Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal pressed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to tell lawmakers what actions U.S. officials had taken to deter Russians from hacking into energy infrastructure. Perry didn’t divulge any specifics.
“Can you ensure us that the United States of America has taken dramatic action to deter such Russian attacks?” Blumenthal, a Democrat, asked Perry in a Committee on Armed Services hearing on Thursday.
Perry said the U.S. had taken actions to deter Russian hackers, but when Blumenthal pressed further, the former Texas governor said he only felt comfortable detailing specific actions in a closed setting.
“That conversation probably needs to occur in a smaller room, Senator,” Perry said.
“Senator, we’re making, I think, every effort to protect the electrical grid from those types of attacks,” Perry told Blumenthal when pressed for specifics. “I’m quite comfortable telling you we need to have this conversation in a room where we can talk classified.”
Blumenthal’s questioning comes about a week after Trump administration officials announced Russians had attempted to hack into “American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will,” The New York Times reported.
Russian cyber attacks on power plants increased in 2015, and hackers “compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017,” The Times reported.
National security officials shared screenshots that “made clear that Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down power plants,” according to The Times.
Perry told senators the U.S. was “working closely” with utilities to counter cyber security threats from Russia. Perry said the biggest problem his department has is quickly getting individuals security clearances.
“With some specific companies, we’re working even more closely with, there are some of these pieces of information that get into very sensitive areas,” Perry said. “So one of the conversations that we do need to have, Senator Blumenthal, is being able to speed up the process of which we can get individuals classified so if we need to bring them in and talk to them in a classified setting we can do that.”
Blumenthal agreed that security clearances should be addressed by the committee, but then subtly chastised Perry for not publicly detailing how federal officials were responding to Russian hacking.
“The Russians almost certainly know everything you would tell me in a closed setting. They already know it,” Blumenthal said. “The ones who don’t know it are the American people. They’re the ones who deserve to know it.”
“I would respectfully suggest that you and other leaders who are responsible in this area owe it to the American people to come in an open forum like this one and explain what we’re doing fight back against the Russians who are attacking our country everyday. Not only our Department of Defense, but also our critical grid,” Blumenthal said.