Virginia Discusses Solarwinds Hack & Emergency Covid Relief

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), appeared on ABC’S This Week with George Stephanopoulos to discuss the SolarWinds hack against the U.S. government and ongoing negations on bipartisan COVID-19 legislation to provide emergency relief to American students, families, small businesses, workers, vaccines and health care providers during this crisis.

On major cyberattack hitting the U.S. government networks:

“This attack, you mentioned Solar Winds, 18,000 customers, ubiquitous across industry and government, we have narrowed this to companies and agencies that we know the bad guys got in, but they got in and were in for a long time. So, they’re very deep. It may be ongoing. We have not discovered how we will ferret them fully out. And one of the things I think we need to realize is when you get into a supply chain of a — any product, you can go from one company into another into another and ultimately get down to some of our most important innovation tools being discovered by our adversaries. This is extraordinarily serious, and when the president of the United States tries to deflect or is not willing to call out the adversary as we make that attribution, he is not making our country safer.”

On COVID-19 relief negations:

I was with Senator Schumer last night in his office until about 11:00. I was glad to see that Senator Toomey accepted Senator Schumer’s offer on a compromise. We will preclude three of these facilities from being set up again without congressional approval, what was already the law. We did not think tying the hands of a future Fed or Treasury made any sense. And the great news is, Congress is not going to be the Grinch. We’re going to get this package done. And I’m very proud that in many ways this package only came about, George, because a bipartisan group of senators spent a month working hard, showing the American people that we can actually do things when we have such an amazing need.

“So folks who are going to run out of unemployment the day after Christmas, or potentially get kicked out of their apartment, or those long lines at the food banks, help is on the way.”

Video of Sen. Warner’s interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos can be found here. A transcript follows.

ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s get more on this from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner. Senator Warner, thanks for joining us this morning. You know, we saw President Trump downplay the attack yesterday in a tweet, saying it’s all under control, that China, not Russia, may be behind it. Any doubt it was the Russians?

SEN. MARK WARNER: I would echo what Secretary Pompeo has said and Marco Rubio has said. All indications point to Russia. Matter of fact, FireEye, one of the nation’s top cybersecurity companies who got hacked, they also indicted Russia. Thank goodness FireEye came forward, because if they had not come forward, we might not have still been able to even discover the attack. This attack also shows when a nation state brings their best tools to the table, it’s very tough for any government agency or company for that matter to keep them out. So, I think this raises a whole host of questions of how did they get in, stay so long, how do we make sure our government agency, for example, CISA, that’s supposed to oversee cybersecurity, there’s not even a requirement that private companies or for that matter, even public agencies, have to affirmatively report that kind of attack or intrusion to CISA. We’re going to need to look at a whole new set of rules and, frankly, find ways to align with our allies to prevent this kind of activity from going forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And is it under control right now or is it still ongoing?

SEN. MARK WARNER: This attack, you mentioned Solar Winds, 18,000 customers, ubiquitous across industry and government, we have narrowed this to companies and agencies that we know the bad guys got in, but they got in and were in for a long time. So, they’re very deep. It may be ongoing. We have not discovered how we will ferret them fully out. And one of the things I think we need to realize is when you get into a supply chain of a — any product, you can go from one company into another into another and ultimately get down to some of our most important innovation tools being discovered by our adversaries. This is extraordinarily serious, and when the president of the United States tries to deflect or is not willing to call out the adversary as we make that attribution, he is not making our country safer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We know this has been going on since at least March. Are we confident our systems weren’t breached before that? And what is the goal of this operation? Is it theft and destruction of data, or is it actual intelligence collection? 

SEN. MARK WARNER: So far the good news is it appears that only the non-classified networks have been breached. There’s no indication yet at least that classified networks have been breached, number one.

Number two, the amount of information and the targeting of both — of companies shows a very, very sophisticated actor. This is classic, you know, obtaining information, critical information, potentially intellectual product. I mentioned FireEye. They stole from FireEye. They’ve revealed their red team tactics of how they would counter a cyber intrusion. So the adversary very probably, as the secretary of state said, Russia, came away with a big, big haul. And we’re still determining how extensive this attack will be. It will take us literally weeks to continue to ferret this out and then potentially months to remediate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Mitt Romney called it the modern equivalent of Russian bombers flying undetected over our entire country.

Is it an act of war? And, if so, how should we retaliate?

SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, this is — I’m not sure I agree with Senator Romney’s analogy. This is a very, very sophisticated espionage attempt to take information, key information, potentially of leak (ph) to, frankly, intimidate actual individuals in government, as well as intellectual property. But it begs the fact that we really don’t have a set of cyber norms. I sometimes think we disproportionately spend on tanks, ships and guns when we should be better protecting on cyber. And I think not only America but, frankly, our FiveEye partners, NATO, other, because there are international implications of this attack as well. We need to be very, very clear with an affirmative cyber doctrine that says you do this kind of broad-based, indiscriminate attack, you will — you will bear the consequences.

We don’t have those kind of — those norms out there. We knew back in the 20th century when there were — you crossed a line militarily, we’ll strike back. There was mutually assured destruction with nuclear weapons. This is not the level of an attack that, for example, that Russia took on Ukraine where they were literally trying to shut down systems. But this is in that gray area between espionage and an attack. And I think the only way we’re going to be able to counter it is not only better cyber hygiene, better protocols on how information must be shared if you are attacked, and then making very clear to our adversaries that if you take this kind of action, we and others will strike back.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to those who say this is exactly the kind of thing America does all the time? We attack and we — we — we conduct espionage on foreign governments and foreign systems. We do hacks.

SEN. MARK WARNER: The level of indiscriminate attack launch, as Secretary of State Pompeo said, by potentially a Russian spy agency, this is as broad and as deep as anything we’ve ever seen. And the idea that that should go unanswered would be very bad American policy and, frankly, simply invite Russians or others to continue these kind of malicious activities.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Before I let you go, is this COVID relief deal going to come together today and is it something you can live with?

SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, let’s — let’s put it like this. I was with Senator Schumer last night in his office until about 11:00. I was glad to see that Senator Toomey accepted Senator Schumer’s offer on a compromise. We will preclude three of these facilities from being set up again without congressional approval, what was already the law. We did not think tying the hands of a future Fed or Treasury made any sense. And the great news is, Congress is not going to be the Grinch. We’re going to get this package done. And I’m very proud that in many ways this package only came about, George, because a bipartisan group of senators spent a month working hard, showing the American people that we can actually do things when we have such an amazing need.

So folks who are going to run out of unemployment the day after Christmas, or potentially get kicked out of their apartment, or those long lines at the food banks, help is on the way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Warner, thanks for your time this morning. 

SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you, George.