John­son to tes­tify on Putin role in Rus­sian hack­ing

Says DNC re­fused of­fer of as­sis­tance

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

Pres­i­dent Obama’s claim that he con­fronted Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and shut down Rus­sian hack­ing ef­forts late in the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign will face sharp scrutiny when Jeh John­son, Mr. Obama’s home­land se­cu­rity chief, faces law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill on Wed­nes­day.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s record on fight­ing hack­ing ef­forts and com­plaints from state elec­tion of­fi­cials over an eleventh-hour reg­u­la­tion to tie state elec­tion sys­tems to fed­eral se­cu­rity sys­tems will get a ma­jor air­ing be­fore the House Per­ma­nent Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, one of a num­ber of pan­els in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the elec­tion.

The ef­fec­tive­ness of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to track and shut down sus­pected Rus­sian elec­tion hacks has been one of the un­der­re­ported as­pects of the scandal. Mr. Obama has said he was torn last sum­mer be­tween mak­ing pub­lic what U.S. in­tel­li­gence knew of Moscow’s med­dling and con­cern about the ap­pear­ance of try­ing to in­flu­ence the vote.

But he told re­porters in De­cem­ber that he fi­nally de­cided to con­front Mr. Putin on the side­lines of a Group of 20 sum­mit in Septem­ber. In Mr. Obama’s ac­count,

he warned that Rus­sia needed to “cut it out” with elec­tion hack­ing or “there were go­ing to be some se­ri­ous con­se­quences.”

“In fact,” Mr. Obama said, “we did not see fur­ther tam­per­ing of the elec­tion process.”

But a re­cently leaked anal­y­sis from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­tra­dicts the for­mer pres­i­dent’s ac­count. It found that Rus­sian covert ef­forts con­tin­ued much closer to Elec­tion Day, in­clud­ing a Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-led “spear-phish­ing” at­tack on more than 100 lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials just days be­fore Nov. 8.

In re­marks pre­pared for de­liv­ery to the com­mit­tee, Mr. John­son said Mr. Putin was per­son­ally be­hind the di­rec­tive to mount cy­ber­at­tacks to in­flu­ence the elec­tion, in­clud­ing the hack of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee emails.

Mr. John­son said the DNC kept his depart­ment, which heads up Amer­ica’s cy­ber­se­cu­rity de­fense, in the dark for months, then re­fused his of­fer of as­sis­tance. He called that “not re­as­sur­ing.”

The for­mer secretary, who served from late 2013 through the end of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said he be­gan to re­ceive re­ports of at­tempted hacks of state elec­tions sys­tems in Au­gust, about the time the FBI is­sued a pub­lic warn­ing.

The fast-mov­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian hack­ing, sus­pected col­lu­sion by the Trump cam­paign and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of sen­si­tive data ad­vanced on sev­eral fronts Tues­day:

● Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller met with the House Per­ma­nent Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence in the evening and was to meet with the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day morn­ing in an ef­fort to keep his in­de­pen­dent probe from con­flict­ing with mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions in both cham­bers of Congress. The top Repub­li­can and Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion called the meeting pro­duc­tive.

● White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Pres­i­dent Trump would re­veal by the end of the week whether he had tapes of his con­ver­sa­tions with fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey that could shed light on any ob­struc­tion of jus­tice case. Mr. Trump hinted in a tweet last month that he may have recorded their pri­vate talks. Mr. Spicer also told re­porters that he had not asked Mr. Trump di­rectly if he ac­cepted the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity consensus that Rus­sia tried to in­ter­fere in the elec­tion.

● Repub­li­cans stepped up their crit­i­cism of the team of lawyers Mr. Mueller is assem­bling, say­ing many have records of con­tribut­ing to Demo­cratic causes and can­di­dates. For­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, a Repub­li­can, joked on Twit­ter that Mr. Mueller “wanted to hire me to help in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but I wasn’t a donor to Clin­ton cam­paign or Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, so I was dumped from [the] list.”

A sec­ond move at the end of Mr. Obama’s tenure re­lated to elec­tion se­cu­rity is also fac­ing crit­i­cism — a di­rec­tive to clas­sify the state-based elec­tion sys­tems as “crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture” in re­sponse to the hack­ing, in ad­di­tion to ques­tions about the tim­ing of the Wik­iLeaks dis­clo­sure of Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager John Podesta’s hacked emails.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­re­taries of State has blasted the Jan. 6 mea­sure — which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is keep­ing for now — as “hastily con­ceived,” with more than a dozen states fight­ing the des­ig­na­tion. Some na­tional elec­tion of­fi­cials have gone so far as to ar­gue that ty­ing state elec­tion sys­tems into a na­tional se­cu­rity net­work could make Amer­i­can elec­tions more sus­cep­ti­ble to for­eign at­tacks.

