Top intel Dem: Feds, president need ability to warn about hacking – The Hill

On the heels of his panel’s first hearing on Russian election hacking, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam SchiffTop intel Dem: Feds, president need ability to warn about hacking GOP rep. on wiretap accusation: Trump ‘overshot the mark’ Scarborough: Today is ‘the worst day’ of Trump presidency MORE (D-Calif.) is advocating changes to allow better communications about ongoing cyber threats to targets and the public. 

At a Brooking Institution talk Tuesday on the future of the Western geopolitical order, Schiff advocated for an executive branch quicker on the draw to make public attributions on nation-backed data breaches — and an intelligence community allowed to better coordinate with potential victims of attacks. 

The comments came as Schiff assessed the national response to believed Russian interference in the 2016 election, attacks that included the breach of the Democratic National Committee and other political targets. 

“No president can allow an attack of this sort to continue without making public attribution and informing the public. I understand the dilemma President Obama found himself in, but his voice would have been critical in ensuring the full dimensions of the Russian meddling penetrated into the public consciousness,” said Schiff. 

Former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTop intel Dem: Feds, president need ability to warn about hacking Palin: Comey is ‘tainted’ Surrogate says Trump didn’t lie — he speaks ‘Americanese’ MORE reportedly chose to hold off on having the intelligence community publicly identify Russia as the culprit for months to avoid the appearance of political favoritism. Though the general consensus that Russia was behind the attacks appears to have existed as far back as the summer of 2016, the attribution was not released until October. 

Schiff also proposed new laws freeing intelligence agencies to better keep lawmakers and victims apprised of attacks. 

“Congress can work to institute early warning systems that dictate procedures by which the intelligence community can forward timely notification to the president, congressional leadership and affected parties as soon as suspected active measures are detected,” he said. 

At Monday’s House Intelligence hearing on Russian election interference, FBI Director James Comey said he regretted the ill-fated notification his bureau attempted to give the DNC that the organization was under attack from a major threat. The New York Times reported that the FBI left messages with the DNC’s IT help desk, received by a contractor not versed in cybersecurity who was unsure whether the warnings were prank calls

At the hearing, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) asked Comey if he would do things differently. Comey replied, “We would have sent up a much larger flare, we’d have kept banging and banging on the door.”

“We made extensive efforts to notify, but knowing what I know now, I might have walked over there myself.”

At his talk Schiff also emphasized the importance of not only hardening the security of voter databases — two states had voter rolls breached in 2016, both allegedly by the Russians — but hardening the intellectual security of Americans by improving civics education. 

“[Civics] is an afterthought in many school districts where parents and future employers want a greater emphasis on science and math,” he said, anticipating better education would not only better critical thinking skills but also increase voter turnout. 

The talk, organized by the legal blog Lawfare, ostensibly focused on the threat to the West’s traditions of international cooperation in an age of nationalism and Russian incursion. Schiff argued against budget cuts at the state department, and  in favor of an active position in international affairs, including human rights and counter-propaganda efforts like Voice of America. But much of the event focused on Russian hacking and Monday’s hearing. 

Schiff worried many of his collegues might be pulling punches to protect the president. 

“There is a seeming hesitancy to dig too deeply into possible collusion between the trump organization and the Russians and to ascribe too much to Moscow, lest it call into question the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 election,” he said, later adding “If at the end of the day both parties issue competing conclusions, we will have added very little to our nation’s understanding of this attack on our democracy.”

He emphasized that the Democrats deserved part of the blame for the election outcome – not for being the victim of an attack, but for failing to articulate why the attacks mattered.

“The public largely knew that the Russians were behind the hacking and dumping of documents. And we failed to persuade them why they should care,” he said.  


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