The Department of Justice unveiled a new report detailing a campaign of aggressive, persistent efforts to undermine American democracy on Thursday and said it would institute new policies to inform the public about a scourge of cyberattacks by foreign governments.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the report, crafted by the Justice Department’s new Cyber-Digital Task Force, demonstrates that U.S. citizens and businesses are targeted “every day” by hackers and influence campaigns, noting that it was far more than elections being targeted.
“The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is just one tree in a growing forest,” Rosenstein said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “Focusing merely on a single election misses the point. As [Director of National Intelligence Dan] Coats made clear, ‘These actions are persistent, they are pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.’”
Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the last national election, said Justice would begin informing the public about such efforts in an attempt to combat future disinformation campaigns. He noted those attacks will “surely” happen again, but the agency hopes to have a framework to address it in the future.
“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” the deputy attorney general said. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”
The release of the report comes at the end of a whirlwind week of commentary by President Donald Trump on Russian interference. The president caused a firestorm in Helsinki earlier this week when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and cast doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign in hopes of bolstering his chances. He walked back those claims the following day after a bipartisan outcry, then appeared to let Putin off the hook once more within the next 24 hours.
Rosenstein made no mention of the president during his speech on Thursday, but he spoke about firm, diligently collected evidence that Russia and other countries had for years worked to undermine American democracy. “Intelligence assessments and criminal indictments are based on evidence. They do not reflect mere guesses,” he said.
He pointed a finger at the Kremlin, noting that Russia had targeted the U.S. for decades before the last election.
“Russian intelligence officers did not stumble on the idea of hacking American computers and posting misleading messages because they had a free afternoon,” he said. “It’s what they do every day. Not just attacking America, but other countries as well.”