The head of U.S. Cyber Command warned lawmakers that penalties and other measures have not “changed the calculus or the behavior” of Russia as it seeks to interfere with this year’s midterm elections.
“We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’ ”
“If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Rogers said.
He said that President Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of the midterms, but Rogers has directed Cybercom’s National Mission Force, which protects the U.S. homeland from foreign cyberthreats, “to begin some specific work.”
He did not elaborate.
Rogers’s remarks reinforce statements he and the nation’s other top intelligence chiefs made earlier this month declaring that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt the U.S. political system and is targeting the 2018 election.
A holdover from the Obama administration, Rogers also was one of several spy agency heads who rolled out a January 2017 report assessing that the Kremlin was behind a concerted effort to sow discord in the most recent presidential campaign.
“What I see on the Cyber Command side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here, that this is going to continue, and 2016 won’t be viewed as isolated,” he said. “This is something that will be sustained over time.”
Asked by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether he’d been authorized by either Trump or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to do more against Russian attacks, Rogers said: “No, I have not.”
When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sought clarification, Rogers said he had taken additional steps within his purview, but “I haven’t been granted any, you know, additional authorities, capacity and capability.”
A frustrated Reed said, “We’re watching [the Russians] intrude on our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognized, and we’re just essentially sitting back and waiting?’’
Rogers, who is retiring this spring, demurred. “It’s probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing,” he said.
Reed pressed on whether Russia’s malicious activities, which include hacking email accounts and manipulating social media, can be stopped at their origin.
“I don’t have the day-to-day authority to do that,” Rogers said.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked why Rogers has not been granted additional authority to confront Russian hacking efforts aimed at the U.S. elections. She did not give a precise response.
“We’re focused on looking at a variety of different ways,” Sanders said.
She pointed to a State Department announcement of $40 million to support public and private efforts to combat Russian and Chinese propaganda, and a meeting that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held with state, local and federal officials who are “working on ways that we can best prevent things like this in the future.”
Asked why those efforts have not included explicit presidential authority for Rogers to do more, Sanders replied that “nobody is denying him the authority.”
“The president is looking at all of the different causes and all of the different ways that we can prevent it. And as we find different ways that we can do that, we’re implementing them,” Sanders said.
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.