U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Trump Eases Curbs on U.S. Cyberweapons as Election Threat Looms

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump issued an order making it easier for the U.S. to launch cyber attacks, highlighting the potential for a counter-attack if a foreign government is found to try to meddle in congressional elections in November.

National Security Adviser John Bolton on Thursday announced the new American cyber strategy, which rescinds a Barack Obama directive requiring broad consultation among relevant government agencies before an offensive cyber attack could be initiated.

Bolton said in a briefing that the Trump administration would respond offensively to cyber assaults by foreign powers and is redirecting resources to bolster U.S. capacity to attack computer systems. Repealing the Obama directive would allow a swifter response, he said.

“I think it’s important that our adversaries know it,” Bolton said.

Trump said in a statement released Monday evening that "we cannot ignore the costs of malicious cyber activity — economic or otherwise — directed at America’s government, businesses, and private individuals." He described the policy as keeping a promise to "use all available means to keep America safe from cyber threats."

Bolton cast the threat of retaliation broadly, covering cyber attacks on the U.S. of any kind.


‘Swift and Transparent’

An unclassified version of the new strategy released Thursday declares the U.S. will impose “swift and transparent consequences” for “malicious cyber activity against the United States.” Those consequences may also include financial sanctions and military action, in addition to a retaliatory cyber-attack, according to the document.

Under the strategy, the Trump administration “will use all appropriate tools of national power” to counter online disinformation campaigns.

Five top U.S. national security officials warned in August of the threat of meddling in the November elections by Russia or other foreign governments.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that Russian efforts to interfere in the midterm elections had yet to reach the intensity of the Kremlin’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential vote, but they’re only “a keyboard click away” from a more serious barrage.

U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia in 2016 launched an effort to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump win. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russians in the GRU military intelligence agency, accusing them of orchestrating the hacks of Democratic Party organizations and Democratic officials. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt.”

Russian hackers also have been probing key U.S. infrastructure. The Trump administration issued an alert in March that Russians were conducting a broad assault on the American electric grid, water processing plants, air transportation facilities and other targets in rolling attacks. The hackers penetrated the control rooms of hundreds of American electric utilities, gaining the capacity to cause power failures, according to a July Wall Street Journal report.

Trump concluded his statement by saying, "America built the internet and shared it with the world; now we will do our part to secure and preserve cyberspace for future generations."

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