FBI Director James Comey has asserted that the Russian government's cyber espionage capabilities pose is the most dangerous entity in the world. Citing Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Comey warned Congress to expect similar cyber campaigns in the other democratic contests across the globe.
On May 3, Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing. Queried by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers about his decision-making in 2016 and the status of ongoing FBI investigations, Comey stated in his response that Russia continues to interfere in U.S. politics, The Independent reports.
The FBI Director described Russia as the "greatest threat of any nation on Earth, given their intent and capability."
On March 20, Comey had disclosed during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating whether members of President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence to help tilt the election in their favor, according to The New York Times.
In his latest testimony, the FBI director warned that Russia would be emboldened to wage cyber espionage against both American politics and abroad.
"One of the biggest lessons learned is that Russia will do this again," Comey told the Senate committee. "Because of 2016 election, they know it worked."
It is important to clarify that neither the FBI nor the U.S. intelligence committee believes that Russia had actually tampered with the votes of the election, but had instead worked to undermine former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign through leaking stolen documents and spreading misinformation on fake social media accounts.
There have been concerns that Russia is working to influence the media narrative of the ongoing French presidential race.
On April 25, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro released evidence that a group of Russian hackers, potentially the same groups who allegedly targeted the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016, had been attempting to hack and damage the campaign of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in order to bolster the prospects of opposing candidate Marine Le Pen, Vox reports.
Le Pen has called for warmer relations between France and Russian President Vladimir Putin, similar to how Trump had discussed better cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in 2016.
During Comey's latest testimony, he was asked why he had told Congress that the FBI had potentially found new emails related to the investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server at the State Department. Comey had disclosed the new evidence in late October 2016, only to announce that they were not pertinent to the investigation the day before the election.
The FBI director explained that if he had not disclosed the emails to Congress, the omission could have potentially devastated public trust in his bureau.
"Concealment, in my view, would have been catastrophic," Comey said.
On May 2, Clinton cited both Comey's letter to Congress and the continuous leaks of stolen documents from her campaign as key reasons why she lost the election despite having had an edge in the polls.
"I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey's letter on Oct. 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off," Clinton told CNN.
During the Senate testimony, Comey said that the assertion that he had played a decisive role in influencing the election outcome made him feel "mildly nauseous."