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Utah congressman sees possible Russian cyberattack on U.S. elections

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah congressman sees the possibility for Russian computer hackers to disrupt the U.S. presidential election in November.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also noted increasing hostilities against American diplomats and LDS Church missionaries, who are now volunteers, on a trip to Russia last week. Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, also traveled to Pakistan.

"We know that Russia is incredibly active with cyber attacks," he said, citing recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee and elections in Ukraine, Norway and the Netherlands.

"It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to wonder whether our own system could suffer the same type of probing."

Stewart said he doesn't think Russian hackers would try to get one presidential candidate elected over the other, but would want to create chaos and throw election results into uncertainty.

"Everything's different if you feel like the election was rigged, that there was actually foul play that took place, and we're not certain that the outcome would have been that had a cyber attack not happened," he said.

Because states run elections, there is no uniform defense against cyber attacks, Stewart said. Also, some states might not have the resources to adequately protect themselves, he said.

"It's a bit of a willy-nilly type of an effort because every state does it the way they choose to do it, and there's no overall strategy or overall firewall that I think would maybe be more effective," Stewart said.

During his three-day stay in Russia, the congressman also looked into the treatment of Americans after a Russian security guard beat up a U.S. diplomat entering the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in June. The diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries, and was flown out of the country for medical care.

Such incidents didn't happen during the Cold War, Stewart said.

"Our embassy personnel are just being hassled in completely unacceptable ways over there," he said, adding Russian police are going into their homes and frequently pulling them over in their cars.

Stewart said the Obama administration and the State Department need to put pressure on the Russian government to abide diplomatic agreements that have been place for many years.

On the day before he arrived, Stewart said, six LDS Church missionaries were briefly detained and told they had to leave the country. Russian authorities also entered the mission office with a search warrant, he said.

On Friday, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins gave the following statement: "Approximately two weeks ago, six volunteers from the Russia Samara Mission were detained by local authorities for a brief period, seeking information about the status of their visas. They were released few hours later. Three of the volunteers have been reassigned to another Russian-speaking mission outside of the country because of technicalities related to their visas."

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law last month aimed at combatting terrorism but that also restricts missionary work. Mormon missionaries in Russia are now called volunteers.

Stewart said he wasn't in Russia to deal with that issue, but noted that it shows conditions are getting worse for Americans.

"It's just becoming very difficult to work over there at all," he said.

In Pakistan, Stewart said he discussed the need for Pakistan to work with the U.S. to defeat the Taliban.

"We can't be effective in fighting them if the Pakistanis don't help from their side of border," he said.

The U.S. recently cut $300 million in military aid to Pakistan.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

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