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US lawmakers demand response to massive cyberattack

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US President Donald Trump, shown here with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in 2019, has been criticized for being unwilling to point the finger at Moscow over a massive cyberattack./AFP
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Dec 21, 2020 - 12:12 PM

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers on Sunday called for a “strong response” to a huge cyberattack on government agencies and criticized President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to point the finger at Russia, which has been widely blamed for the hack.

The comments — from Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers — came after Trump one day earlier downplayed the attack and undercut the assessment by his own administration that Moscow was to blame.

“Russia acts with impunity,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a frequent Trump critic, told CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying the hack was worthy of a “wartime setting.”

Calling it “extraordinarily dangerous” he said it will “have to be met with a very strong response.”

Romney spoke after Trump, in his first public comments on the attack, tweeted Saturday that he had been fully briefed “and everything is well under control.”

“Russia Russia Russia is the priority chant when anything happens,” Trump continued, suggesting without offering evidence that China “may” also be involved.

Romney said he was “disappointed” with the comment, but that it was expected, saying: “The president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia.”

But the president “is not making our country safer” with such comments, warned the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner.

Warner, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said he agreed with an earlier assessment by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “all indications point to Russia” as being behind the attack.

It was far from the first time the president has played down apparent threats from Russia, which has denied involvement in the hack.

The attackers managed to breach computer networks using enterprise management network software made by the Texas-based IT company SolarWinds.

US government agencies including the Treasury were among those reportedly hit, but it also hit targets worldwide with the list of victims still emerging, researchers have said.

Dramatic details about the extraordinarily wide attack have emerged even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office next month amid already high tensions with Moscow.

“Those who are responsible are going to face consequences for it,” Biden’s incoming chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” vowing the Democrat would “take steps as president to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to launch these kinds of attacks on our country.”

Warner said there was no indication classified networks were breached in the hack, and downplayed Romney’s wartime comparison.

Still, he stressed, to let such an attack go unanswered “would be very bad American policy and, frankly, simply invite Russians or others to continue these kind of malicious activities.”

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