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Trump Spy Chief Coats: Russian Meddling Is a White House Priority

Trump Spy Chief Coats: Russian Meddling Is a White House Priority
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 02:35 PM

President Donald Trump has offered to order intelligence agencies to take more action against cyber threats if his intervention is needed, according to the top U.S. spy chief, who said the White House is “actively engaged” in responding to Russian election meddling.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he’s spoken about cyber threats with Trump. Coats said the president told him, “I assume you’re doing your job -- all of you who head up these agencies relative to cyber -- but if you need for me to say, direct you to do it, do it.”

The former Republican senator said the president made the comment after a Feb. 13 hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Coats told lawmakers “there’s no single agency in charge” of blocking potential Russian operations. Trump has dismissed the continuing investigations into Russian interference as a “witch hunt,” especially the suggestion that anyone close to him or on his campaign colluded in the effort.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Coats said his office recently met with other agencies, including the National Security Agency, to discuss cyber threats to this year’s midterm elections. Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked who should lead efforts to counter Russia with this year’s elections “right around the corner.” 

“Why do we not have a whole-of-government strategy already in place?” Hirono said.

The response is “in process,” and the White House is “actively engaged,” Coats said. It’s a “high priority” led by the offices of Thomas Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and Rob Joyce, cybersecurity coordinator for the National Security Council.

Asked how agencies are addressing Russian interference threats, Coats didn’t provide details, saying much of what’s being done or considered is classified. Trump has been criticized by Democrats and many Republicans in Congress for not rebuking Russia over its interference in the 2016 campaign, including his comments that he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s denial of meddling.

For this year’s midterm congressional elections, there’s no evidence yet of a “robust effort” from Russia, but “it’s highly likely that they will be doing something -- we just don’t know how much and when and where,” Coats said.

The intelligence director echoed the concerns of Navy Admiral Michael Rogers, the outgoing chief of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, who told lawmakers last week that Russia hadn’t “paid a price” for election interference.

“Clearly, we have not successfully countered in an offensive way -- rather than a defensive way -- how to deal with some of the cyber” attacks, Coats said.

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President Donald Trump has offered to order intelligence agencies to take more action against cyber threats if his intervention is needed, according to the top U.S. spy chief, who said the White House is "actively engaged" in responding to Russian election meddling.
coats, russia, meddling, trump
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2018-35-06
Tuesday, 06 March 2018 02:35 PM
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