Barr says Russia is to blame for SolarWinds hack; Biden’s team vows action

Politics

FILE – This June 6, 2013 file photo, shows the sign outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md.All fingers are pointing to Russia as author of the worst-ever hack of U.S. government agencies. But President Donald Trump, long wary of blaming Moscow for cyberattacks has so far been silent. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — As the U.S. government and cybersecurity experts are struggling to get their arms around the breach of Texas-based software company SolarWinds, key figures in the Trump administration publicly confirm that Russia is to blame for the massive hack, while President-elect Biden’s team warns of consequences for those responsible.

In a news conference Monday, Attorney General William Barr said he agreed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assessment that Russia was behind the hack of government agencies.

During a Q&A after the unsealing of criminal charges related to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Barr said he agreed with Pompeo’s assessment that Russia was responsible: “From the information I have, you know, I agree with Secretary Pompeo’s assessment, it certainly appears to be the Russians but I’m not going to discuss it beyond that.”

Pompeo has stated Russia is to blame for the ambitious espionage operation that infiltrated over 40 federal agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Energy and Commerce, as well as government contractors. Although some officials and experts have told Reuters it’s too soon to know for sure who is behind the breach.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday publicly confirmed that his department had been breached. Speaking to CNBC, Mnuchin acknowledged the hack but downplayed the severity of the intrusion.

“We do not see any break in into our classified systems,” he said. “Our unclassified systems did have some access. I will say that the good news is there has been no damage, nor have we seen any large amounts of information displaced.”

Mnuchin said he would not go into further detail because there were still details “we’re not yet ready to disclose.”

President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain said there would be consequences for those responsible for the hack with the incoming administration.

“Those who are responsible are going to face consequences for it,” said Klain, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It’s not just sanctions. It’s also steps and things we could do to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to repeat this sort of attack or, worse still, engage in even more dangerous attacks.”

On Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, blasted Russia.

“Russia acted with impunity,” he said. “They didn’t fear what we would be able to do from a cybercapacity. They didn’t think that our defense systems were particularly adequate. And they apparently didn’t think that we would respond in a very aggressive way.”

“I think we’ve come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia,” Romney added, urging an immediate response and calling cyberspace the “warfare of the future.”

While President Trump downplayed the impact of the hacks, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has said it compromised federal agencies as well as “critical infrastructure.” Homeland Security, the agency’s parent department, defines such infrastructure as any “vital” assets to the U.S. or its economy, a broad category that could include power plants and financial institutions.

The breach began earlier this year when hackers subverted the Texas-based software company SolarWinds and used the company as a springboard to jump deep into government and corporate networks. It wasn’t discovered until the prominent cybersecurity company FireEye determined it had been hacked.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement and Trump has raised the possibility that China might be involved.

“The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control,” Trump tweeted.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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