President Trump’s top cybersecurity advisor has defended the former’s decision to discuss forging an “impenetrable” cybersecurity unit with his Russian counterpart last week, but said Washington and Moscow must come to an understanding before pursuing any sort of partnership.
“President Trump, I believe, is right in his continued assertion that even with countries with whom we have friction or disagreements, we have a responsibility on behalf of the American people to continue to have conversations to the extent that they can yield a positive result,” White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert told reporters abroad Air Force One on Friday.
Before forging a partnership, however, the U.S. and Russia must “have a conversation about the rules of the road in cyberspace, norms and expectations,” Mr. Bossert said.
“I’d like those same rules, norms and expectations to be part of our conversation as we discuss any potential future dialogue with the Russians in cybersecurity,” Mr. Bossert added, according to the White House’s transcription.
Mr. Bossert’s comments came in response to questions concerning Mr. Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week and his subsequent Twitter recap.
“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” Mr. Trump tweeted early Sunday, raising concerns from Democrats and Republicans alike given Russia’s involvement in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
Mr. Trump clarified his stance several hours later, tweeting: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t.”
“I think the president was clear in saying that the conversation was raised and the idea was suggested, and that he was open to it,” Mr. Bossert said Friday.
“The distinction I made was that a partnership suggests that you’ve reached a place where you believe that you have a trusted relationship and you’ve come to some common agreement on ideals and goals and behaviors,” he added. “I don’t believe that the United States and Russia have come to that point yet in cyberspace. And until we do, we wouldn’t have the conversation about partnership. But we had to have a dialogue, and that’s where we’ll start.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian hackers penetrated political targets affiliated with Mr. Trump’s opponent during last year’s race as part of a broader bid to boost his presidential campaign. The Russian government, Mr. Putin included, have adamantly denied involvement.
Seven Democratic members of the House, meanwhile, signed on to a bill introduced Wednesday prohibiting prohibit the use of federal funds to “establish, support, or otherwise promote a joint cybersecurity initiative with Russia.”
“Frankly, I am appalled that this legislation is necessary,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, the sponsor of the No Cyber Cooperation with Russia Act.
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