It is becoming increasingly unclear how the US is countering Russian cyberattacks

  • Despite repeated warnings that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, it is increasingly unclear whether the U.S. can successfully counteract them.
  • Several military and intelligence officials have yet to receive directives from President Trump to combat cyberattacks.
  • The top U.S. general in Europe told lawmakers that the U.S. does not have a satisfactory understanding of Russian cyber infrastructure nor an effective approach to deal with cyberthreats.
US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of the US European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testifies on Capitol Hill before the US Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2018.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of the US European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testifies on Capitol Hill before the US Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2018.

Despite repeated warnings that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, it is becoming increasingly unclear who is leading the U.S. response to the cyberattacks, or whether America can successfully counteract them.

Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, the top U.S. general in Europe told lawmakers that the U.S. does not have a satisfactory understanding of Russian cyber infrastructure nor an effective approach to deal with cyberthreats.

"I don't believe there is an effective unification across the interagency, with the energy and the focus that we could attain," Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is also NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The general's comments came after multiple military and intelligence officials have said that they have yet to receive directives from President Donald Trump to combat the online onslaught from Russia.

Scaparrotti on Thursday also shed some light on how the Russian hackers were targeting the U.S.

"Typically, when you look at their [Russia's] disinformation, their social media, it is generally targeted at the undermining of Western values, confidence in that government, confidence in their governmental leaders, almost always subtly just hedging away at that," he said.

"Because of today's capabilities and information, where they can use multiple platforms and generate great volume, it can really undermine a nation," added Scaparrotti, who oversees an area of responsibility that includes Russia.

When asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, whether the executive branch had communicated a strategy with him he said, "with respect to our elections that's not really within my portfolio as the EUCOM commander, that is at CYBERCOM, OSD, and Joint Staff level."

"There doesn't seem to be anyone taking the lead on this and that is a cause of concern to many of us," Hirono said.

Scaparrotti is the latest military official to signal that the Trump administration has yet to give direction on how to respond to Russian cyber interference.

National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers

One week prior to Scaparrotti's testimony, U.S. Cyber Command chief Navy Admiral Mike Rogers also said he was not directed by the president to counter Russian cyberoperators.

Rogers, who is also the director of the National Security Agency, added that the U.S. has "not opted to engage" with Moscow's continued interference.

Earlier this month, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if his agency was quarterbacking efforts to respond to Russian hacking on behalf of the president. Wray responded: "Not as specifically directed by the president."

On Tuesday, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was also asked by several lawmakers what was being done to cease Moscow interference.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats answers questions during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats answers questions during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.

"We've heard testimony from a number of intelligence officials who have said that there is currently interference going on from Russia into our upcoming election cycle for 2018 and you haven't had any direction from the White House or the administration to respond to that?" Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked Coats during a Senate Armed Services Committee.

"No, I wouldn't put it in that context," Coats began. "There obviously is concern about this ongoing effort of Russians to interfere with our elections. The White House is well aware of that as we all are, and agencies have been tasked to address this."

Coats went on to say that "much of what is being done or is being examined to be done would fall under a classified area," and therefore could only be discussed in a classified hearing.