Aspen Security Forum: Nothing definitive on Russia’s role in DNC hacking |

Aspen Security Forum: Nothing definitive on Russia’s role in DNC hacking

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
James Clapper

High-ranking officials at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday shied away from saying Russia was behind the hack of Democratic National Committee emails.

“I don’t think we are quite ready yet to make a call on attribution,” James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told Jim Sciutto, chief national security correspondent for CNN. “I mean, we all know there’s just a few usual suspects out there, but in terms of the process that we try to stick to, I don’t think we’re ready to make a public call on that.”

Journalists who moderated several discussions tried, with little success, to unearth new information from security pundits.

“We are told that the federal government believes with a high degree of confidence that Russia is behind the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee that were subsequently released by Wikileaks, causing disarray at the first day of the Democratic National Convention and forcing the resignation of the DNC’s leader, Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” said Massimo Calabresi, deputy Washington bureau chief and senior correspondent for Time magazine. “What can you tell us about the U.S. government’s assessment of the theft of those emails and Russia’s possible role in it?”

“Very, very little,” responded Elissa Slotkin, acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs. “I know it is the topic de jour and I’m going to start off disappointing the crowd. … So I’m not going to be able to get into specifics. The FBI is handling it. That’s their job.”

The hacking of 20,000 DNC emails, however, “certainly fits a pattern and we have to recognize that this pattern is cyber used as a tool of state craft and we have to remain very vigilant,” said Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and director of Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, are pushing boundaries to be a global peer of the U.S., and that could play into the democratic process here, they said.

Conley, playing off the “probe with bayonets” maxim of Vladimir Lenin, said “our democratic processes are full of mush and will be pushed and will be exploited,” she said.

At another discussion, Evan Perez, justice correspondent for CNN, got right to the point and asked John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national Security, about “the issue on everybody’s mind — the hack into the DNC.”

Carlin very gamely but effectively ducked the issue. He said the U.S. government has identified Iran, North Korea, China and Russia as countries that undertake hacking.

Just like with terrorist attacks, prevention is success in cyber attacks. When prevention isn’t possible, one of the tools the government uses is identifying the country once evidence points to hacking.

“Some would call it name and shame, and that’s part of it,” he said.

He noted that the U.S. government named North Korea as an “involved” party within 28 days of the Sony Pictures hack in late 2014. The hacking group demanded that the studio pull the movie “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-un.

“We treated it as a national security event,” Carlin said. A foreign nation was attacking American’s liberties, such as freedom of speech, he said.

North Korea denies responsibility.

Russia has never been targeted by the U.S. in a name-and-shame, but it shouldn’t be assumed that will never be the case, Carlin said.

Another panelist in the discussion, Vinny Sica, vice president of defense and intelligence space ground solutions for Lockheed Martin, said he realized Perez was looking for a smoking gun in the DNC hacking. There has to be definitive evidence, he said.

“The bottom line is nothing should be assumed as safe,” Sica said.

Put on by the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum runs through Sunday.

Reporter Scott Condon contributed to this article.