WASHINGTON • Only Russia's most senior officials could have authorised the data theft and disclosures that took place during the 2016 election campaign, according to three top US intelligence officials, disputing scepticism by President-elect Donald Trump that the government lacks proof in holding Russia responsible for the hacks.
In a joint statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, director of national intelligence James Clapper, undersecretary of defence for intelligence Marcel Lettre and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers said they stood by the intelligence community's Oct 7 finding that Russia interfered with US political institutions last year, reported Bloomberg.
The three officials testified yesterday at a committee hearing on foreign cyberthreats. Russia "poses a major threat" to US government, military, diplomatic, commercial and critical infrastructure networks, they said in prepared remarks.
Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the goal of the intelligence community's review of Russian hacking and any influence on the 2016 US presidential election is not intended to question the result of the November polls.
He also said the panel intends to hold a series of hearings on the issue during the coming months, reported Reuters.
There is "no escaping the fact that this committee meets today for the first time in this new Congress in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack on our democracy", he said, as reported by ABC News.
In their statement, the intelligence chiefs also said Russia had developed a "highly advanced offensive cyber programme", reported Bloomberg.
"Looking forward, Russian cyber operations will likely target the US to gather intelligence, support Russian decision-making, conduct influence operations to support Russian military and political objectives, and prepare the cyber environment for future contingencies," they said in the statement.
The hearing - called for by Mr McCain - highlights a divide between Mr Trump and some of his party's most influential foreign policy hawks in Congress.
The President-elect has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Mr McCain and other lawmakers have said Russia should be punished with stiffer sanctions.
Mr Clapper, along with Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan and Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, will brief Mr Trump today on the Russian hacks.
In a series of tweets starting late on Tuesday evening, Mr Trump called an alleged delay in the briefing "very strange" and went on to quote an interview with fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who said on a Fox News opinion show this week that "a 14-year-old" could be responsible for computer breaches of Democratic Party offices last year.
Mr Trump pushed back ahead of the hearing, saying on Twitter: "The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement with Julian Assange - wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people... to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against 'Intelligence' when in fact I am a big fan!"
Russian officials have repeatedly denied being involved in hacking attacks against the US.
The intelligence community and US Cyber Command are "hardening" internal US government systems.
Still, as of late last year, over 30 nations are developing offensive cyber attack capabilities, said the statement by the intelligence chiefs. Other countries they named as cyberthreats include China, Iran and North Korea.