Cyber chief says he hasn’t received orders from Trump to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting elections

Victoria Sarno Jordan

A top military cyber official told lawmakers on Tuesday that he has not received specific direction from the Trump administration to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting U.S. elections.

“I haven’t been granted any additional authorities,” U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers, who also serves as director of the National Security Agency (NSA), told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

{mosads}While Rogers said he has not asked for additional authorities to stop Russian cyberattacks at the source, he noted that it would ultimately be up to President Trump to give him that permission.

“I need a policy decision that indicates there is specific direction to do that,” Rogers said. “The president ultimately would make this decision in accordance with a recommendation from the secretary of Defense.”

Rogers did say he has directed the cyber mission force, which is part of U.S. Cyber Command, to “begin some specific work” on the issue, but would not go into further detail on the steps in the unclassified setting.

Democrats on the committee seized on Rogers’s comments as evidence that the administration has not done enough to counter future election interference.

“Essentially, we have not taken on the Russians yet,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member, who accused the administration of “essentially sitting back and waiting.”

While Rogers pushed back on the notion that the administration has done nothing to counter Russian interference, he acknowledged that the response so far — which has included sanctions passed by Congress — has been insufficient in deterring such behavior. 

“They haven’t paid a price, at least, that has significantly changed their behavior,” Rogers said.

At the same time, Rogers said confronting Russian hackers in the cyber realm would not necessarily be the “optimal” response to Moscow’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.

“I’m not sure that the capabilities that I have would be the optimal or only response to this,” Rogers said.

“It could be a part of the response,” he added.

Rogers was grilled by lawmakers from both parties about the steps the government has taken to deter and respond to Russian efforts to disrupt American elections throughout the hearing, which was scheduled to examine the fiscal 2019 budget request for U.S. Cyber Command.

U.S. officials have blamed Russia for directing cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, as well as probing digital election infrastructure not involved in vote tallying, as part of the 2016 influence effort. 

The Department of Homeland Security responded to Russian hacking by providing state and local election officials with cyber testing and other resources to help protect their systems from future cyberattacks.

Rogers’s comments Tuesday mirrored those he made before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, when he and other top intelligence officials said they expect Russia to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

“We’re not where we need to be or where we want to be,” Rogers told Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Rogers is serving out his final weeks as leader of the NSA and Cyber Command. Trump has tapped the leader of Army Cyber Command, Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, to replace him.

Note: This story was updated to reflect that Rogers was testifying in his capacity as head of Cyber Command, not the NSA.

Tags 2018 midterms Cyberattack Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jack Reed Russian election meddling United States Cyber Command
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