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NSA chief: U.S. warned France about Russian hack efforts

"We’re watching the Russians, we’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure," Rogers said U.S. officials told their French counterparts.

By Doug G. Ware
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NSA chief: U.S. warned France about Russian hack efforts
Adm. Michael Rogers, National Security Agency director and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The hearing covered the issue of cyber warfare in U.S. elections. Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

May 9 (UPI) -- U.S. intelligence warned French authorities in recent weeks about repeated attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government to meddle in their election, the chief of the National Security Agency told the U.S. Congress Tuesday.

NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers informed the Senate Armed Services Committee about the warnings, which he said were given before Russian hackers successfully mined and leaked communications last week from the campaign of centrist Emmanuel Macron.

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Intelligence officials say, like with the U.S. election in November, the Kremlin was attempting to sway the French vote in favor of their preferred candidate, far-right populist Marine Le Pen.

"'Look, we're watching the Russians, we're seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure, here's what we've seen, what can we do to try to assist,'" Rogers said was the message U.S. officials conveyed to the French. "We had become aware of Russian activity, we had talked to our French counterparts prior to the public announcements of the events that were publicly attributed this past weekend and gave them a heads up."

RELATED Putin urges end of 'mutual distrust' in message to Macron

Rogers testified before the committee as part of its examination into malicious cyber efforts related to the U.S. election and Russia. He did not specify when the warnings were given to France.

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The Macron campaign emails were released Friday with the intention of harming his candidacy. But the intrusion did not have the impact the hackers may have hoped. Macron easily defeated Le Pen in the French election two days later, by more than 10 million votes.

After her defeat, Putin sent a message of congratulations to Macron and called for an end of "mutual distrust" between their countries.

RELATED France probes 'massive and coordinated' Macron campaign hack

Rogers, who also serves as the head of U.S. Cyber Command, told Congress that U.S. intelligence would give other Western allies similar aid if further Russian interference is detected.

"We are doing similar things with our German counterparts, with our British counter parts, they have an upcoming election sequence," he said. "We're trying to figure out how can we learn from each other."

RELATED Putin urges end of 'mutual distrust' in message to Macron

Rogers told committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., he has seen nothing to indicate the Russians are reining in their efforts to disrupt democratic operations in foreign countries, even after they have been heavily suspected in the U.S. and French elections.

RELATED Record 4M French voters cast ballots for nobody

One problem faced by U.S. intelligence, Rogers said, was limitations with technological defenses to guard against cyberattacks.

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"I agree that the offensive side in general has the advantage over the defense, which is why the idea of deterrents are so important here," the NSA director said. "How do we shape and change opponents' behavior."

"In order to do that, we would have to have a policy followed by a strategy," McCain replied. "Do we have that now?"

"No, sir. But the new team is working on that," Rogers said. "I want to make sure we all understand that."

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