This morning at the White House, President Barack Obama received the classified report on the intelligence community’s full assessment of the Russian and other outside cyber attacks into U.S. elections. At the same time, senior intelligence officials testifying on Capitol Hill during a Senate hearing on foreign cyber threats refused to comment specifically on the report’s findings.
Speaking to the Senate panel on armed services, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said he would not comment on the report’s findings until Congress had been fully briefed and a version of the report had been made public, both of which are expected to happen on Monday of next week.
President-elect Donald Trump will be briefed on the report’s findings on Friday in New York.
“I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper said, but cautioned that “sensitive and fragile sources and methods” included in the report prevent him from speaking freely about it.
Pressed on the implications of a Russian cyber attack into the 2016 election, Clapper said it was not for the intelligence community to characterize Russian cyber assaults as an act of war.
“I think it is a very heavy policy call that I don’t believe the intelligence community should make,” Clapper said. “But it certainly would carry, in my view, great gravity.”
He also warned about the danger of retaliating in kind to a cyber assault, saying the issue is “not knowing the counter-retaliation.” The report will deal with the best practices for defenses, he said, rather than counter assaults.
Today’s hearing also highlighted the divide between Congress and President-Elect Trump over Russia and President Putin. No Republicans on the committee appeared to willing to embrace Trump’s doubt that the highest levels of the Russian government were involved in directing hacks into the Democratic party‘s computers. And there was bipartisan disdain for WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who Trump appears to have embraced after the fugitive computer activist denied that Russia was the source of the election documents he published.
Trump tweeted recently: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
Clapper testified today that his confidence that Russia played a direct role in the hacks is “very high.”
According to Justin Harvey, a cyber security expert who works at Accenture, it appears the Russians planted software in the DNC computers to send information back to Russia.
“We saw the Cyrillic alphabet being used in the compiler, we saw the level of complexity of the malware is not your run-of-the-mill random cyber-criminal that perhaps sits in their mother’s basement,” Harvey told ABC News. “It was very much nation-state level, very complex code that was being utilized.”
Clapper’s testimony comes as news broke overnight that President-elect Donald Trump is considering plans to reform America’s top intelligence agencies, including a restructuring of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the country’s chief spy agency that Clapper leads.
This morning, Trump’s spokesperson Sean Spicer denied those reports and Trump tweeted about them, saying the media wants to make him appear to dislike the intelligence community, when in fact, he said, he is a “big fan.”
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