Putin us on.Presidential Press and Information Office
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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security today jointly charged that the Russian government was responsible for directing a series of intrusions into the networks of US political organizations and state election boards.
In a “joint security statement,” officials from the two agencies declared they were “confident” that the government of President Vladimir Putin was behind the hacks and the publication of data obtained from them—some of it doctored—specifically to impact the results of the upcoming US elections.
In a joint statement, agency officials asserted the following:
Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.
The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.
These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.
The officials also accused Russia of being behind attacks on some state election board systems.
This type of interference, DHS and ODNI officials noted, is “not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there.” And they dismissed any contention that the attacks came from independent actors within Russia or at the direction of lower-level intelligence operatives, stating, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
There has been ample documentation of past efforts by groups of actors within the Russian Federation to shape public opinion elsewhere, just as there is documentation of Russia’s overall doctrine for conducting information warfare against adversaries outside the bounds of actual war.
An investigation by Adrian Chen for the New York Times Magazine published in 2015 documented how a Russia-based “Internet Research Agency” created fake Twitter profiles and posted misinformation on things ranging from fictional chemical plant accidents to Ebola hoaxes in various locations around the US.
The “agency” apparently hoped to spread panic and misinformation in order to undermine trust in US authorities.
And in other information operations, the Russian government has sought to shape opinion throughout Europe while quashing dissent at home.
In a speech at the beginning of an Atlantic Council event in Berlin last year, US Ambassador to Germany John Emerson described Russia’s larger disinformation campaign, saying:
The Russian government and the media that it controls are trying to prevent the publication of information that doesn’t conform to Russia’s aims and are manipulating the presentation of information to cloak Russia’s actions.
The Kremlin’s disinformation campaign goes far beyond controlling its own media.
It is aimed at nothing less than presenting a parallel version of reality and disseminating it as if it were news.
The Kremlin’s goal is to make people question the value of media at all; to reject the idea of an absolute truth; and to persuade the public that “reality” is relative…
This campaign of obfuscation has become all too familiar since the occupation of Crimea.
Emerson noted that some have described Russia’s information warfare model as the “4D” approach: dismiss factual reports, distort the truth with planted information, distract from actions by generating counter-narratives, and dismay those who fail to accept the Russian view with threats of reprisal.
The efforts by Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks appear to be aimed at distorting and distracting the American public as elections approach to gain some sort of advantage in its outcome.
But ODNI and DHS officials offered assurances that there was little chance Russia could directly affect the election by hacking voting systems themselves.
In a joint statement, officials said:
The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion.
This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place.
States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.
Still, DHS is offering state officials assistance in improving the security of their systems, and several states have taken them up on the offer.
Through an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group “DHS is providing several services to state and local election officials to assist in their cybersecurity,” officials explained. “These services include cyber ‘hygiene’ scans of Internet-facing systems, risk and vulnerability assessments, information sharing about cyber incidents, and best practices for securing voter registration databases and addressing potential cyber threats.”
While DHS and ODNI are confident about the source of the hacks of the DNC and other organizations, the Justice Department shows no indication that it is ready to press a case against individuals in Russia as it did in the case of past intrusions blamed on China.
And beyond acknowledging Russia’s role, it’s not clear what sort of action the US can take in response.