Foreign adversaries continue their assault on the United States, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned Friday, with its digital infrastructure “literally under attack” and Russia being the “worst offender”.
Speaking at a scheduled event at the Hudson Institute, he adopted the language of former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet who, in the months ahead of the 9/11 attacks, warned that the "system was blinking red." Coats, citing daily attacks from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, said, "Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again."
Coats pointed to businesses, all levels of government, the military, academic and financial institutions, and other critical infrastructure as targets and said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are currently aware of Kremlin-linked actors searching for vulnerabilities in various sectors related to energy, aviation and manufacturing.
"All of these disparate efforts share a common purpose," he observed, "to exploit America's openness in order to undermine our long-term competitive advantage."
"We are not yet seeing the kind of electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced," he said. "However, we realize we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself." Russian attempts to stoke social and political tensions on social media platforms, Coats said, were still "aggressive," with new fake accounts continually being created by the Internet Research Agency. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted the IRA, along with thirteen Russian nationals it employed, in February.
"These actions are persistent, they're pervasive and they are meant to undermine America's democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not," Coats said. "The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it is why I believe we are at a critical point."
Coats said America’s 17 intelligence agencies are working together more closely to increase information sharing and transparency in light of these sustained attacks, but he also exhorted Americans to vigilant regarding the sources of their information.
"We need the American people to verify the credibility of the sources of information upon which they base their decisions," he said. "Whether those sources are social media reports, cable news or newspapers, it is essential that we all apply critical thinking to all sources of information."