“Sec­re­taries of state have se­ri­ous con­cerns about the gen­eral lack of fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing re­gard­ing doc­u­mented threats against elec­tion sys­tems, par­tic­u­larly in the wake of the leaked NSA re­port,” Kay Stimson, spokes­woman for the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­re­taries of State, said in an in­ter­view.

“It re­mains un­clear why our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies would with­hold timely and spe­cific threat in­for­ma­tion from chief state elec­tion of­fi­cials, who can use it to bet­ter de­fend their sys­tems,” she said.

Mr. John­son, in his pre­pared re­marks, said he first floated the idea of el­e­vat­ing elec­tions to crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture sta­tus in Au­gust, but was put off by state of­fi­cials’ re­sponse, and con­cluded that it would be “coun­ter­pro­duc­tive” just ahead of the elec­tion.

“I re­mained con­vinced it was a good idea, but we put the idea on the back burner,” he said. “In­stead, and more im­por­tantly in the time left be­fore the elec­tion, we en­cour­aged the states to seek our cy­ber­se­cu­rity help.”

He said most states even­tu­ally sought some sort of as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity tools to scan their sys­tems to try to spot in­tru­sions.

He is­sued the crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture des­ig­na­tion in Jan­uary.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­re­taries of State, a bi­par­ti­san col­lec­tion of sec­re­taries of state from New Hamp­shire to Cal­i­for­nia, said it fears Home­land Se­cu­rity could in­ter­pret the des­ig­na­tion to in­clude elec­tion stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, polling places and cen­tral­ized vote tab­u­la­tions and regis­tra­tion data­bases.

They say this could lead to a fed­er­al­iz­ing of the elec­tion process.

Ms. Stimson said, “From its very in­cep­tion, the des­ig­na­tion seemed hastily de­ter­mined to elec­tion of­fi­cials.”

State elec­tion of­fi­cials ar­gue that their sys­tems have nu­mer­ous built-in safe­guards against ma­li­cious at­tacks and sys­temic fraud. No ev­i­dence has been pro­duced that any tam­per­ing by the Rus­sians or any other for­eign ac­tor changed any vot­ing to­tals or af­fected Mr. Trump’s Elec­toral Col­lege win over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“There is no way to dis­rupt the vot­ing process in any large-scale, mean­ing­ful way through cy­ber­at­tacks be­cause there is — no na­tional sys­tem — to tar­get,” a cy­ber­se­cu­rity elec­tion brief­ing by the sec­re­taries of state said ear­lier this year.

State and lo­cal elec­tion sys­tems also func­tion with­out a great deal of in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, with vot­ing machines, where bal­lots are cast, not con­nected to the in­ter­net, thus min­i­miz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties of on­line hack­ing.

Fi­nally, they ar­gue, ro­bust lo­cal check and bal­ances pro­mote trans­parency.

Be­fore the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment ap­proved the or­der, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, then-Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi signed a let­ter of op­po­si­tion in Septem­ber, stat­ing that “we would op­pose any ef­fort by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to ex­er­cise any de­gree of con­trol over the states’ ad­min­is­tra­tion of elec­tions by des­ig­nat­ing these sys­tems as crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture.”

Mr. John­son and then-Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James R. Clap­per on Oct. 7 is­sued the first pub­lic warn­ing that “Rus­sia’s se­nior-most of­fi­cials” were in­volved in a cy­ber­at­tack ef­fort to dis­rupt the elec­tion. That night, Wik­iLeaks be­gan post­ing thou­sands of hacked pri­vate emails from Mr. Podesta.

The sec­re­taries of state said that state elec­tion of­fi­cials won­der why Mr. John­son last year re­peat­edly told them — dur­ing three calls in the run-up to Elec­tion Day — that no cred­i­ble or spe­cific threats of med­dling ex­isted.

Mr. John­son dis­missed the elec­tions of­fi­cials’ fears of fed­er­al­iza­tion but con­curred with the con­clu­sion that the in­tru­sions didn’t suc­ceed in foul­ing any bal­lots or vote counts.

Mr. John­son, who served in the Clin­ton and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions, met last week with heads of the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee probe, Reps. Mike Con­away, Texas Repub­li­can, and Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat. He was also in­ter­viewed by Se­nate Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

Af­ter those meet­ings, Mr. John­son de­clined to say whether the Obama White House should have taken more ac­tive mea­sures against Rus­sian threats dur­ing the cam­paign.

“I’m here vol­un­tar­ily to as­sist the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee on a mat­ter of great im­por­tance,” he said. “So I wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to do that to help strengthen our na­tion’s cy­ber­se­cu­rity.”


IN THE KNOW: For­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Secretary Jeh John­son said he be­gan to re­ceive re­ports of state elec­tions sys­tems hacks in Au­gust, about the time the FBI is­sued a pub­lic warn­ing.


Jeh John­son, home­land se­cu­rity secretary un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, said he first floated the idea of el­e­vat­ing elec­tions to crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture sta­tus in Au­gust, but was put off by state of­fi­cials’ re­sponse, and con­cluded that it would be “coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.”

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