SPY AGEN­CIES’ chief alarmed by cy­berthreats, says on same level as 9/11 warn­ings.

Pre-at­tack warn­ings on level of 9/11, di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence con­tends


WASH­ING­TON — The na­tion’s top in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer said Fri­day that the per­sis­tent dan­ger of Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tacks to­day was akin to the warn­ings the United States had of stepped-up ter­ror threats be­fore the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks.

That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, came on the same day that 12 Rus­sian agents were in­dicted on charges of hack­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Coats said those in­dict­ments il­lus­trated Moscow’s con­tin­u­ing strat­egy to un­der­mine the United States’ democ­racy and erode its in­sti­tu­tions.

“The warn­ing lights are blink­ing red again,” Coats said as he cautioned of cy­berthreats. “To­day, the dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture that serves this coun­try is lit­er­ally un­der at­tack.”

The gov­ern­ment’s na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies, par­tic­u­larly the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, have been con­cerned about Rus­sia’s 2016 in­ter­fer­ence cam­paign — and ef­forts still un­der­way.

Coats, a for­mer Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tor from In­di­ana, has helped the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies push for more ag­gres­sive ac­tions to halt cy­ber­at­tacks by Rus­sia and other na­tions. In a speech last month in France, he out­lined the re­cent his­tory of Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tacks on elec­tions and on can­di­dates crit­i­cal of Moscow.

In his re­marks on Fri­day, Coats did not di­rectly ad­dress Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s com­ing meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia. But Coats did say that if he was meet­ing the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, he would de­liver a sharp mes­sage that the United States knows what the Rus­sians are do­ing and that Putin’s gov­ern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for the cy­ber­at­tacks.

Coats also ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with cy­berspace strate­gies that em­pha­size only de­fense, and not of­fense as well. Evok­ing Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan’s Cold War ap­proach to the Soviet Union, Coats sug­gested that if Rus­sia con­tin­ued to try to take on the United States, then the ad­min­is­tra­tion should “throw every­thing we have got into it.”

Seth Jones, a se­nior ad­viser with the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said Rea­gan pushed the United States to be­gin of­fen­sive in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions against the Soviet Union. In­vok­ing Rea­gan, Jones said, was hardly ac­ci­den­tal and was sym­bol­i­cally im­por­tant be­cause he re­mains revered by Repub­li­cans.

Coats has pre­vi­ously warned about con­tin­u­ing Rus­sian at­tempts to in­flu­ence fu­ture elec­tions, in­clud­ing the midterm elec­tions in the fall.

At a Se­nate hear­ing this year, Coats said that Rus­sia viewed the midterm elec­tions as a po­ten­tial tar­get, and he said Moscow’s ac­tiv­i­ties were de­signed “to ex­ac­er­bate so­cial and po­lit­i­cal fis­sures in the United States.”

Coats said Fri­day that the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity was work­ing with the FBI and the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to sup­port states’ ef­forts to se­cure their elec­tions.

The fed­eral ef­fort has been ham­pered by the fact that elec­tions are con­trolled at the state and lo­cal lev­els. States have had dif­fer­ent lev­els of co­op­er­a­tion with the fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. While Coats did not di­rectly ad­dress that is­sue, he men­tioned that a prob­lem in one state could throw the midterms or the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion into doubt.

Speak­ing Fri­day at the Hudson In­sti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton think tank, Coats said Rus­sian and other ac­tors were ex­plor­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and try­ing to in­fil­trate en­ergy, wa­ter, nu­clear and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors.

“These ac­tions are per­sis­tent, they are per­va­sive and they are meant to un­der­mine Amer­ica’s democ­racy,” Coats said.

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