WASHINGTON (AP) — Top national security agencies confirmed Tuesday that Russia was likely responsible for a massive hack of U.S. government departments and corporations, rejecting President Donald Trump’s claim that China might be to blame.
The rare joint statement represented the U.S. government’s first formal attempt to assign responsibility for the breaches at multiple agencies and to assign a possible motive for the operation. It said the hacks appeared to be intended for “intelligence gathering,” suggesting the evidence so far pointed to a Russian spying effort rather than an attempt to damage or disrupt U.S. government operations.
The agencies made clear the Russian operation was “ongoing” and indicated the hunt for threats was not over.
“This is a serious compromise that will require a sustained and dedicated effort to remediate,” said the statement, distributed by the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
It was not clear why the statement was issued Tuesday, especially since government officials and cybersecurity experts have for weeks believed that Russia was responsible. Even so, the announcement puts the imprimatur of national security agencies, albeit belatedly, on information that members of Congress had clamored for the White House to make public.
The Associated Press reported last month that officials at the White House had been prepared to issue a statement that accused Russia of being the main actor in the hack but were told at the last minute to stand down. The day of that report, Dec. 19, Trump tweeted that the “Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality” and suggested without any evidence that China could be to blame.
Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, lamented the belated statement, saying “it’s unfortunate that it has taken over three weeks after the revelation of an intrusion this significant for this Administration to finally issue a tentative attribution.” He said he hoped “that we will begin to see something more definitive” as well as a warning to Russia, which has denied involvement in the hack.
With the public finger-pointing taking place in the final two weeks of the Trump administration, it will almost certainly fall to incoming President Joe Biden to decide how to respond to a hacking campaign that amounts to Washington’s worst cyberespionage failure to date. Biden has said his administration will impose “substantial costs” on countries responsible for U.S. government hacks, but it is unclear whether the response in this case will involve sanctions, prosecution, offensive cyber operations or some combination of those options.
The hacking campaign was extraordinary in scale, with the intruders having stalked through government agencies, defense contractors and telecommunications companies for months by…