The Russian government "directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions," the US Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said on Friday, an accusation that gives formal recognition to a claim previously voiced through unnamed sources.
In late July, The New York Times reported that federal officials briefed on the views of American intelligence agencies had "high confidence" that the Russian government was behind the theft of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee.
At the time, the motivation for the online attacks remained undeclared. Intelligence officials were not ready to attribute a specific motive to the attacks, though routine espionage and an effort to influence the US election were floated as possibilities.
The DHS/DNI statement takes a more definitive position, directly accusing Russia of trying to interfere with the US election process. Pointing to the disclosures of documents on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks, and by online identity Guccifer 2.0, the two US agencies assert that "the Russians" have used similar methods of disinformation and incitement in Europe and Eurasia to influence public opinion.
"We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities," the DHS and DNI said.
Asked by The Register to provide further information about how the DHS reached this conclusion, DHS spokesperson Scott McConnell declined to elaborate, referring back to the issued statement.
The DHS and DNI caution that they are not now in a position to attribute attacks directed at election-related systems to the Russian government, despite the agencies' claim that most of those attacks have come from servers operated by a Russian company.
The DHS in August held a call with state election officials in which the agency offered assistance in securing election systems and announced plans to convene a Voting Infrastructure Cybersecurity Action Campaign to promote security and raise awareness of risks.
Asked about steps the DHS intends to take to mitigate this threat, McConnell pointed to the agency's September 16 statement by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing confidence in the US election system.
"We have confidence in the overall integrity of our electoral systems," said Johnson. "It is diverse, subject to local control, and has many checks and balances built in." ®