Secretary of State John Kerry said the administration publicly declared its confidence behind Russian involvement in election-season hacks in part to let those responsible know they’re not “getting away with it.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security declared in a joint statement last week that the Intelligence Community is “confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.”
“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the agencies said.
Speaking Monday at the Virtuous Circle Conference, a tech event in Silicon Valley, Kerry said they “released the information because we are confident in the assessment that we made through the intelligence community and we thought that it was important for the American people and for the world to know that this is discernible and unacceptable.”
“Now, it’s no secret to any of you that cyber activity of a malicious intent has been going on for some period of time. And it’s obviously extraordinarily important as the world becomes more dependent in business, in services, in infrastructure, in so many different ways, on digital commands and control,” he added. “This is growing in its threat capacity. And we thought it was very important, based on our clear tracking through the technology that you’re all very familiar with, to find out where this was coming from and who was up to this.”
“So we released this information to put the people doing it on a notice that they’re not ‘getting away with it’ for free, as well as to put states on notice that we’re serious when we say they need to take every measure possible to guarantee the integrity of our elections.”
Kerry said the statement was issued also “after very clear messaging to the Russians about the unacceptability of interference with democracy in the United States of America.”
“And we will and can respond in ways that we choose to at the time of our choice,” he said.
He noted recent cybersecurity discussion with China to “require certain standard behavior going forward of what is acceptable and what is not.”
“Everybody understands that spying is something that has existed way before the Internet. And there have always been these kind of unwritten rules of espionage,” Kerry continued, adding “it’s hard for me to be particularly precise with you about exactly where the line is drawn.”
“Everybody’s understood that people are hacking and working like crazy to get into proprietary information of one company or another, and a lot of folks are engaged in this kind of activity. Some countries are more proficient and more prolific than others.”
Kerry underscored the risk of “an arms race with respect to cyber warfare and cyber activity.”
“It will require much greater attention to security, to impenetrability, to real protections. And of course, that then raises other kinds of question of law enforcement and counterterrorism and other interests that we all have,” he said. “So this is a fascinating and as yet not fully explored undertaking. But I think the signal we sent last Friday was really to fire a major wake-up call to people and a warning signal about the need to have the discussion about these challenges as we go forward.”
Of Guccifer 2.0 or “whatever,” Kerry said one of the challenges is discovering “who is that person? And how do you find that person? And who do you arrest?”
“You can find a location, but you can’t necessarily find the person that was working the keyboard,” he said, noting that state sponsor of hacking “rent space out, and people come in, and they can come in anonymously and use it and then disappear.”