Pence, DHS Secretary Say Putin Meddled in Trump’s Election

(Bloomberg) -- Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday offered public support for U.S. spy agencies’ finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

President Donald Trump stirred an uproar with comments at his Helsinki summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin when he cast doubt on U.S intelligence assessments that Russia was behind cyber-attacks on Democratic organizations and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign during the 2016 election.

Trump later acknowledged the spy agencies’ conclusion was correct in a statement but then undercut the conclusion by adding that election interference “could be other people also.”

The U.S. intelligence agencies are “right,” Nielsen said at the Department of Homeland Security National Cybersecurity Summit in New York.

“It was the Russians,” she added. “Any attempt to interfere in our elections is a direct attack against our democracy. Americans will not tolerate this meddling.”

Pence echoed her statement in a speech to the conference later in the day.

‘Russia Meddled’

“The fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” Pence said. “That is the unambiguous judgment of our intelligence community.”

Their remarks came as Facebook Inc. said it had identified an ongoing effort to influence the U.S. midterm elections using inauthentic accounts and pages on the social network. Facebook and other social-media networks have been criticized by lawmakers for failing to recognize and take steps to stop efforts to sow discord among Americans as Russia did during the 2016 campaign.

Speaking to reporters at the event on Tuesday, Homeland Security Undersecretary Christopher Krebs commended Facebook for coming forward with the information and said that the department is working with social media companies to help them understand tactics and trends of bad actors.

Nielsen also said the U.S. is still having difficulty protecting critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, calling for greater data-sharing across government and the private sector to combat hacking.

‘Connecting the Dots’

“We still have trouble connecting the dots” between the government and the private sector,” Nielsen said. While there is enough data to block cyber attacks, “we aren’t sharing fast enough or deeply enough.”

Her remarks come as the government works to combat cyber-threats on banks, energy and water infrastructure, as well as ensure the integrity of the 2018 elections. She reiterated a warning to other nations that the U.S. would expose and punish countries tied to efforts to disrupt American elections.

“We must act now,” Nielsen said. “That starts with calling out the offenders whether it’s North Korea or Russians. We are identifying countries” with these capabilities, she added.

An analysis released in March by the FBI and Homeland Security said that hackers are conducting a broad assault on the U.S. electric grid, water processing plants, air transportation facilities and other targets in rolling attacks on some of the country’s most sensitive infrastructure.

In late March, at least half a dozen pipeline operators shut down their third-party electronic communications due to a cyberattack.

Nielsen said the U.S. is establishing a national management center to help businesses and the government collaborate to protect infrastructure.

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