An official overseeing America’s defence against cyberattacks said the White House has not given him full authority to counteract potential Russian election meddling.
Intelligence officials have warned Congress that Russia, which sought to foment discord and undermine Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, will target the 2018 midterm elections with renewed online disruption efforts.
“I believe they are attempting to undermine our institutions”, National Security Director and head of US Cyber Command Mike Rogers told a Senate panel.
Under questioning, Mr Rogers affirmed that America faces a national security threat from Russian efforts that include hacking confidential information from candidates, spreading disinformation and attempting to breach state election infrastructure.
But he said he had not been granted powers to try and rebuff Russian hacking efforts where they originate.
“I don’t have the day-to-day authority to do that”, Mr Rogers said.
Asked if he had been directed to do so by Donald Trump or the Secretary of Defence, Mr Rogers said “no, I have not”.
“We have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviours that we are seeing”, he said.
Mr Rogers downplayed suggestions that America was idly watching the threat, saying he has directed officials to work on the issue.
But Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, characterised the lack of direction from the White House as evidence the Trump administration was not doing enough to shield the midterm elections from foreign meddling.
“Essentially we have not taken on the Russians yet,” Mr Reed said. “We’re watching them intrude on our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognised, and we’re just essentially sitting back and waiting”.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “nobody is denying” Mr Rogers “the authority”.
“The President is looking at all of the different causes and all of the different ways that we can prevent it,” Ms Sanders said of election interference, “and as we find different ways that we can do that we're implementing them”.
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