President Joe Biden is ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to provide him with an assessment of a suspected Russian hacking operation that breached multiple U.S. federal agencies and exposed glaring weaknesses in U.S. cyber-defenses, the White House said Thursday.
The move highlights how responding to the sophisticated spying operation, which has exploited software made by federal contractor SolarWinds, will shape the early days of Biden’s administration. It was not immediately clear what the intelligence review would entail, but Biden has vowed to get a full understanding of the computer intrusions and their impact.
“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so, too, we work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Moscow has denied involvement in the hacking campaign.
Biden has also tasked intelligence agencies with reviewing the extent of Russian interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Psaki said.
The moves draw a contrast with former President Donald Trump, who consistently downplayed Russian hacking operations and interference in U.S. affairs. Trump baselessly suggested China could be responsible for the hacking, but U.S. intelligence agencies have said it is “likely Russian in origin.”
A top Senate Democrat accused the Trump White House of “water[ing] down” that statement.
As president-elect, Biden suggested Russia was responsible for the hack and said that the U.S. would respond to the perpetrators at a time of its choosing. What that means in practice remains to be seen.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said at her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that it “was pretty alarming” that a private firm, FireEye, and not U.S. intelligence and security agencies had uncovered the SolarWinds breach.