John­son ‘not pleased’ DNC re­fused help af­ter hack­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN AND AN­DREA NO­BLE

Pres­i­dent Obama’s home­land se­cu­rity chief on Wed­nes­day told a House panel in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian med­dling in the Novem­ber elec­tion that, much to his dis­ap­point­ment, Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee of­fi­cials de­clined an of­fer by his agency to help even af­ter they learned the com­mit­tee had been hacked.

In widely an­tic­i­pated tes­ti­mony be­fore the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, for­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son pro­vided new de­tails about an un­prece­dented se­ries of Krem­lin­spon­sored cy­ber­at­tacks dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, while warn­ing that such at­tacks “are go­ing to get worse be­fore they get bet­ter.”

At a sep­a­rate hear­ing of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, Home­land Se­cu­rity and FBI of­fi­cials said Rus­sian gov­ern­ment-linked hack­ers tar­geted as many as 21 states’ elec­tion sys­tems last year, al­though there was no sign that any vote to­tals were changed or that the

hack­ing af­fected the fi­nal re­sult.

Mr. John­son said his de­part­ment iden­ti­fied Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence as “a front­burner item” last sum­mer and reached out nu­mer­ous times to as­sist the DNC af­ter its net­work servers were hacked.

“I was anx­ious to know whether our folks were in there,” he said. “The re­sponse I got was FBI had spo­ken to them, they don’t want our help, they have [pri­vate cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm] CrowdStrike. And that was the an­swer I got af­ter I asked the ques­tion a num­ber of times over the pro­gres­sion of time.

“I re­call very clearly that I was not pleased that we were not in there help­ing them patch this vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” Mr. John­son said.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity be­lieves sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion stolen from DNC servers was later passed to the in­ter­na­tional group Wik­iLeaks by for­eign cy­ber­op­er­a­tives, re­port­edly guided by Krem­lin in­tel­li­gence units. Wik­iLeaks has con­sis­tently claimed that the per­son who leaked the em­bar­rass­ing data was a Demo­cratic Party staffer who was un­happy about the party’s tilt against Sen. Bernard San­ders in the pri­mary bat­tle with Hil­lary Clin­ton.

DNC of­fi­cials and Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta have in turn crit­i­cized the FBI, say­ing it made only per­func­tory ef­forts to warn party of­fi­cials about the depth and sever­ity of the Rus­sian hack­ing ef­forts.

“At no point dur­ing my ten­ure at the DNC did any­one from the FBI or any other gov­ern­ment agency con­tact or com­mu­ni­cate with me about Rus­sian in­tru­sion on the DNC net­work,” said a state­ment re­leased in re­sponse by Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz of Flor­ida, who was DNC chair­woman last year. “It is as­tound­ing to me that the chair of an or­ga­ni­za­tion like the DNC was never con­tacted by the FBI or any other agency con­cerned about these in­tru­sions.”

Mr. John­son also added fresh fuel to the scru­tiny of fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey and his han­dling of the Clin­ton cam­paign email scan­dal dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. He raised ques­tions about the de­lay from the time the DNC and FBI first dis­cussed Rus­sian hack­ing to the point where his de­part­ment learned of the breach.

“The FBI and the DNC had been in con­tact with each other months be­fore about the in­tru­sion,” Mr. John­son said.

Both Repub­li­cans and Democrats lined up to take shots at Mr. John­son.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Repub­li­can, point­edly asked whether the for­mer home­land se­cu­rity chief had any ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween Moscow and the Trump cam­paign.

“Not be­yond what has been out there open-source,” Mr. John­son replied. “And not be­yond any­thing that I’m sure this com­mit­tee has al­ready seen and heard be­fore, di­rectly from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.”

Chaotic cir­cum­stances

The com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Demo­crat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, asked Mr. John­son about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s slow pub­lic re­sponse to the Rus­sia’s cy­ber­at­tacks, which were first men­tioned pub­licly in Oc­to­ber. Mr. John­son said he and other Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials faced a uniquely chaotic and com­plex set of cir­cum­stances as Elec­tion Day neared.

