Rogers added that Trump seemed unprepared for the Helsinki summit — and that he was a “little rude” in his approach to European countries at a NATO summit beforehand. Rogers also said he thinks Trump should not hold another summit in Washington this fall. “Anything related to this topic is causing problems in unleashing the entire of the U.S. government to help us deal with this problem,” Rogers said.
“America is in a cyberwar, most Americans don’t know it, and I am not convinced we’re winning,” he said.
Chris Painter, who served as State Department coordinator for cyber issues in the Obama administration, acknowledged that U.S. authorities have enacted punitive measures against Russia, but “we really haven’t done something that really hits” Putin directly. Painter added that any measures the U.S. government may take are “substantially undercut” if there is no consistent messaging from top officials, including Trump. If you’re Putin, Painter asked, “is that going to sway you from doing this in the future?” Additionally, Painter said he disagrees with the idea that Russian efforts to sow discord in the 2016 campaign had no effect on the outcome of the election. “It’s unfair to say it had no effect,” he said. “We don’t know.” He also lamented the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the White House cybersecurity coordinator position.
Top intelligence officials also speaking at The Washington Post’s Cyber 202 Live event reinforced the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia is the most dangerous actor in cyberspace.
A top cybersecurity official for the director of national intelligence said Friday there is “good reason” the intelligence community is warning that the threats of Russian cyberattacks are “blinking red” ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“With regards to Russia, I agree with the DNI and others’ characterization that they are the most aggressive foreign actor that we see in cyberspace,” said Tonya Ugoretz, who serves as director of Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“It wasn’t just aimed at the government, it was aimed at all of us,” Ugoretz said of the warning that Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats issued last week about Russian cyberthreats to the United States ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
Speaking on the same panel, Jason Matheny, director of Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity at the ODNI, said one way to counter foreign influence operations online is for social media users to approach the content they encounter with more “skepticism.”
“In general, as citizens, we need to be more skeptical about information that we see on social media,” Matheny said. “So the same advice that you are probably giving to your kids about just treating any information that they see on their social media accounts with some degree of cynicism, we as a general citizenry also need to have that same level of skepticism.”
Christopher C. Krebs, a Department of Homeland Security official in charge of helping states secure their election systems, praised the level of “engagement” of stakeholders in working to improve election security. “What I’ve seen in the last year … I have never seen a level of engagement so rapidly and so deeply across any infrastructure sector like I have with elections,” said Krebs, who serves as undersecretary of DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.
The comments came after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein on Thursday announced a new policy aiming to counter foreign influence operations and capped a week-long controversy surrounding Trump’s stance on Russian interference in the past U.S. presidential election. The intelligence community — including Coats and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray — stood by U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment throughout the week and thus rebuked Trump’s comments on the matter during his news conference Monday in Helsinki with Putin, which the U.S. president later walked back.
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said in Finland as he stood beside Putin. “I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump sought to amend his remarks Tuesday and said he was siding with U.S. intelligence agencies in their conclusions that Russia aimed to sow discord in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the president added a caveat: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
On Wednesday morning, Trump seemed to suggest that Russia was no longer targeting the United States — the White House later said the president had been misunderstood. Later that day, CBS News released an interview in which Trump said it is “true” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Coats said Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that he “wished [Trump] had made a different statement” in Finland. He also said he was “just doing my job” when he issued a statement that endorsed the intelligence community’s conclusions on Russian interference. Coats said that “it was important to take that stand on behalf of the intelligence community, on behalf of the American people” and that he “needed to correct the record.”
On Wednesday, Wray said at the Aspen conference that Russian authorities are still trying to instill “discord and divisiveness” in American politics. “We haven’t yet seen an effort to target specific election infrastructure this time, but certainly other efforts — what I would call malign influence operations — are very active and we could be just a moment away from it going to the next level,” Wray said. “So, to me, it’s a threat that we need to take extremely seriously and respond to with, you know, fierce determination and focus.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the title of Jason Matheny. He is director of Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. An earlier version incorrectly mentioned his title as director of Advanced Intelligence Projects Activity at the ODNI.