Current, former US officials detail Russian cyberattacks

Johnson, in his testimony, said he moved to designate US elections as critical infrastructure on the same day as the release of a declassified USA intelligence report that said Russian President Vladimir Putin "ordered" an influence campaign in 2016.

Wednesday morning, Jeanette Manfra, the acting undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that election systems in 21 states were targeted in a Russian cyber attack.

The revelations add a new wrinkle to ongoing probes over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 USA presidential campaign.

(Samuel Liles, DHS's acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, provided a smaller number Wednesday, saying election systems in 21 states were probed by hackers seeking vulnerabilities.) In Illinois, for example, investigators reportedly discovered forensic evidence pointing to an attempt by the hackers to delete or alter voter data.

"In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of [President] Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the objective of influencing our election, plain and simple", Johnson said.

Trump has since fired Comey, citing the Russian Federation probe, and the investigation is now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Just before Election Day a year ago, Wikileaks published thousands of emails belonging to DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, DNC staffers, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and other high profile Democrats. In fact, the witnesses mostly echoed their intelligence community counterparts who have testified in recent weeks.

State elections officials, who testified before the Senate committee, complained that DHS could have offered more information about the hacking.

Trump has decried the probes as witch hunts, and he's rejected the USA intelligence community's assessment that Russia's hacking and disinformation campaign was meant to aid his candidacy.

He toyed then with the idea of declaring election systems as critical infrastructure but says he met pushback from secretaries of state and other state election officials.

Around mid-August, Johnson said, federal officials began hearing reports of "scanning and probing" of some state voter database registries. "I am not in a position to know whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the [Democratic party] and elsewhere did, in fact, alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election".

Manfra told the panel she couldn't disclose the identities of the states because that was up to the states.

"What I mean is that we not only saw infiltrations, but we saw efforts to dump information into the public space for the goal of influencing the ongoing campaign", he said, referring to the disclosure of hacked e-mails.

Johnson further testified that, prior to the election, he became convinced that the American public needed to know "what the Russian government was doing". States were initially wary of accepting federal help in fending off cyberattacks but corralled around the DHS as Election Day grew closer.

In addition to scanning voting systems for vulnerabilities, US intelligence committees have said Russian hackers hacked and engineered the release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. "And we were very concerned that we not be perceived as taking sides in the election, injecting ourselves into a very heated campaign" or undermining the integrity of the election.

Instead, Heinrich asked FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap about why Russian Federation sought to interfere in elections and if the foreign power felt they were successful.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he hasn't spoken with President Trump to ask whether he believes Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 election, during his daily press briefing on June 20 at the White House.

"In retrospect, it would be easy for me to say that I should have bought a sleeping bag and camped out in front of the DNC in late summer", Johnson said.

  • Leroy Wright