“This was a big de­ci­sion, and there were a lot of con­sid­er­a­tions that went into it,” Mr. John­son said. “This was an un­prece­dented step.”

The Obama White House, he said, feared that a pub­lic ac­cu­sa­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence could have been con­strued as an ef­fort to in­flu­ence the elec­tion. There was also the mat­ter of Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump’s heated rhetoric.

“One of the can­di­dates, as you re­call, was pre­dict­ing that the elec­tion was go­ing to be rigged,” said Mr. John­son, adding that such a “state­ment might be seen as chal­leng­ing the in­tegrity of the process it­self.”

Mr. John­son added that tim­ing was also an is­sue. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased its pub­lic state­ment about Rus­sian hack­ing on the same day as the re­lease of an old video ap­par­ently cap­tur­ing Mr. Trump brag­ging about grop­ing women.

Separately, the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can lead­ers of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee met with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Rus­sian med­dling scan­dal, suspected col­lu­sion with Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and, po­ten­tially, where the Trump White House tried to block the probe. The pur­pose of the meet­ing was to avoid clashes be­tween Mr. Mueller’s in­de­pen­dent probe and the var­i­ous com­mit­tees in­ves­ti­gat­ing as­pects of the scan­dal on Capi­tol Hill.

In a sep­a­rate Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee hear­ing on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, of­fi­cials from the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and FBI gave new de­tails on cy­ber­at­tacks that they said tar­geted elec­tion sys­tems in nearly two dozen uniden­ti­fied states.

The email hacks that led to the re­lease be­fore the elec­tion of a trove of in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee were all part of Rus­sia’s “in­for­ma­tion war­fare” cam­paign, said Bill Pri­estap, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the FBI’s Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Di­vi­sion.

He told the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence that Rus­sia also “pushed fake news and pro­pa­ganda” to sow dis­cord and un­der­mine the key demo­cratic prin­ci­ple of free and fair elec­tions.

Voter in­for­ma­tion that was stolen through the elec­tion sys­tem hacks was likely taken in or­der to al­low the Rus­sians to bet­ter un­der­stand what kind of data were avail­able, al­low­ing more tar­geted in­tru­sions on fu­ture elec­tions, Mr. Pri­estap said.

The pres­i­dent-elect of the National As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­re­taries of State, Con­nie Law­son, told law­mak­ers that state elec­tion of­fi­cials were learn­ing only now about the breadth and depth of the Rus­sian hack­ing.

She pointed to re­cently leaked anal­y­sis from the National Se­cu­rity Agency, which found that Rus­sian covert ef­forts con­tin­ued much closer to Elec­tion Day. They in­cluded a “spear-phish­ing” at­tack led by Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence on more than 100 lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials just days be­fore Nov. 8.

On an­other front, a group of House Democrats asked the White House to ex­plain why se­cu­rity clear­ance for Pres­i­dent Trump’s son-in-law and se­nior ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, was not sus­pended af­ter re­ports in­di­cated that he failed to dis­close his con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men.

Democrats on the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form wrote to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Wed­nes­day re­quest­ing doc­u­ments re­lated to Mr. Kush­ner, in­clud­ing his se­cu­rity clear­ance ap­pli­ca­tion and any in­for­ma­tion re­lated to clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to which he has had ac­cess since De­cem­ber. The re­quest also asks for sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion about for­mer National Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, who re­signed af­ter ad­mit­ting he mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence on the sub­ject of phone calls Mr. Flynn placed to the Rus­sian am­bas­sador.

The law­mak­ers wrote that they were con­cerned about whether the White House was “prop­erly safe­guard­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion” and sought doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lated to se­cu­rity clear­ance pro­ce­dures.


WIT­NESS: For­mer Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress as part of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.


Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Repub­li­can, point­edly asked whether the for­mer home­land se­cu­rity chief had any ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween Moscow and the Trump cam­paign. “Not be­yond what has been out there open-source,” Jeh John­son replied.

Mr. John­son ex­plained that he and other Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials faced a uniquely chaotic and com­plex set of cir­cum­stances as Elec­tion Day neared.

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