Russia cyber attacks are 'major threat,' Congress probe hears

WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) - The top U.S. intelligence official told Congress on Thursday he was "even more resolute" in his belief that Russia staged cyber attacks on Democrats in the 2016 election campaign, despite skepticism from Republican President-elect Donald Trump about findings on Moscow's role.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said he had a very high level of confidence that Russia hacked Democratic Party institutions and operatives, as well as disseminating propaganda and fake news aimed at the Nov. 8 election.

"Our assessment now is even more resolute than it was" on Oct. 7 when the government first publicly accused Russia, Clapper told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Although Trump called himself a "big fan" of intelligence agencies, he is heading for a conflict over the issue because he has cast doubt on their assessments that Russia targeted the election. Many lawmakers from both parties are wary of Moscow and distrust Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and efforts to heal the rift between the United States and Russia.

Trump will be briefed by intelligence agency chiefs on Friday on hacks that targeted the Democratic Party in the run-up to the election surprisingly won by the New York businessman.

Look back at Trump's election night victory party:

22 PHOTOS
Donald Trump becomes president-elect of the United States
See Gallery
Donald Trump becomes president-elect of the United States

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Donald Trump supporters cheer as U.S. presidential election results are announced during a Republican watch party in Phoenix, Arizona, November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Republican presidential elect Donald Trump (L) arrives to speak during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway greet supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. look on as Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

US President-elect Donald Trump arrives at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets supporters at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Vice president-elect Mike Pence speaks to supporters at Republican president-elect Donald Trump's election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump walks on stage with his son Barron Trump, wife Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A supporter celebrates as returns come in for Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump during an election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Reince Priebus hugs Republican presidential elect Donald Trump during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani arrives on stage with his wife Judith Nathan as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump addressed supporters at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

US President-elect Donald Trump greets son Eric after speaking at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Vice president-elect Mike Pence walks on stage with his wife Karen Pence at Republican president-elect Donald Trump election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Americans went to the polls yesterday to choose between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as they go to the polls to vote for the next president of the United States.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

US President-elect Donald Trump arrives with his son Baron and wife Melania at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 8, 2016. Trump stunned America and the world Wednesday, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaks an election night party at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a repudiation of the political establishment that jolted financial markets and likely will reorder the nation's priorities and fundamentally alter America's relationship with the world.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump look on as Republican presidential elect Donald Trump speaks during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during an election night party at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump racked up victory after victory in key states Tuesday to put himself in position to threaten Hillary Clinton for the White House, with the results in three Rust-Belt states likely to determine the next U.S. president.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Attendees cheer during an election night party for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a repudiation of the political establishment that jolted financial markets and likely will reorder the nation's priorities and fundamentally alter America's relationship with the world.

(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"I don't think we've ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere in our election process than we've seen in this case," said Clapper, who leaves when Trump becomes president on Jan. 20. Clapper stopped short of declaring Russia's actions "an act of war," saying that determination was beyond the scope of his office.

Clapper did not say what made him confident that Russia was behind the cyber attacks, but that conclusion is shared by U.S. intelligence agencies such as the CIA and several private cyber security firms.

Moscow denies the hacking allegations. President Barack Obama last week ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies he said were involved in hacking U.S. political groups such as the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

TRUMP SKEPTICAL

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump cast doubt on a Russian role in the affair, writing: "(WikiLeaks founder) Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' - why was DNC so careless? Also said the Russians did not give him the info!"

However, on Thursday, Trump said in another post on Twitter that he was not against intelligence agencies or in agreement with Assange, whose organization leaked Democrats' emails.

Documents stolen from the DNC and candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta were leaked to the media before the election, embarrassing the campaign.

U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian cyber attacks were specifically aimed at helping Trump beat Clinton. Several Republicans have acknowledged the Russian hacking but have not linked it to an effort to help Trump win.

Trump and top advisers believe Democrats are trying to delegitimize his election victory by accusing Russia of helping him.

Clapper said there were multiple motives for the hacking but pointed out that "they did not change any vote tallies or anything of that sort."

Clapper, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre all testified at Thursday's hearing about cyber threats.

More than 30 nations are developing offensive cyber attack capabilities as of late 2016, Clapper said.

They described Moscow as a major threat to a wide range of U.S. interests because of its "highly-advanced offensive cyber program" and sophisticated capabilities.

An unclassified version of the intelligence community's review of Russian interference in the U.S. election will be made public early next week and will assign a motive for the attacks, Clapper said. The report was delivered to Obama on Thursday.

Related: Also see Donald trump through the years:

55 PHOTOS
Donald Trump through the years
See Gallery
Donald Trump through the years

Donald Trump with Alfred Eisenpreis, New York City Economic Development Administrator. Sketch of new 1,400 room Renovation project of Commodore Hotel.

(Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Donald Trump pauses in his apartment 5/20 after receiving the news that the Board of Estimate unanimously approved a 40-year tax abatement plan. Under the plan Trump will purchase and refurbish the Commodore Hotel, which closed into doors 5/18, from the Penn Central Transportation Corp. In return for his $10-million-dollar purchase and up to $100 million face-lifting investment, Trump will have no real estate taxes for 40 years.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Real estate developer Donald Trump announces intentions to build a $100 million dollar Regency Hotel.

(Photo by John Pedin/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump stands behind architect's model of City Hall Plaza.

(Photo by Frank Russo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Ivana Trump attend Roy Cohn's birthday party in February 1980 in New York City.

(Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

Donna Mills and Donald Trump during 1983 Annual American Image Awards at Sheraton Center in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Donald Trump attends 38th Annual Horatio Alger Awards Dinner on May 10, 1985 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Portrait of real estate mogul Donald John Trump (b.1946), smiling slightly and facing to his right, 1983. New York.

(Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

Boxing promoter Don King holds up the arms of Mike Tyson and former champion Larry Holmes during a press conference here 12/1. Looking on is Donald Trump. The fight will be held at the Trump Plaza Hotel.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Donald Trump, real estate mogul, entrepreneur, and billionare poses in the foyer of his home in August 1987 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

(Photo by Joe McNally/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump during 1988 U.S. Open - September 3, 1988 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Ivana Trump and Donald Trump during Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks Fight at Trump Plaza - June 27, 1988 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Billionaire Donald Trump and his wife Ivana arrive 04 December 1989 at a social engagement in New York.

(Photo credit should read SWERZEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Daughter Ivanka Trump during Maybelline Presents 1991 Look of the Year at Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump attends 'Hoop-La' Special Olympics Basketball Game on June 25, 1992 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump and Joan Rivers during Opening of The Rose Room in the Plaza Hotel at Plaza Hotel Rose Room in New York City, New York, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Donald Trump touches 07 April 1993 Marla Maples stomach to confirm published reports that the actress is pregnant with his child. The two arrived for Maples appearance in the Broadway musical 'The Will Rogers Follies'.

(HAI DO/AFP/Getty Images)

US business tycoon Donald Trump enters the PLaza Hotel in New York past supporters 21 December 1994. Hundreds of supporters showed up at a news conference where Trump denied a New York newspaper report that the Sultan of Brunei had bid 300 million USD to buy the Manhattan hotel.

(Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Christine Whitman during Opening of New Warner Bros. Store in Trump Plaza Casino at Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Donald Trump attends Marc Jacobs Fashion Show on April 4, 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

(Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Boxing: IBC Heavyweight Title: View of celebrity businessman Donald Trump and actor Steven Seagal seated ringside during Lennox Lewis vs Tommy Morrison fight at Boardwalk Convention Hall. Atlantic City, NJ. (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) 

New York real estate giant Donald Trump poses in his Trump Tower office on a giant letter 'T' on May 8, 1996.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Portrait of Marla Maples and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, with their daughter Tiffany, as they pose together at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1996.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Ron Delsner backstage at a KISS concert at Madison Squre Garden in New York City on July 25, 1996.

(Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Donald Trump attending Halloween party thrown by Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss at the Supper Club to kick off Fashion Week.  

(Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump open his new building at 1 Center Park West- The new Trump International Hotel and Tower.

(Photo byJames Hughes/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Donald Trump and his girlfriend Celina Midelfar watch Conchita Martinez and Amanda Coetzer 07 September at US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY.

(TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Celine Dion, husband Rene, Donald Trump & Ivanka Trump

(Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Entrepreneur Donald Trump and Rev. Al Sharpton speak at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Sharpton's National Action Network Convention April 5, 2002 in New York City. The group aims to further the development of civil rights.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss attend the Marc Bouwer/Peta Fall/Winter 2002 Collection show February 14, 2002 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City.

(Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)

Donald Trump at Madison Square Garden

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Donald Trump stands on the sidelines before the start of the AFC divisional playoffs between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans on January 10, 2004 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Temperatures have reached as low as 7 degrees in the Foxboro area.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, Visionary Business Leader award honoree, poses with his children Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka at Fashion Group International's 22nd Annual 'Night Of Stars' at Cipriani's 42nd Street October 27, 2005 in New York City.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Eric Trump and Donald Trump attend the Chicago Bulls vs New Jersey Nets game at the IZOD Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New York.

(Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

 Donald Trump delivers a speech with his son Barron after he was honored with the 2,327th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA, 16 January 2007.

(GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Portrait of former model Melania Trump and her husband, businessman Donald Trump, as they sit together at a table during the 16th annual 'Lady in Red' gala, hosted by LIFE (Leaders In Furthering Education), at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida, December 4, 2009.

(Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images)

Donald Trump sands with Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez of Venezuela prior to the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant Final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Miss Universe is an annual international beauty pageant and along with the Miss World is the most publicized beauty contest in the world. California clothing company Pacific Mills founded the contest 1952 and was acquired by Donald Trump in 1996.

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

US tycoon Donald Trump arrives to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 27, 2015.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit runs through Sunday.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump attends Golf legend Jack Nicklaus' Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Trump announed on March 18 that he has launched a presidential exploratory committee.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Businessman Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry with his children Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. Donald Trump answered questions from the media at a press conference.

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Singer Kanye West and President-elect Donald Trump speak with the press after their meetings at Trump Tower December 13, 2016 in New York.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

 Coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, which airs on all ABC News programs and platforms. On this final night of the convention, Donald Trump accepts the party's nomination for President of the United States.

(Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) 

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to an answer his wife Melania gives during an interview on NBC's "Today" show in New York, April 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters following his meeting with Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group, meeting at Trump Tower, January 9, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump has coffee during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017.Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump appear on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a U.S. Air Force Academy football jersey that was presented to him by team captain Weston Steelhammer during the presentation of the Commander-in-Chief trophy in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers the keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Days of Remembrance" ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. first lady Melania Trump, their son Barron and the Easter Bunny arrive for the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.