White House orders 'full review' of election hacking

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The White House has tasked the intelligence community with conducting a "full review" of all Russian hacking activities directed at influencing or interfering with the 2016 election, a senior advisor to the president said.

Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Lisa Monaco told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the review and report is due back to President Barack Obama before he leaves office.

It's the latest shoe to drop in the U.S. government's evolving response to Russia's hacking of Democratic Party servers and allegations it probed voter registration databases and other elections infrastructure this year.

"We may have 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 said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in a briefing that the report will draw upon the work done by the IC in the past few months to investigate "malicious cyber activity" directed at the U.S. election, but it will also look back to the 2008 and 2012 elections.

"This is going to be a deep dive," Schultz said, adding that the investigation will focus on suspicious activity by any state or non-state actor, not just Russia. He stated that there was cyber activity directed at the 2008 election, which was attributed to China, but it's not currently known if there were attempts to penetrate campaign targets during the 2012 election.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will lead the review, according to a senior administration official, with other intelligence agencies participating. 

The announcement of the investigation comes as Congress is turning up the heat on Russia with calls for hearings, investigations and even an independent commission.

Days ago, seven House Democrats sent a letter to the president calling for a full briefing on what the intelligence community knows about Russian hacking directed at the election.

As FCW has reported this week, Democratic House members filed a bill calling for the creation of a 12-member commission to conduct an 18-month investigation into Russia's election hacking. So far there's been no indication Congress is likely to move forward with that legislation.

Senior Congressional Democrats have been pushing out statements lauding the White House announcement of the report, but so far leading Republicans have not commented -- though a number of them are calling for hearings and investigations once the next Congress goes into session.

"I'm going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN on Dec. 7. "I think they're one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay the price."

The Washington Post has reported that Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are planning to launch investigations next year to look into not just Russia's election-related hacking but its broader cyber activities and capabilities.

Other leading Republicans have been stepping up their calls for investigations and reprisals against Russia for its attempts to interfere in the election.

That puts them on a collision course with President-elect Donald Trump who continues to buck intelligence agency conclusions and state that he does not believe Russia was behind any of the election hacks or intrusions. 

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 10, 2017 Bob Bridges

I haven't heard the details; if this was done, how? Were voting machines hacked? If so, it isn't clear to me why it's still possible. The software in those machines can be digitally signed, and a copy registered with the interested parties—the election boards and the various political parties, at a minimum—so that everyone can verify the rectitude of the code and so that any election official can pull a hash from particular machine to confirm that the code has not been modified. I gather this is not being done, but why not? It's a pretty straightforward operation.

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