Updated: March 5, 2021
U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday lambasted outgoing President Donald J. Trump for massive cybersecurity failure that exposed the country to its biggest cyber hack in decades.
“The truth is that the Trump Administration failed to prioritize cyber security,” Biden said in remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, referring to the massive cyber attack blamed on the Russians.
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He said the United States was left vulnerable by Trump’s actions, including eliminating and/or downgrading cyber coordinators at both the White House and the State Department, as well as firing his Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Biden lauded Congress for passing the coronavirus relief bill on a bipartisan basis, but added that another challenge which his administration will confront on a bipartisan basis is “the massive cybersecurity breach against U.S. companies and federal agencies.”
“There is still so much that we don’t know, including the full scope of the breach or the extent of the damage it has caused. But we know this much — this attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security,” Biden said.
He added: “It was carefully planned and orchestrated. It was carried out using sophisticated cyber tools. The attackers succeeded in catching the federal government off-guard and unprepared.
“Foreign actors have been working on this breach since at least last year, setting the landscape to compromise our systems, scraping up sensitive information from our world-class tech sector, from private businesses, and from United States government agencies. And the truth is that the Trump Administration failed to prioritize cyber security.
“From eliminating and/or downgrading cyber coordinators at both the White House and the State Department, to firing his Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, to President Trump’s irrational downplaying of the seriousness of this attack.”
Read full remarks by President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware
Before I take questions, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
This has been one of the toughest years we’ve ever faced as a nation.
The pandemic. The economic crisis. The calls for racial justice. Historic and punishing wildfires and storms.
So, this season of reflection carries a deeper meaning.
With over 320,000 lives lost to this virus, Jill and I send our prayers to all of you facing this dark winter with an empty seat at the dinner table where your loved one used to sit, talk, and laugh.
Our hearts go out to all of you who have fallen on hard times through no fault of your own, unable to sleep at night, weighed down with the worry of what tomorrow will bring for you and for your family.
We’re especially grateful to the health care workers on the frontlines — the scientists, researchers, and clinical trial participants on the frontiers of the vaccine who delivered a scientific breakthrough.
And for all of you who have a deployed family member in the military — we know from personal experience how difficult that can be especially at this time of year. Our family knows your sacrifice. And our hearts are always with you.
Throughout this year we’ve had to forego many of the favorite traditions we have as families, communities, and as a country.
For the Biden’s, we usually have 20-25 family members over for Christmas. But not this year.
Like we did over Thanksgiving, we all have to care enough for each other that we have to stay apart just a little longer.
I know it’s hard.
But we have a long way to go.
We are grateful that we got the vaccine.
And yesterday, in an effort to instill confidence in the vaccine, I had my shot administered in public. I look forward to the second shot, and I have absolute confidence in the vaccine.
But we’re short on supply.
And taking the vaccine from a vial and into the arms of millions of Americans will be the biggest operational challenge we’ve ever faced. It will take many more months for that to happen.
In the meantime, the pandemic rages on.
Experts say things will get worse notwithstanding the vaccine. We’re averaging a death rate of close to 3,000 a day. That means we will lose tens of thousands of more lives in the months to come, and the vaccine won’t be able to stop that.
So we still have to remain vigilant.
We need everyone to mask up, stay socially distant, and avoid large gatherings.
And we need to work in a bipartisan way.
That’s the only way we’ll get through this.
I applaud the bipartisan Congressional economic relief package that included funding for vaccine distribution and much needed temporary relief for workers, families, and small businesses.
In this election the American people made it clear — they want us to reach across the aisle, work together, and get something done.
I believed that to be the case from the very beginning and I’m happy to see Members of Congress heed that message from their constituents.
The leaders in both the House and the Senate in both parties deserve credit for making the hard compromises to get this done.
Like all compromises, it’s far from perfect. But it does provide vital relief at a critical time.
However, as I have said all along, this bill is just a first step — a down payment — on addressing the crisis we’re in. We have a lot more work to do.
Early next year I will put before the Congress my plans for what comes next.
We will need more help to fully distribute the vaccine.
We need more testing in order to reopen our schools.
We need more funding to help firefighters and police, many of whom are being laid off.
The same with nurses risking their lives on the frontlines.
