WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to carry out a “deep dive” into election-season cyberattacks.
The review includes email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign and raised fresh concerns about Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections.
A White House spokesman says the study, due to be completed before Obama leaves office next month, will examine possible patters of increased “malicious cyber activity.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post is reporting that the CIA has concluded that Moscow aimed specifically to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The paper reports that key senators in both parties were given a closed-door briefing last week.
The Kremlin and Donald Trump have repeatedly dismissed reports about Russian influence during the campaign.
Reacting to latest The Washington Post report, the Trump transition team released a statement saying intelligence agents were “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
“The President has directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process. It is to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders,” White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters Friday. “This is consistent with the work that we did over the summer to engage Congress on the threats that we were seeing.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz added later that the review would encompass malicious cyber activity related to U.S. elections going back to 2008.
Monaco said the administration would be mindful of the consequences of revealing the results of their review publicly, and Schultz said they will make public “as much as we can.” All of the Democratic senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee have called on Obama to declassify intelligence on Russia’s actions during the election.
“You want to do so very attentive to not disclosing sources and methods that would impede our ability to identify and attribute malicious actors in the future,” Monaco said of disclosure.
In response to the news, the Russian government called for evidence of its involvement, denying claims made by the U.S.
“We are also very interested in understanding what they accused Russia of,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Many times the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Minister Lavrov have asked Americans to provide full information. But never had any response.”
The US government before the election publicly blamed senior levels of the Russian government for cyberattacks designed to influence the outcome, including hacks of Democratic groups like the Democratic National Committee.
A steady stream of documents and internal emails from Democratic groups and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman were released in the weeks and months leading up to the election, with damaging consequences for Democrats.
There was also concern about attempted attacks on voter registration systems at the state and local level, though the intelligence community never said there was strong evidence that was tied to the Russian government. Voter registration databases are attractive targets for financially motivated hackers, as well.
Questions have remained about the extent of the hacking and Russians’ motivations. While the intelligence community has not suggested the attacks were designed to bolster President-elect Donald Trump, the impact of the hacks were much more damaging to Democrats and to Clinton.
Trump has continually denied a Russian role in the hacking, despite the overwhelming consensus from private sector cybersecurity firms that investigated the hacks and from the various US government intelligence agencies.
Members of his own party have strongly pointed the finger at Russia, and Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are reportedly leading the charge among Republicans to investigate the hacking, according to The Washington Post, and Graham has told CNN he intends to be unrelenting.
“I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia,” Graham told CNN. “I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage, I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay a price.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Russian interference was real, but dinged the administration for being slow to react.
“Russia’s cyber-attacks are no surprise to the House Intelligence Committee,” Nunes said in a statement. “Unfortunately the Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous Intelligence Committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression. It appears, however, that after eight years the administration has suddenly awoken to the threat.”
Democrats were quick to praise Obama on Friday and pressured Trump to change his tune.
“Defending our elections from foreign meddling is more important than any political party’s advantage or disadvantage,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Any Administration should be deeply troubled by Russia’s attempt to tamper with our elections.”
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, praised the administration for its move and called on the White House to declassify as much as it could.
“Given President-elect Trump’s disturbing refusal to listen to our intelligence community and accept that the hacking was orchestrated by the Kremlin, there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month,” Schiff said in a statement. “More than that, the administration must begin to take steps to respond forcefully to this blatant cyber meddling, and work with our allies in Europe who have been targets of similar attacks to impose costs on the Kremlin; if we do not, we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the President’s move “constructive” and said he has no doubt about the Moscow’s role.
“Let’s put it this way: I have no reason to doubt the assessment made by the intelligence community back in October,” he said on CNN. “The intelligence community was very explicit.”
Monaco declined to draw conclusions before the review was complete.
“We’ll see what comes out of the report. There will be a report to a range of stakeholders, including Congress,” she said.