Democrats Fear Further Russian Cyber Aggression After Election Hacks Curtail

 Director of the National Intelligence James Clapper speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Director of the National Intelligence James Clapper speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP File Photo

House oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., seeks congressional investigation into Russian election meddling.

Democrats are worried about further Russian cyber belligerence as they return to Washington after an election campaign marred by Russian hacking.

Russia curtailed digital probes of state election networks after the U.S. government publicly attributed the hacking to its former Cold War nemesis and after high-level contacts between the two nations, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

It’s not clear if that curtailment extended to halting the release of hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks or other outlets, Clapper said, saying the intelligence community has less insight into the timing of releases.  

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He declined to say whether such probing or other cyber activities might pick back up during the Trump administration or be affected by Trump’s stated desire to improve U.S.-Russian relations.

“That’s hard to say,” Clapper said in response to a question from the committee’s ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “I can’t say what they’ll do and I can’t forecast what the impact of our new administration might have on Russian behavior.”

Meanwhile, at the House oversight committee, ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, urging a full “bipartisan investigation into Russia’s role in interfering with and influencing” the 2016 election.

“This perilous menace goes beyond party, beyond politics and beyond partisanship,” Cummings wrote. “Although these attacks were executed to harm the Democratic candidate for president on this occasion, Russia’s actions sow doubts about our entire election system and merit a robust congressional investigation.”

The letter urges a full committee intelligence briefing on the Russian hacks and an investigation that produces recommendations for how to respond to the hacks and to prevent future ones.

The congressional angst comes on the same day Trump transition planners are sending a national security “landing team” to visit the Defense, State and Justice departments and the National Security Council, according to a media conference call with the transition team.

Trump also will meet with NSA Director and U.S. Cyber Command Chief Adm. Michael Rogers today, transition planners said.

Trump has not publicly named an official to manage cybersecurity either for transition operations or for the incoming administration.

Former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers who had been advising the team on national security was reportedly asked to leave Tuesday. Rogers was a fierce advocate for U.S. cyber defenses during his time in Congress.

Cyber experts have pointed to Trump adviser and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a likely advocate for strong cyber defenses on the transition team. Giuliani’s consulting firm Giuliani Partners managed numerous cyber projects.

The Trump campaign’s cybersecurity plan included a full review of U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities in the U.S. government and at critical infrastructure providers and a plan to enhance the military’s offensive cyber capabilities.

Russian information warfare such as the DNC breach is unlikely to halt with the close of the 2016 election, said Clapper, who will close his career in the intelligence community at the end of the Obama administration.

“The Russians have a very active and aggressive capability to conduct information operations, so-called hybrid warfare,” Clapper said. “That’s been a longstanding practice of theirs going back to the Soviet era. I anticipate it will continue.”

Asked to assess the government’s cyber stance upon his departure, Clapper urged more funding to hire cyber talent and increased effort to develop policies and doctrine for cyber defense and deterrence.

“The challenge for us is always going to be the fundamental fact that the internet is insecure and anytime you have a dependency on the internet, you’re going to have to play catch up,” he said.