— -- United States intelligence agencies for the first time today publicly accused the Russian government of recent hacking against U.S. political institutions and interfering with U.S. elections, including the disclosures of e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks.
The U.S. said it is "confident" that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails, including from U.S. political organizations," said the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence in a joint statement.
"Only Russia's senior-most officials" could have authorized these activities, given the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, according to the statement.
In July, WikiLeaks leaked nearly 20,000 emails from top Democratic National Committee officials, causing turmoil just ahead of the Democrats' political convention. Since then numerous hacks and leaks have been linked to Russia.
"These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process," said today's official U.S. statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called U.S. allegations against the Russian government of involvement in hacking attacks on US servers and organizations "nonsense," according to the Russian state news agency, Interfax.
He also blamed the U.S. for what he claimed were similar attacks against the Kremlin.
ABC News first reported last week that hackers tried to infiltrate voter registration systems in nearly half of the states across the country. In four states, foreign hackers were able to gain access to voter-related information by targeting not only government systems, but also by breaking into computers associated with private contractors hired to handle voter information.
U.S. officials today said that in most cases the recent "scanning and probing" of election-related systems originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, the U.S. said that it's not in a position to attribute these attacks to the Russian government.
The recent hacks were "consistent" with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts, said today's statement.
Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia to influence public opinion there, according to officials.
For months sources and security experts have been blaming the Russian government for the recent hacks against the U.S.
There had been back-and-forth within the government over whether to release a public statement because of concern it might escalate the situation, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.
"The President has made it clear that we will take action to protect our interests, including in cyberspace, and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing. Consistent with the practice we have adopted in the past, the public should not assume that they will necessarily know what actions have been taken or what actions we will take," according to a senior administration official.
Today's pronouncement comes a time of high tension between the U.S. and Russia. Earlier this week, the U.S. government announced that it was suspending all Syrian peace talks with Russia over frustrations with Moscow and its inability to live up to commitments to a cease-fire agreement.
Sources expected a Russian verbal response to being accused of trying to tamper with a U.S. presidential election.
This will likely become part the presidential debate itself. Democrats are likely to accuse Donald Trump of being too cozy with Putin and Trump supporters may wonder if the U.S. intelligence community is playing politics in their analysis.
-Alex Mallin contributed to this story.