Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Chris Wray, Secretary of State John Bolton, and NSA Director General Paul Nakasone spoke today as a group for the first time about "election meddling" — the information warfare attacks being carried out against the United States right now, a little more than 90 days before the midterm elections, by the adversary we all know is Russia.
As DHS, DNI, FBI, and the Pentagon come together before the public to say Russia is actively attacking our midterm elections, as we have long been warned they'd do, please remember that exactly 2.5 weeks ago Donald Trump stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, refused to confront him on the 2016 inforwar campaign our intelligence officials all say happened, and called Putin's denial of the 2016 infowar "strong and powerful."
Seeing all the intel chiefs on stage say one thing, and knowing the President — who wasn't there? — believes another was weird.
All of the directors seemed to be saying they believe the nature of the attacks was overwhelmingly psyops, or online campaigns intended to influence opinion and voting choices, rather than direct attacks on voting infrastructure. But those who were worth listening to also said, anything unexpected could happen at any time.
One piece of cyberwar news stands out from this briefing: NSA and CyberCom Director General Paul Nakasone said the U.S. is prepared to conduct operations against foreign actors who are seeking to interfere in US politics.
That is news.
Nakasone warned "foreign adversaries" sternly:
"U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency are tracking a wide range of foreign cyber adversaries and are prepared to conduct operations against those actors attempting to undermine our nation's midterm elections."
"Our forces are well-trained, ready and very capable. I have complete confidence in the forces under my command," he added, "We continue to bring our full power to bear on foreign adversaries."
Those are not meaningless words.
Nakasone also said NSA is acting in a new capacity this year, by offering intelligence, information support, and technical expertise to local election officials throughout the USA.
"Our support is ongoing and will continue through the midterms," Nakasone said, "We are providing intelligence and information leads to FBI on a wide range of foreign adversaries."
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: "We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States."
— CSPAN (@cspan) August 2, 2018
DNI Dan Coats, when asked about this current campaign at the press conference:
"It is not the kind of robust campaign we saw in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections… they stepped up their game bigtime in 2016. We have not seen that kind of robust campaign from them so far. But we're only one keyboard click away."
Are the Russians targeting a particular party?
Coats wouldn't reply directly, but wishwashed with something about infowar affecting all parties, and an intent to sow chaos.
Asked if he understood what happened at the Trump-Putin meeting, Coats said he was "not in a position to understand fully."
REPORTER: Trump says Russian interference is a hoax. Why should we believe you when you say it isn't?
WRAY: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/dvZrp6V5c6
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 2, 2018
"We are not seeing the same kind of campaigns to attack voting infrastructure" as in 2016, said FBI Director Chris Wray, "but malign influence operations to influence opinion."
FBI Director Wray: "This threat is not going away. As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day. This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously." pic.twitter.com/yaaWKupxwE
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) August 2, 2018
Nielsen does not directly answer whether a government shutdown would affect election security work, but implies DHS would "continue to prioritize" assistance to states "within our budget."
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) August 2, 2018
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) August 2, 2018
Dan Coats, 2.5 weeks after the Trump-Putin summit: "I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki."
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) August 2, 2018
Lol the Helsinki thing really did just glide away
— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) August 2, 2018
FBI Director Wray says they're seeing foreign "malign influence operations—in effect, information warfare" ahead of the 2018 elections and "potential penetration of voter registration databases."
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 2, 2018
Wray says Russian malign influence this year appears to be targeting penetration of voter registration, not vote count. pic.twitter.com/NK7aJwQ3fI
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 2, 2018
Asked directly just now if she believes the media is the "enemy of the American people," WH press sec Sarah Sanders declines to answer.
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) August 2, 2018
— Xeni Jardin ??? (@xeni) August 2, 2018
The extreme disconnect between intelligence community leadership and the White House on Russia interference, aired on live television in record-breaking time https://t.co/8F4mY3DdLf
— Dustin Volz (@dnvolz) August 2, 2018
NEW: "I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki" – National Intelligence Director Coates pic.twitter.com/lk4qMAF5Pw
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) August 2, 2018
Sanders, echoing Trump, claims "we know there were others" involved in 2016 election interference besides Russia. She declines to provide details.
Her statement contradicts the intelligence community's finding that Russia and Russia alone interfered in the election. pic.twitter.com/Zu4BFQSmgK
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 2, 2018
A candid, unequivocal warning from the nation's security chiefs at the White House lectern today — making crystal clear that yes, Russia is still trying to influence our elections. The obvious backdrop making things awkward? A president who hasn't been nearly as blunt.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 2, 2018
Breaking News: Russia is still trying to influence U.S. elections, several national security chiefs bluntly warned in a White House briefing https://t.co/cYWJ7LNinL
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 2, 2018
Just last week, The Daily Beast first reported that Russian intelligence officers targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and tried to hack into her Senate office's computer network https://t.co/ZKyGKczwNc
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) August 2, 2018