The same for the millions of families hurting and unable to put food on the table or pay rent or a mortgage.
Congress did its job this week.
It can and must do it again next year.
But even with the changes in approach I will put in place in late January, people will still be getting sick and dying from COVID.
One thing I promise you about my leadership during this crisis, I’m going to tell it to you straight.
And here’s the simple truth.
Our darkest days in this battle against COVID are ahead of us, not behind us.
So, we need to prepare ourselves and steel our spines.
As frustrating as it is to hear it’s going to take patience and persistence and determination to beat this virus.
There will be no time to waste in taking the steps we need to turn this crisis around.
My administration will start to do its part on its first day — with masking requirements, a new strategy on testing, and accelerated production of protective gear.
And we will challenge the Congress and the American people to step up immediately as well.
As with the relief bill passed by Congress, there is another challenge which my administration will confront on a bipartisan basis — the massive cybersecurity breach against U.S. companies and federal agencies.
There is still so much that we don’t know, including the full scope of the breach or the extent of the damage it has caused.
But we know this much — this attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security.
It was carefully planned and orchestrated. It was carried out using sophisticated cyber tools.
The attackers succeeded in catching the federal government off-guard and unprepared.
Foreign actors have been working on this breach since at least last year, setting the landscape to compromise our systems, scraping up sensitive information from our world-class tech sector, from private businesses, and from United States government agencies.
And the truth is that the Trump Administration failed to prioritize cyber security.
From eliminating and/or downgrading cyber coordinators at both the White House and the State Department, to firing his Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, to President Trump’s irrational downplaying of the seriousness of this attack.
In an age when so much of our lives are conducted online, cyber attacks must be treated as a serious threat by our leadership at the highest levels.
We cannot let this go unanswered. That means making clear publicly who was responsible for this attack and taking meaningful steps to hold them to account.
Initial indications, including from Secretary Pompeo and Attorney General Barr suggest that Russia is responsible for this breach.
It certainly fits Russia’s long history of reckless and disruptive cyber activities.
But the Trump Administration needs to make an official attribution.
This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch.
It is still his responsibility as president to defend American interests for the next four weeks, but rest assured that even if he does not take this seriously, I will.
While I am disappointed by the response of President Trump, I was pleased to see leaders in both parties in Congress speak out loudly and clearly on this attack.
Again, I want to thank prominent Republicans in the Senate particularly for speaking out.
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.
In the meantime, the President’s team needs to cooperate fully to share information as it becomes available on both the impact and our response to ensure a smooth transition and to protect the American people as administrations change.
Over the next month I intend to continue focusing on building my team so that the right people
are in place on day one of my administration to take over this effort, and to prioritize cyber security across the board.
And I will consult with experts to plan for the steps that my administration will need to take in order to secure our systems, improve our cyber defenses to better withstand the future attacks
we know will come, and to impose costs on those who conduct them.
Our adversaries are highly capable.
Cyber threats are among the greatest threats to our global security in the 21st Century.
I believe we must treat them with the same seriousness of purpose that we treated the threat of other unconventional weapons.
We must work with our allies to establish clear international rules and mechanisms to enforce them and consequences for those that violate them.
I’ll close with this.
As I look at the first of what will be millions of vaccinations going into the arms of Americans after hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
At Congress finally passing an economic relief package after months and months of delay.
At a new urgency for a bipartisan approach to cybersecurity after years of a President who has refused to stand up to our adversaries and hold them to account.
I’m reminded of a quote about this season from the Jesuit Priest Alfred Delp.
He wrote, “Advent is the time for rousing.”
Delp believed that first we are shaken to our depths.
Then we’re ready for a season of hope.
As a nation, we have certainly been shaken to our depths this year.
Now it’s time to awaken, to get moving — for hope.
We’ve gotten through tough times before in this nation.
And we’ll get through these difficult times as well.
And we’ll do it by coming together by working with one another.
By being what we are at our best — the United States of America.
Certain things are beyond partisan interests.
They are national interests.
They require us to cooperate.
I’m confident we can do that.
After a year of pain and loss, it’s time to unite, to heal, to rebuild.
May God bless you all. May God protect our troops.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.
I’ll now take your questions.