U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has issued a ‘red alert’ regarding the level of cyber warfare targeting the country.
In a speech given at a Washington think tank conference last week, Coats compared the current situation to ‘warning signs’ observed by intelligence operatives before 9/11, saying: “It was in the months prior to September 2001 when according to then CIA Director George Tenet, the ‘system was blinking red’. And here we are, nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.”
Coats went on to say that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack”, with cyber intrusions and attacks being conducted “every day” by foreign actors.
Naming Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as the primary perpetrators, he warned that these attacks included the potential of “a crippling cyberattack against our critical infrastructure”.
It was in the months prior to September 2001 when according to then CIA Director George Tenet, the ‘system was blinking red’. And here we are, nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.
– Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Government
Increasing attacks on critical national infrastructure have been a major concern in the U.S., with the DHS and FBI issuing alerts in March this year and October last year about the threat they pose, with the more recent directly attributing this activity to state-sponsored Russian actors.
Coats – who was appointed by President Trump last year – also referred to interference with U.S. elections, for which 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers were indicted on the day of the speech.
“The defendants accessed email accounts of volunteers and employees of a US presidential campaign, including the campaign chairman starting in March of 2016,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, announcing the indictment. “They also hacked into the computer networks of a congressional campaign committee and a national political committee.”
Trump dismissed the investigation into interference with the election which made him President as “a rigged witch hunt” on Friday, but says he will “firmly ask” Putin about the hackers while he visits.
“He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said last year. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Given the substantial evidence for Russian interference with the election, on which Trump had been briefed when he referred to the “witch hunt”, investigatory techniques more advanced than simply asking Putin whether or not he interfered may be justified.
In his speech, Coats told listeners that “Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, no question”, and characterised their activity as an attempt to “undermine our basic values, undermine democracy, create wedges between us and our allies”.