No new se­cu­rity di­rec­tives is­sued to pro­tect elec­tions from for­eign hacks

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY ELLEN NAKASHIMA

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump chaired a meet­ing Friday of his most se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers to dis­cuss the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to safe­guard Novem­ber’s elec­tions from Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, the first such meet­ing he’s led on the mat­ter, but is­sued no new di­rec­tives to counter or de­ter the threat.

The meet­ing, which lasted less than an hour, cov­ered all the ac­tiv­i­ties by fed­eral agen­cies to help state and lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials, and to in­ves­ti­gate and hold ac­count­able Rus­sian hack­ers seek­ing to un­der­mine Amer­i­can democ­racy.

“The pres­i­dent has made it clear that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will not tol­er­ate for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tions from any na­tion state or other ma­li­cious ac­tors,” the White House said in a state­ment.

Trump’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing fol­lows his widely crit­i­cized news con­fer­ence this month in Helsinki, where he stood next to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and seemed to dis­count the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s as­sess­ment that Moscow in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion. Trump’s re­marks were strik­ing, too, since only three days ear­lier 12 Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers were in­dicted by the United States on charges of hack­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam- paign.

“It was a good meet­ing,” said one se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe an event that was closed to me­dia cov­er­age. “Every­body was on the same page. We’re do­ing a lot of good work across the ad­min­is­tra­tion.’’

There was no dis­cus­sion of new ac­tions Trump wants or of a co­or­di­nated strat­egy to pre­vent Rus­sia from in­ter­fer­ing in U.S. pol­i­tics, of­fi­cials said. In­stead, the meet­ing fo­cused on the ac­tiv­i­ties un­der­taken so far.

In the ab­sence of di­rect guid­ance from the White House, in­di­vid­ual fed­eral agen­cies have mar­shaled ef­forts to de­tect and counter the threat. The head of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency cre­ated a Rus­sia “small group” com­posed of NSA and mil­i­tary cy­ber­spe­cial­ists tasked with de­tect­ing and coun­ter­ing Rus­sian ef­forts to tar­get the elec­tions. If di­rected, U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand, us­ing NSA in­tel­li­gence, can carry out of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions to dis­rupt such ac­tiv­ity.

Al­ready, at least three con­gres­sional can­di­dates have been tar­geted by Rus­sian mil­i­tary hack­ers. None of the at­tempts was suc­cess­ful, ac­cord­ing to an ex­ec­u­tive with Mi­crosoft, who dis­cussed the oper- ation at a se­cu­rity con­fer­ence last week. One of the tar­gets was Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who faces a tough re­elec­tion bid.

“The Rus­sians, as we know, are bad ac­tors,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., said Friday dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Louisville. “They messed around in the last elec­tion. I’ve made it clear they bet­ter not mess around in an­other one. And we’re on the watch for any ef­forts they may make to in­ter­fere in the 2018 elec­tions.”

FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray last fall set up a for­eign in­flu­ence task force to counter in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions tar­get­ing the United States. Such op­er­a­tions, the FBI said in a state­ment Friday, in­clude covert ef­forts “to in­flu­ence U.S. pol­icy, dis­tort pub­lic sen­ti­ment and pub­lic dis­course, and un­der­mine con­fi­dence in demo­cratic val­ues to achieve other gov­ern­ments’ geopo­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives.”

The FBI task force works closely with the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and for­eign al­lies who are also com­bat­ing Rus­sia’s ma­lign ac­tiv­i­ties.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment last week an­nounced a new pol­icy of ex­pos­ing covert ac­tions by for­eign gov­ern­ments to un­der­mine con­fi­dence in demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions such as U.S. elec­tions, of­ten through cy­ber­hack­ing and dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns.

The most vis­i­ble ef­fort is be­ing un­der­taken by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, which is fo­cused on elec­tion sys­tem se­cu­rity and has formed a task force to share in­for­ma­tion and as­sist state and lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials in bol­ster­ing the se­cu­rity of their sys­tems.

Congress this year set aside $380 mil­lion to help states strengthen their elec­tion in­fra­struc­ture. But that is widely seen as in­suf­fi­cient.

AL DRAGO NYT

At least three con­gres­sional can­di­dates have been tar­geted by Rus­sian mil­i­tary hack­ers. Mi­crosoft an­nounced ear­lier this month that it had stopped an at­tack last fall aimed at Se­nate staff of­fices. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., above, said her of­fice...

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