Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein unveiled a 156-page report Thursday evening on cybersecurity operations and a strategy moving forward on foreign actors influencing U.S. elections, including notifying the American public of attacks.
The report, which was part of an effort set up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, focuses on the different types of cyberthreats and what the Justice Department and intelligence agencies are doing to counter these efforts, along with what it could be doing better.
The first chapter is dedicated to countering malign foreign influence operations, specifically when it comes to elections. Rosenstein, while announcing the report at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, said Russian interference in the 2016 election was not going to be a one-time issue. It's something that has been happening for years and will continue to get worse with the advance of technology.
"The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential campaign is just one tree in a growing forest," he said. " Focusing merely on a single election misses the point."
The announcement of the report and Rosenstein's blunt remarks on Russia and election meddling come as the White House has struggled to control its message on the subject.
After President Donald Trump met on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he seemed to accept Russia's denial of meddling in the 2016 election. Two days later, Trump appeared to say he didn't believe Russia was still targeting the U.S., which the White House later attempted to clarify.
Rosenstein made it a point to emphasize foreign meddling in American politics was not a partisan issue but rather something that should trouble everyone.
"Covert propaganda disseminated by foreign agents is fundamentally different from domestic partisan wrangling," he said. "Influence operations are a form of information warfare. Covert propaganda and disinformation are the primary weapons."
He also took aim at criticism that foreigners charged with hacking and meddling, like those targeted in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling, might never be prosecuted since they are unlikely to be extradited to the U.S. He said the charges act as deterrents and prevent suspects from traveling to some nations out of fear of extradition.
"People who thought they were safely under the protection of foreign governments when they committed crimes against America sometimes later find themselves in federal prisons," he said.
Among the revelations in the report compiled by the Justice Department's cyber digital task force:
• Officials plan to better notify victims of cyber targeting, including those hit by foreign powers. The report notes that since FBI and U.S. Attorney's offices are spread out across the nation, officials can notify individuals and companies, including technology companies, with somewhat ease. Rosenstein said "exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them."
• New criminal statutes might be needed to prosecute these crimes. The report details that the Department of Justice is "considering whether new criminal statutes" targeting foreign operations aimed at spreading misinformation and influencing public opinion might be necessary as technology evolves.
The announcement of the report came amid reports that several top cybersecurity officials within the bureau had resigned.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that more than five top cybersecurity officials have tendered their resignation and others are expected to leave in the coming days.
Among those who left or are planning to leave the bureau, according to the newspaper:
• Scott Smith, the assistant director for the FBI's cyber division. He was appointed to the position in 2016 and has worked for the bureau since 1996.
• Howard Marshall, the deputy assistant director of the cyber division and Smith's right-hand. He also started in the position in 2016 and previously served as a special agent in charge in Kentucky.
• David Resch, who oversaw all criminal and cyber investigations around the globe. He served as executive director of the criminal, cyber, response and services branch and was appointed just three months ago.
• Carl Ghattas, who served as the executive assistant director of the National Security Branch at FBI headquarters and was appointed last year.