Biden Says Pentagon 'Won't Even Brief Us on Many Things' During Presidential Transition

Gina Harkins

President-elect Joe Biden blasted the Trump administration's response to a massive, months-long cyberattack that hit several government agencies, saying he sees no evidence that the situation is under control.

"The Defense Department won't even brief us on many things," Biden said Tuesday, "so I know of nothing that suggests it's under control."

Biden was referring to questions about ongoing cybersecurity threats in the wake of what's believed to be a Russian-led attack on several government agencies and private companies. He stopped short of calling the attack an act of war, but said the risks remain grave.

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"The question of the damage done remains to be determined," he said. "We have to look very closely at the nature of the breaches, how extensive they are."

Experts have said it could take months to determine exactly what systems and information hackers were able to breach. President Donald Trump downplayed the threat over the weekend, saying "everything is well under control" and suggesting China could have been responsible rather than Russia.

That was after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview the attack was "pretty clearly" carried out by Russia.

Biden's comments about the lack of Pentagon briefings reignite questions about the Defense Department's cooperation in the presidential transition. Axios reported last week that Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller suddenly halted meetings with the Biden team, "shocking officials across the Defense Department."

Miller disputed the claims in a lengthy statement Friday, saying he remained committed to a full and transparent transition.

"This is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS," the statement read.

"A senior defense official on Wednesday called Biden’s statement about the Defense Department not briefing his team “patently false."

"Since November 23rd, when the [General Services administration] approved transition activities to occur, the DOD has conducted 163 interviews and 181 requests for information, which greatly exceed what the Biden-Harris team originally requested," the official said. "The Department will continue to provide the information and meetings necessary to ensure the continuity of government. As we’ve said, meetings will begin again in early January, and in fact we’ve begun scheduling them."

Biden, whose victory was made official by the Electoral College last week, said the Trump administration has failed to prioritize cybersecurity. He vowed retaliation for the cyberattack, but declined to say what that response might entail.

"I promise you, there will be a response," Biden said, adding that he'll work with allies to establish "rules of the road" that will apply to cyber activity so wrongdoers can be held accountable when those norms are breached.

Securing the country's networks will be an "overwhelming focus" for his administration, he said.

"It may cost literally billions of dollars to secure our cyberspace. It may take a great deal to get it done," Biden said. "... I'm just going to do all that needs to be done."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from the Defense Department.

Related: Trump Says Cyberattack 'Under Control,' Plays Down Russian Role