No new security directives issued to protect elections from foreign hacks
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.
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...