U.S. Accuses Russian Government of Hacking Into Political Systems

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama in 2015 / AP

The United States officially accused Russia on Friday of directing the recent cyber attacks against political computer networks in an attempt to influence the 2016 elections.

"These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process," the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security announced in a joint statement. "We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."

The Obama administration charged that the Russian government was responsible for the high profile hack into the Democratic National Committee and subsequent breaches of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a number of Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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Intelligence officials also warned state and local election officials to remain "vigilant" in protecting their systems and told them to seek federal assistance if necessary. While roughly ten state election databases have been breached, the administration said it was not yet "in a position" to attribute the attacks to Russia.

"This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place," the officials said. "States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process."

The condemnation came as pressure from lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), mounted on the Obama administration to publicly condemn Moscow for its attempts to "sow doubt" around the election.

Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised the administration for publicly denouncing Russia.

"We should now work with our European allies who have been the victim of similar and even more malicious cyber interference by Russia to develop a concerted response that protects our institutions and deters further meddling," he said in a statement.

Russian officials have not yet commented on the accusations. President Vladimir Putin has adamantly denied involvement in the attacks.