Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Thursday said Congress needs to consider whether Russia’s cyber campaign during the U.S. presidential election was an act of war.
Shaheen made the statement during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday morning exploring the Pentagon’s strategy to deter and respond to malicious acts in cyberspace.
The intelligence community released an unclassified report in January concluding that the Russian government engaged in a cyber and disinformation campaign during the election to undermine American democracy and damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and had established a preference for President Trump.
“We should think about whether it is an act of war or not,” Shaheen said Thursday, referring to the election hacking.The U.S. government does not currently have a definition of what constitutes cyber warfare. A sweeping defense policy bill passed last December directs the Trump administration to spell out what actions against the U.S. in cyberspace may warrant a military response within the year.
Shaheen asked the panel of experts and former officials testifying before the committee “what kind of message” it sends to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the rest of the world — including America’s allies — if the U.S. does not respond to the election hacks.
Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, a former NSA director and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, answered that not responding to the cyberattacks would guarantee similar actions in the future, but noted that some responses could lead to escalation.
Alexander, who resigned from his post in 2014 and now leads a private cybersecurity firm, said that the government needs to figure out “what do we want to do so it doesn’t happen in 2018, so it doesn’t happen in 2020.”
The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the election interference in December and also expelled Russian diplomats from the United States. Some lawmakers have argued that the new Trump administration needs to impose further penalties on Russia for the intrusions.
Shaheen was among a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation to further sanction Russia for its election hacks and other aggressive actions in January, before Trump took office.
Trump has signaled he would like to establish warmer relations with Moscow in the wake of the election hacks, opening him up to criticism from Democratic and some Republican lawmakers.