Rosenstein warns of growing cyber threat from Russia, other foreign actors

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday warned of the growing threat from Russian influence operations, as he unveiled a new report from the Justice Department about plans to notify the public about those kinds of foreign attacks.

“These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive, they are meant to undermine democracy on a daily basis – regardless of whether it is election time or not,” he said during remarks at the Aspen Security Forum.

Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, described Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as “just one tree in a growing forest” of foreign influence operations.

He added that the Trump administration is doing “more now than ever” to combat cyber threats to U.S. citizens and elections.


Rosenstein used his remarks to introduce a new Department of Justice (DOJ) report that outlines various types of influence efforts affecting elections. It also lays out a framework for the Justice Department to follow when considering whether to publicly disclose foreign influence operations.

“It may not be possible or prudent to disclose foreign influence operations in certain contexts because of investigative or operational considerations, or other constraints,” the report says. “In some circumstances, however, public exposure and attribution of foreign influence operations can be an important means of countering the threat and rendering those operations less effective.”

The 156-page document, compiled by the cyber-digital task force convened by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, chronicles six categories of threats, including influence operations like the one undertaken by Russia in 2016.

Rosenstein’s public remarks come in the wake of a series of conflicting statements from President Trump on Russia’s election-meddling. On Monday, Trump appeared to cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He later said he misspoke and that he agrees with the intelligence community’s conclusion.

Rosenstein described intelligence assessments as “based on evidence.”

“They do not reflect mere guesses,” he said, without directly addressing Trump’s remarks. “The policy reflects an effort to articulate neutral principles so that when the issue the government confronted in 2016 arises again – as it surely will – there will be a framework to address it.”

Rosenstein also highlighted ways that the federal government is working to combat covert foreign influence operations. He cited the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and the Department of Homeland Security’s work with states to help secure their voting systems.

“Even as we enhance our ability to combat existing forms of malign influence, the danger continues to grow,” Rosenstein said. “Advancing technology will enable adversaries to create propaganda in new and unforeseen ways. Our government must continue to identify and counter them.”

The DOJ report also details cyberattacks that damage computers, such as ransomware attacks; cyber-enabled fraud schemes; personal privacy threats; data theft; and attacks in U.S. critical infrastructure.

Rosenstein described U.S. digital infrastructure “literally under attack” – echoing recent remarks from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Rosenstein said the DOJ report “is just one aspect of our efforts” to combat cyber threats.

“The work continues, and not just within our department,” he said. “Our government is doing more now than ever to combat malign foreign influence and other cyber threats. Trump administration agency appointees and White House officials work with career professionals every day to prevent cybercrime and protect elections.”

Tags Dan Coats Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein

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