Washington — Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday the United States needs to “go more on offense” to stop cyberattacks as the Biden administration works to protect against breaches that have hit private companies in recent months.
“We do have to go more on offense. And I think that means that when we identify cyber groups that are working in conjunction with foreign states, that we treat them as an arm of the state and that we use our cyber capability to destroy or disrupt the infrastructure they’re using to raid whatever funds they’re accumulating from these attacks,” Schiff said in an interview on “Face the Nation.” “Does that, you know, yield to greater instability? Very possibly, because we would be taking action against foreign parties.”
Cybersecurity was a key focus of President Biden’s summit last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland. It was the first meeting between the two leaders since the sweeping SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign, which was , and ransomware attacks on U.S. companies that were traced to hacking groups operating on Russian soil.
Mr. Biden told reporters following the summit that Putin knows there will be consequences if there are cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure. Mr. Biden gave the Russian president a list of 16 critical infrastructure entities that should be off-limits.
Referencing the ransomware attack that led to the shutdown of Colonial Pipeline last month, the president said he asked Putin how he would feel if there were such an attack on the pipelines from Russia’s oil fields, a comment that raised questions as to whether Mr. Biden was issuing a veiled threat to Putin about the consequences of future cyber activities.
Schiff, however, said he believes the president was ensuring Putin “understands we have tremendous cyber capabilities.”
“He was sending a message: we won’t hesitate to use them if we need to to protect our industry and to protect our government,” the California Democrat said. “And that’s an important message to send. I think a big point of the purpose of this summit was for Biden to say, ‘Here are some of my red lines and don’t expect to get a pass.'”
Schiff said hacking groups that operate in Russia, China or Iran have a “synergistic relationship” with those countries, which underscores the need for the U.S. to hold them accountable for the criminal activities of hackers working on their soil.
“We need to develop an international rule of the road where if a nation doesn’t take action against cyber groups operating on its soil, we hold that nation responsible, which means we sanction that nation, which means we use that nation’s resources to indemnify against any losses,” he said, adding it’s not credible for Putin “to suggest that even if he knew they were operating on his soil, that he was powerless to do something about it.”
Schiff also discussed the recent revelations that the Justice Department in the early years of the Trump administration secretly obtained communications data from him, Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, and Intelligence Committee staff as the department was investigating leaks of information about contacts between then-President Donald Trump’s aides and Russia.
Schiff said he learned from Apple roughly a month ago that his information had been seized by the Justice Department and has spoken with Attorney General Merrick Garland about the actions of the department under the last administration.
In addition to an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which is underway, Schiff said Garland needs to conduct a “wholesale review of all of the politicization of the department” during Mr. Trump’s four years in office.
“What happened to our committee, what happened to members of the press, that’s just a subset,” Schiff said. “The direct intervention by the president and the attorney general in specific criminal cases implicating the president, like that of Roger Stone, one of his aides whose sentence was reduced before he was pardoned, Mike Flynn, another presidential national security adviser whose case was made to completely go away — these are gross abuses of the independence of the Justice Department, and we don’t know how far they run. And our new attorney general has to find out.”