WASHINGTON – The U.S. watched Russia hack French computer systems during the election and alerted France before the issue became public, the dual-hatted head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. military’s Cyber Command said Tuesday.
On Saturday, less than 48 hours before the French presidential election where victor Emmanuel Macron faced off against Marine Le Pen, France’s election campaign commission said Macron’s presidential campaign had been hacked and “a significant amount of data” stolen and released to social networks. Some of the released material appeared to be fabricated, according to Macron’s campaign.
“We had become aware of Russian activity. We had talked to our French counterparts and gave them a heads-ups — ‘Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here’s what we’ve seen. What can we do to try to assist?’ ” Adm. Michael Rogers said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We are doing the same with our German counterparts, our British counterparts,” he added.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had asked Rogers about the allegations of Russia hacking the Macron campaign. Rogers stopped short of explicitly blaming Moscow for the Macron hack. The U.S. and France have not officially assigned blame for the document dump.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, asked Rogers if the U.S. should “take seriously” the “significant evidence” linking Russia to efforts to “destabilize the government of an ally.” Rogers replied: “Yes, sir.”
Rogers told the committee under questioning from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that Russia’s aggressive cyber activity doesn’t appear to be letting up. Rogers said Russia will continue to target foreign entities, including the U.S., until heavy enough repercussions are levied.
He warned that Russian operatives may attempt to target next year’s congressional elections, and argued that the target of Russian attacks are not politically motivated but “about an effort against a strategic interest of every citizen of this nation.”
Trend Micro, a cybersecurity firm, said in April that it had found evidence that one of the same Russian groups that hacked the systems of the Democratic National Committee also had targeted Macron’s campaign with a series of email domains that would be used to break into campaign email accounts. Macron’s campaign has said the attempts were unsuccessful.
Rogers told the Senate committee that the White House is still working to establish a comprehensive cyber policy, which would address deterrence and operational structure.
Committee chairman McCain criticized President Donald Trump for not laying out a cyber policy to counter hackers within his first 90 days in office, as he said he would. McCain calle Trump’s failure to follow through “disheartening.”