President Barack Obama has ordered a full review into hacking by the Russians designed to influence the 2016 election, White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco announced Friday.
“We may be crossed into a new threshold and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what this means, what has happened and to impart those lessons learned,” Monaco told reporters at a breakfast arranged by the Christian Science Monitor.
Monaco would not commit to making the findings of the review public, but did say that it would be shared with “a range of stakeholders,” including members of Congress.
“That’s going to be first and foremost a determination that’s made by the intelligence community,” she said. “We want to do so very attentive to not disclosing sources and methods that may impede our ability to identify and attribute malicious actors in the future.”
The Obama administration in early October accused the Russian government of directing a digital campaign to disrupt the U.S. election. As part of this effort, U.S. officials said Moscow-backed hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other political organizations.
Emails and documents from some of these groups ended up leaking online through WikiLeaks and other suspicious websites and hackers that researchers alleged were fronts for Russian intelligence services.
Hackers reportedly linked to Russia also breached the personal email accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and several Democratic staffers.
At Friday’s event, Monaco struck an ominous tone about internet-related dangers, calling them among the most significant national security issues facing the new administration. President-elect Donald Trump’s team will “inherit a rapidly growing threat in this space across all dimensions,” she said, including intrusions from both “hacktivists” and “criminal actors.”
Trump, however, has repeatedly rejected the intelligence community’s conclusion about the election-related cyberattacks, arguing that the allegations were politically motivated.
The president-elect’s ongoing denial of Russian involvement may have, in part, spurred Obama to act. Administration officials told NBC News that “Obama is concerned that Russia will go unpunished for the behavior unless he acts.”
Obama was also responding to a Capitol Hill pressure campaign that stretches back a number of months.
In September, Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her House counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), put out a statement blaming Moscow for the breaches weeks before the administration made the same allegation.
“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election,” the pair said in a statement.
The chorus for action ebbed and flowed over the last few months, with Democrats calling on GOP congressional leaders to launch various probes into the Kremlin’s involvement and on the White House to share with the public how it reached its conclusion.
But the campaign surged back into the spotlight this week, when House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and the highest-ranking Democrats on several national security-focused House committees sent a letter to Obama asking for administration officials to brief all members of Congress on Russian efforts to influence the election.
A spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday said the White House review “complements the efforts of House Democrats,” which also includes a bill from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) that would create an independent commission to study the election hacks.
In addition to the Democratic pressure campaign, several Republican committee and subcommittee chairmen have promised to hold hearings on the cyberattacks.
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) was readying his own investigation, “working closely” with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
After the White House review was announced Friday, Schiff said he was “pleased” the administration is launching the review, and called on the White House to “declassify as much of it as possible, while protecting our sources and methods, and make it available to the public.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a vocal privacy advocate on the Intelligence Committee who has pressed the administration to release more details about the alleged Russian hacking, echoed Schiff’s call.
“This is good news,” he said in a statement. “Declassifying and releasing information about the Russian government and the US election, and doing so quickly, must be a priority.”
Schiff wants the White House to go further.
“More than that, the administration must begin to take steps to respond forcefully to this blatant cyber meddling, and work with our allies in Europe who have been targets of similar attacks to impose costs on the Kremlin,” Schiff added. “If we do not, we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.”
A Senate aide confirmed that members of the Intelligence Committee were told about the review in advance. However, it’s unclear if the rest of the Gang of Eight — the two party leaders in the House and Senate, as well as the chair and ranking member from both Intelligence panels — was also given a heads-up.
It’ll definitely be interesting to hear what they find.