The Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, is not pulling any punches when it comes to the security of The United States. And now he’s raising an alarm about the growing threat of cyberattacks. Coats says the situation is “critical” and he’s openly naming some of the worst state actors. So what is it that has him so concerned?
“The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. It is why I believe we are at a critical point,” Coats said, at his visit to the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, on Friday.
The blinking lights are, of course, metaphorical. The threat, Coats says, is not. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” he added.
“It was in the months prior to September 2001 when, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet, the system is blinking red. And here we are nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said.
Who is attacking us? The list is long, apparently, but the “worst offenders” are Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Even as President Trump meets with Putin, Coats says that Russia is the “most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”
The attacks themselves are hard for most Americans to see. The foreign agents “are penetrating our digital infrastructure and conducting a range of cyber intrusions and attacks against targets in the United States,” Coats said.
And it goes well beyond election meddling. These state-sponsored agents are hitting the federal and state governments, local governments and independent businesses.
“Coats’ comments came the same day that the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents, accusing them of engaging in a ‘sustained effort’ to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks during the 2016 election,” CNN notes.
Coats noted the indictments in his comments, Friday. “Focusing on the potential impact of these actions, on our midterm election, misses the more important point: These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. Russia actors and others are exploring vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure as well.”
“What’s serious about the Russians is their intent,” he added. “They have capabilities, but it’s their intent to undermine our basic values, undermine democracy, create wedges between us and our allies.”
Critics of The President question the timing of his meeting with Putin, but Coats sees the indictments as reason for optimism. The indictments reveal “exactly what they’re trying to do or what they’ve done through their military intelligence relative to elections.”
And under the new administration, Coats says, the U.S. is “not yet seeing the kind of electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced in 2016.”
“However, we fully realize that we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself,” he says.
Coats was asked Friday what he would say to Putin if he, instead of Trump, could sit down with him. “My message would be: We know what you’re doing, and we know you know what you’re doing and what we’re doing. If your goal is to strengthen Russia in the proper way, we can cooperate with you. But if you want to stay in this tit-for-tat, we’re going to beat you.”