issued the first disturbing report about election hacking in October.
- Russia’s election interference was unlike anything we’ve seen before, according to Clapper. “Mr. Clapper characterized the suspected Russian interference as transcending the boundaries of traditional espionage—in which the U.S. engages routinely—and called it an ‘activist’ attempt to subvert U.S. democracy,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
- After hearing Clapper’s assessments behind closed doors, McCain called Russia’s hacking “an unprecedented attack on our democracy,” claiming that if the Kremlin managed to actually affect the election results it would be tantamount to “an attack on the United States of America.”
- Intelligence officials confirmed that other U.S. foes have the same cyber offensive capabilities as Russia. NSA Director Rogers admitted this inconvenient fact to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) after being asked about China and Iran.
- The intelligence community “will ascribe a motivation” for Russia’s cyber attacks in next week’s report. The report will be available to Congress and the public. According to Clapper, the Russian state had “more than one motivation.”
- McCain outlined the reasons for holding hearings and further investigating Russia’s cyber warfare strategies. He made a point of mentioning that Trump’s election victory should not be undermined. “The goal of this review, as I understand it, is not to question the outcome of the presidential election, nor should it be,” he stated. “As both President Obama and President-elect Trump have said, our nation must move forward. But we must do so with full knowledge of the facts.”
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a separate panel discussion on potential options for a US response against Russia. The closed-door meeting included “senior officials from the State Department, Treasury Department and Department of Homeland Security,” according to The New York Times.