U.S. Intelligence Report Due Next Week on Election Hack

The U.S. intelligence committee is expected to publish an unclassified report on Russia’s involvement with influencing the presidential election.

The various branches of the U.S. intelligence community said they will next week deliver a joint report that corroborates claims that Russian intelligence attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Outgoing Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper also confirmed to a U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing today that the report will ascribe more than one motive to the attacks. Clapper would not identify those motives ahead of the report’s publication; Congress is expected to get a classified hearing on the report, while an unclassified version will be made public.

NSA Director Admiral Michael S. Rogers, who also appeared before the committee along with Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel J. Lettre II, said Russia is the United States’ peer competitor in cyber, and acknowledged that the level of capability among other adversaries such as China, Iran and North Korea continues to increase.

“No one is decreasing their level of investments in cyber,” Rogers said, adding that tradecraft is becoming proficient worldwide.

The hearing was supposed to be a rollup on cyber threats from foreign powers to the U.S., but given the current landscape, the focus ultimately narrowed on Russia and its alleged activities leading up the election. Time was also spent on President-Elect Donald Trump’s public criticism of the intelligence community, skepticism of Russia’s involvement in any activity that may have swayed the election, and tacit support of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s insistence that Russia was not his source. Trump, who is scheduled to meet with the heads of the CIA, DNI and FBI on Friday, tried today to take back some of his statements regarding the IC.

But Clapper reinforced the need for a working relationship with the White House and reminded the forthcoming administration that NSA, CIA and FBI are going to be Trump’s top sources foreign activities.

“There’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” Clapper said of Trump’s comments. “The intelligence community is not perfect and we are an organization of human beings, prone to make errors. But I don’t think the intelligence community gets the credit it’s due for what it does day in and day out to keep our nation secure.”

Clapper, who came under heavy criticism for being less than truthful about NSA surveillance activities during the height of the Snowden revelations, said the Russians carried out a multifaceted campaign during the run-up to the election.

“Hacking was only one part of it,” Clapper said. “It also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation and fake news.” Clapper said the activities remain ongoing and figure to ramp up as elections in Europe are scheduled this year.

Committee members, including Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and others, seemed to conflate active attacks against the election with espionage activities, such as the 2014 and 2015 OPM hacks. The committee, for example, wanted to know what the U.S. did to retaliate against China, which has been blamed for the OPM hacks, to which Clapper responded that the main response was remediation.

“A lot of work was done by NSA in enhancing and improving the cyber posture of OPM,” Clapper said. “This was espionage, not an attack per se. I am always reticent that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t publicly throw too many rocks. There is a difference between an act of espionage, which we do as well, versus an attack.”

Rogers, meanwhile, complemented Clapper’s statement by pointing out that improvements to analytics have made it easier to parse terabytes of data, thus making OPM and other similar repositories a favorable target for adversaries.

“The OPM hack highlights the fact that massive data concentrations have value on their own,” Rogers said. “Data analytics and big data capabilities makes this attractive. Having the ability to mine that data for insights, which drove this action, becomes more easily done.”

Clapper also pointed out that China has abided by the terms of the U.S.-China Cybersecurity Agreement, which stipulates that China will not hack U.S. interests for commercial gain, and said there has been a reduction in attacks against private targets by China.

“We did not retaliate against an act of espionage any more than other countries have necessarily retaliated against us for our espionage,” Clapper said. “This is an act of espionage, and we and other nations conduct similar acts of espionage. If you we are going to punish each other for acts of espionage, that’s a different policy issue.”

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