President-elect Joe Biden upbraided President Donald Trump on Tuesday over his response to a massive cyberattack that’s affected numerous government agencies.
“The attackers succeeded in catching the federal government off-guard and unprepared,” Biden said at an event in Wilmington, Delaware. “The truth is this: the Trump administration failed to prioritize cybersecurity.”
Members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Bill Barr have indicated that Russia is responsible for the attack. However, the president has instead downplayed the likelihood that the Kremlin launched the attack and speculated — without presenting evidence — that instead China or someone else was behind the unprecedented attack.
Biden said based on the details that are publicly known thus far, the breach “certainly fits Russia’s long history of reckless disruptive cyber-activities.” He called on Trump to officially attribute the attack and hold those responsible for it accountable.
“This assault happened on Donald Trump's watch,” Biden said. “It is still his responsibility as president to defend American interests for the next four weeks.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Biden’s criticisms.
Officials have warned that it could take years to fully understand and address the damage wrought by the assault, which went undetected for months, on the federal government and private companies successfully targeted.
Key agencies including the Department of Energy, State Department and Department of Homeland Security have acknowledged being affected by the attack, which went unnoticed until a private cybersecurity company brought it to the attention of the National Security Agency.
Calibrating a response to the attack will be one of the first national security challenges the Biden administration will have to face next year and could set the tone for his relationship with Russia and other adversaries.
“His failure will land on my doorstep,” he said.
Biden said the Pentagon and other parts of the Trump administration need to keep his transition team in the loop about the cyberattack, which he said "they haven't been doing."
"The transition team should contact the Cyber Unified Coordination Group (UCG) for a brief on this topic," a DOD spokesperson said in a statement.
The challenge also presents one of the first opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to forge bipartisan cooperation, Biden said, a notion that the president-elect is hopeful will become a hallmark of his tenure.
“I was pleased to see leaders in both parties in Congress speak out loudly and clearly on this attack,” he said. “It is a sign that with a new administration, we can confront these threats on a bipartisan basis with a united front here at home. That should be encouraging to the American people and a warning to our adversaries.”
He also said he wants to engage the United States' allies to collectively punish the hackers responsible for the attack and to establish “what constitutes appropriate behavior in cyberspace.”