Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told a Senate panel Tuesday that the Trump administration is not doing enough to counter Russia’s attempts to meddle in future U.S. elections through the use of cyberattacks.
“Clearly, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough,” Rogers bluntly declared during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
In particular, Rogers said the administration’s decision to not immediately implement congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia sends a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin can continue to wage cyber warfare against the U.S. and other countries.
“Not just the sanctions but more broadly, my concern is, I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there’s little price to pay here, and that therefore I can continue this activity,” Rogers told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
“Everything, both as the director of NSA and what I see on the Cyber Command side, leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue and 2016 won’t be viewed as something isolated,” Rogers added. “This is something that will be sustained over time.”
Rogers, a top intelligence chief, has gone further to criticize the administration’s sanctions regime than any other top official. On Capitol Hill, Democrats have taken aim at the State Department for missing deadlines last year to issue guidance for implementation of the sanctions.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and has been critical of the administration’s sanctions regime, said Rogers’ comments were revealing.
“Why on earth would we expect them to not interfere in our elections in the fall if we take no substantive steps? That is a striking comment from the head of the NSA,” Coons told The Daily Beast.
While the Trump administration has won praise for its implementation of sanctions against Russian human-rights violators, lawmakers were enraged last month when the department announced that it would not be immediately imposing sanctions against Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, as mandated under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). That legislation passed in the House by a margin of 419 to 3, and in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 2—a tough rebuke to an administration which actively tried to weaken the legislation while it was being crafted.
A State Department spokeswoman told The Daily Beast at the time that the mere threat of sanctions was already acting as a “deterrent” against foreign investment in those Russian companies that were named in October. But Rogers and a bipartisan contingent on Capitol Hill have argued that Moscow won’t be deterred unless it faces true punishments for its election-meddling and its incursions into eastern Europe.
“The threat of sanctions is not a substitute for real sanctions that can hopefully deter behavior and change it,” Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), who introduced a House resolution calling on the administration to impose the mandatory sanctions, said in an interview on Monday.
Rogers also testified to the committee on Tuesday that neither President Donald Trump nor Defense Secretary James Mattis has not granted him explicit authority to launch counter-attacks against Russia’s hacking operations where they originate.
“They have not paid a price that is sufficient to change their behavior,” Rogers said of the Kremlin.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Beast that Rogers is “doing everything he’s authorized to do,” but “he should be authorized to do more” to prevent more cyberattacks—whether that comes from the president directly or from others in the administration.