Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday announced the creation of a cyber task force to study election interference efforts, and wants the group to issue a report by the end of June.
Sessions' announcement didn't specifically mention Russia, which is the subject of several investigations after the U.S. intelligence community released an assessment that it interfered with the 2016 presidential election. But Sessions did note that "enemy governments" are able to exploit the Internet achieve that goal.
“The Internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments,” he said in a statement. “At the Department of Justice, we take these threats seriously. That is why today I am ordering the creation of a Cyber-Digital Task Force to advise me on the most effective ways that this Department can confront these threats and keep the American people safe.”
The new Cyber-Digital Task Force will be chaired by a senior department office picked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and include members of the department’s Criminal and National Security divisions, U.S Attorneys, the Office of Legal Policy, the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the ATF, FBI, DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The task force will focus on “efforts to interfere with our elections” and “efforts to interfere with our critical infrastructure," according to a memo released by Sessions.
It will also study how terrorist and violence organization use the internet to “spread violent ideologies and to recruit followers,” as well as how computers and other digital devices are exploited “to attack American citizens and businesses.”
The announcement came just days after special counsel Robert Mueller released an indictment against 13 Russians for their effort to interfere with the election and sow division among Americas starting in 2014.
Russia will likely be the “most capable and aggressive source” of influence in forthcoming U.S. elections, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said earlier this month.
According to a lengthy statement given to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13, Coats said influence operations “especially through cyber means” will remain a threat to the U.S. to “shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations.”