DOJ Forms Cyber Task Force To Tackle Election Interference
The Department of Justice will convene an agency-wide task force to study how adversaries may use the internet to interfere in U.S. elections and attack critical infrastructure, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday.
"The Internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists and enemy governments," Mr. Sessions said in a statement. "At the Department of Justice, we take these threats seriously. That is why today I am ordering the creation of a Cyber-Digital Task Force to advise me on the most effective ways that this Department can confront these threats and keep the American people safe."
The task force will be chaired by a senior official appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and its membership will include representatives from DOJ offices including the department's Criminal and National Security Divisions, the ATF, FBI and DEA, among others, Mr. Sessions wrote in a two-age memorandum touting its creation sent to department heads last week and released to the public Tuesday.
"Many of the most pressing cyber threats that our nation faces transcend easy categorization," Mr. Sessions wrote in Friday's memo. "These threats include: efforts to interfere with, or disable, our critical infrastructure; efforts to interfere with our elections; use of the internet to spread violent ideologies and to recruit followers; theft of corporate, governmental and private information on a mass scale; use of technology to avoid of frustrate law enforcement, or to mask criminal activity; and the mass exploitation of computers, along with the weaponizing of everyday consumer devices."
"Evaluating these threats, and formulating a strategy to combat them, should be among the task force's highest priorities," Mr. Sessions wrote.
While threats posed by the internet are already handled by agencies within the DOJ, the task force will "canvass the many ways that the Department is combatting the global cyber threat" and "identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively accomplish its mission in this vital and evolving area," according to the Justice Department.
Mr. Session's memo to department heads was issued the same day the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of using social media and other means to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
"The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general," Mr. Rosenstein said in announcing the charges Friday. "They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media networks."
U.S. officials previously assessed that social media activities attributed to Russian internet trolls occurred in tandem with offensive hacking operations that targeted 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as part of a state-sponsored interference campaign.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his country meddled in President Trump's election.
On the topic of infrastructure, a recent report published by the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace agreed that defending against cyberattacks should be a top priority for the Trump administration.
"The United States is reliant on an inadequately guarded cyberspace and should anticipate that future conflicts, online or offline, could trigger cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure," the foreign-policy think tank warned in the report last month.
Mr. Sessions has ordered the task force to provide a report describing the DOJ's current "cyber-related activities" and initial recommendations by June 30, 2018.
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