Senate Republican: 'You really have to treat Russia like it's virtually a criminal enterprise'

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said on Sunday that U.S. officials should regard Russia as a criminal state following recent cyberattacks waged by hackers believed to be based in the country. 

"Remember, 2016, as late as early 2017, we had cyber-defense capabilities, but we didn't have the authority -- the president had never given the authority -- for cyber offense," Blunt said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press." "And so when we did push back, we pushed back pretty hard. In 2018, it stopped. I think to some extent ... you really have to treat Russia like it's virtually a criminal enterprise. You know, they harbor criminals, hey don't appreciate the rule of law or any kind of level of personal freedom. And I do think we have to push back. When there's no penalty, there's no sanctions, hard to find who's doing it." 

Russian officials have denied any involvement in recent cyberattacks against the U.S.

Blunt said on Sunday that even if U.S. officials are able to locate the perpetrators, the U.S. government has rendered itself toothless in prosecuting companies and countries who harbor criminals. 

"It has to stop," he said. "The truth is, we haven't been able to guarantee our own system. You know, on the SolarWinds, they got in the government system as well. We didn't know they were there. We don't know how long they were there. We're not absolutely sure they're not there still. And so, you know, saying that companies would have to meet a standard we can't meet would be one thing." 

Recent attacks on critical infrastructure in America such as oil and gas, food supply and banking have led U.S. officials to warn that the country could be teetering on the brink of a massive security breach that could cause chaos if bad actors seek to disrupt society. 

Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray drew what he called "parallels" between recent ransomware attacks on the U.S. and 9/11. 

"Time and time again, a huge portion of those traced back to actors in Russia," Wray said. "And so, if the Russian government wants to show that it's serious about this issue, there's a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we're not seeing right now."

Blunt, who is retiring, said on NBC that Congress needs to make overhauling the country's cybersecurity offensive and defensive systems a priority in order to avoid future attacks. 

"We've worked hard on this, both in Intel and the Republican Policy Committee, trying to alert companies but also our own colleagues of how broad the danger could be here," he said. "And I'm glad this is getting the attention it's now finally getting. It took gasoline and beef -- for us to think this is really a serious problem."