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Outgoing Justice Dept. Chief Outlines Focus On Cyber Security

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to hear now from the man who's led the Justice Department's National Security effort. And one of his big priorities has been protecting the U.S. from hackers. John Carlin sat down with NPR's Carrie Johnson as he prepares to leave the government.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: When he took the job three years ago, John Carlin didn't expect to spend so much time on cybersecurity.

JOHN CARLIN: I would just say to any of those out there considering whether or not to try to harm the United States through cyber means, we have a message, which is we can figure out who did it and when we do, we're not afraid to impose consequences, and we will.

JOHNSON: The U.S. government has already gone after three major cyber adversaries, China, North Korea and Iran. That leaves one more, Russia. Senior members of Congress have blamed Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee and for breaking into the voter registration systems in nearly two dozen states. It's part of what lawmakers call a plot designed to undermine confidence in the American electoral system.

Carlin wouldn't say whether indictments are imminent against anyone in Russia. But he did say actions have consequences.

CARLIN: And we would take very, very seriously an attempt to undermine the integrity of our democracy.

JOHNSON: In 2014, his prosecutors indicted five members of the People's Liberation Army of China for stealing secrets from American businesses.

CARLIN: And their activities spiked at 9:00 a.m. Beijing time. This is their day job.

JOHNSON: Earlier this year, the Justice Department struck again bringing criminal charges against hackers with ties to the Iranian government. Prosecutors say the intruders attacked the websites of U.S. banks and breached computers at a dam in New York State. But two years ago, when North Korea infiltrated the systems of Sony in anger over a movie that mocked the country's leader, the FBI issued a statement of blame but no public criminal case.

Cyber, Carlin says, is an area where sometimes governments decide to retaliate in the shadows. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.