A Democratic senator said on Thursday that Russia’s cyberattacks during the presidential campaign may constitute an act of war.
“We should think about whether it is an act of war or not,” New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on cyber security.
Shaheen cited Polish civic leaders she met with last week who expressed concern over the U.S.’s response to Russia’s hacking campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that the Kremlin waged a hacking campaign against Democrats prior to the election.
“If the United States isn’t going to take any action in response to that Russian intrusion against your elections, then how can we think that the United States is going to take any action to protect us against Russia?” Shaheen says the Polish leaders asked.
“What kind of message does it send to Vladimir Putin and to the rest of the world if we don’t take action in response to Russian hacking in our elections?” she added.
One of the experts testifying at the hearing seemed to dismiss Shaheen’s war cry.
Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, who served as director of the National Security Agency under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that the U.S. should “push back overtly” but also improve defenses against cyber attacks.
“One, I do think we have to push back overtly, so the rest of the world knows that. But we also need to fix our defense. It’s wide open, and what’s been happening, people can get in and take what they want. And without any defensive architecture or framework, that’s where we are,” Alexander said.
“We ought to push back, but we also ought to fix our defense, come up with a comprehensive strategy. We can defend this country in cyberspace; we’re not doing it, and I think that’s what we need to do.”
One other senator has suggested that Russia’s hacking was an act of war. Arizona Sen. John McCain made the assertion in December.
“When you attack a country, it’s an act of war,” McCain said in an interview with a Ukrainian TV station. “And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade Russians to stop this kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.”
The Obama White House slapped a new round of sanctions against Russia over the hacks, but declined to call them an act of war.