Russia’s war in Ukraine has done little to dampen its desire to interfere in the upcoming 2024 election and sow discord in the United States, two of the top US intelligence officials said on Tuesday.

National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, seated alongside FBI Director Chris Wray at a New York conference, told an audience that Russia still has the bandwidth, despite its draining, two yearlong war in Ukraine, to meddle in the United States’ presidential election.

“This is an important year for them,” said Nakasone, who is also the commander of US Cyber Command. “They are looking at this [US election] and I would anticipate, with the challenge that they have in Ukraine, this is obviously where they want make an impact.”

Wray agreed, adding: “If anything, you could make the argument that their focus on Ukraine has increased their desire to focus on trying to shape what we [the US] look like and how we think about issues because US policy matters deeply to their utterly unprovoked and outrageous invasion of Ukraine.”

The “stars align” for Russia in terms of its efforts to both succeed militarily in Ukraine and carry out interference or influence operations in the US, Wray said.

Earlier Tuesday, a senior Justice Department cyber official argued that Russian security services’ focus on Ukraine has benefitted the US.

“All the [Russian] intelligence services that we investigate on a daily basis for activity targeting United States are now devoting time and attention to Ukraine for obvious reasons,” Sean Newell, who heads the department’s National Security Cyber Section, told CNN.

But Russian intelligence continues to look at how it can impact US government support for Ukraine, including military logistical support, Newell said.

All three men were speaking on a range of cyber-related issues at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University.

Both Nakasone and Wray expressed confidence in the ability to secure the election thanks to “exponentially more sophisticated” cooperation between the national security and cyber agencies, as well as the private sector, but acknowledged the foreign adversaries are getting better too.

“The threats are more challenging, but the defense is better,” Wray said.

Wray and Nakasone named Russia, China and Iran as the primary actors looking to interfere in American elections.

The FBI director estimated that China’s army of hackers is bigger than that of all major countries combined and 50 times the size of what he has at his disposal.

“If I took the FBI’s cyber personnel and I said: forget ransomware, forget Russia, forget Iran, do nothing but China, we would be outnumbered 50-to-1,” Wray said. “And that’s probably a conservative estimate.”

Nakasone agreed the US will never match China in terms of numbers of hackers but argued the US has a qualitative edge.

Quantity “is not where our advantage is, our advantage is qualitatively,” Nakasone said. “This is the partnerships that we have, this is the insights that we get from our incredible US intelligence community, this is the work that we do with academia, this is the workforce that we have.”

Last month the Senate confirmed the next head of the NSA and Cyber Command, meaning Nakasone is due to step down soon after spending almost six years helping guide the country through its most tumultuous period to date when it comes to defending against the cyber activities of foreign adversaries.

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