Ex-Obama homeland security chief to face intelligence panel

White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to answer a question Tuesday about whether Trump believes that Russian Federation meddled in the election.

Priestap, who testified alongside a panel of Department of Homeland Security cyber specialists, said Russian Federation has tried to influence American elections since the Cold War-era, but that Moscow's 2016 meddling far surpassed previous sabotage attempts.

Today (Wednesday), a senior-level U.S. cyber defense official stated that Russian hackers attacked communication systems related to 21 states in the USA election. But, he added, the "scale and aggressiveness" was different this time, with the primary goal being to sow discord and aid the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, the eventual victor. He said the severity of Russia's efforts persuaded him to sign onto an October 7 statement publicly blaming the Kremlin for what had happened, even though doing so could have been perceived as "taking sides" or "challenging the integrity of the election itself".

During the last open hearing held by the House Intelligence panel, former CIA Director John Brennan told lawmakers that Russian Federation may have successfully tried to recruit US persons to influence the election.

Russian hackers targeted 21 USA states' election systems in last year's presidential race, a Department of Homeland Security official told Congress on Wednesday.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lamented that there was not enough public awareness and urgency on the issue, while defending the former administration's reticence to publicly discuss the information in the months leading up to the election.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat, noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed intrusions into voter registration databases in Arizona and IL, and said Americans need to know the identities of the other 19 states where meddling was detected. She added that the hacks did not deal with altering the electoral vote count. However, Connie Lawson, Indiana's secretary of state and the president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said she and her fellow state officials were not given this intelligence before the election.

And while DHS offered free security scans to any state that wanted them, many states-even ones that took up the DHS offer, like MI and Maine-either use audit procedures that are considered inadequate or don't audit their election results at all.

The media has reported that Russia hacked up to 39 states' systems, and IL and Arizona declared their systems were among those affected, but this marks the first time that federal officials themselves have described the number of states that were penetrated successfully by Russian hacking.

Liles said 21 states "were potentially targeted by Russian government-linked cyber actors".

In addition to scanning voting systems for vulnerabilities, Russian hackers acquired and engineered the release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, according to USA intelligence committees.

"The FBI and the DNC had been in contact with each other months before about the intrusion, and the DNC did not feel it needed" Homeland Security's assistance at that time. The panel has also heard from former FBI Director James B. Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan.

Specifically, Donald Trump's public accusations that the election was being "rigged" against him hindered Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from speaking out sooner, Johnson said.

"I believe the Russians will absolutely try to continue to conduct influence operations in the U.S", Priestap told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday.

The Justice Department has appointed a special counsel. former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, also is investigating whether any of President Trump's current or former associates colluded with the Russian effort.

USA intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin orchestrated a wide-ranging influence operation that included email hacking and online propaganda to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help Trump, a Republican, win the White House in November.

"As of right now, we have evidence that election-related systems in 21 states were targeted", she told the panel.

Johnson announced the shift on the same day as the release of a declassified US intelligence report that said Putin "ordered" an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the USA presidential election.

"We have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods", Johnson said under grilling in a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, adding, "There was an ongoing election".

He said, however, that none of those attacks involved vote tallying. That decision received some pushback from people who were concerned about a federal take over of elections, which are traditionally run by states. They complained that Johnson's department failed to respond to questions and concerns they had about the designation before the change was made.

"I strongly believe that the answer to such efforts to interfere in our elections is to harden our cyber defenses and to thoroughly educate the American public about the danger posed by these attacks", he wrote.

There were roughly 185,000 voting precincts spread over 9,000 jurisdictions nationwide where Americans casts ballots during the November 8 vote.

  • Zachary Reyes