Ex-CIA Chief Says Obama Rejected Cyber Action Against Russia for Election Meddling

John Brennan

John Brennan / Getty Images

 

Obama instead issued veiled warning to Moscow

Despite an unprecedented Russian intelligence operation to influence the 2016 presidential election, former President Barack Obama rejected a plan to conduct retaliatory cyber action against Moscow during the campaign, according to former CIA Director John Brennan.

Brennan disclosed Saturday that Obama opposed a plan to carry out “a cyber event” against the Russians because the former president feared the action would lead to more aggressive interference by Moscow.

“There was consideration about rattling their cages with some type of cyber event,” Brennan said during remarks to a journalism conference at the University of California Berkeley.

But based on Obama’s fears, the planned cyber action was shelved in favor issuing vague warnings to Russian officials. Brennan did not elaborate on the cyber retaliation plan.

“President Obama was the ultimate decision-maker on that,” Brennan said of the lack of response.

The former CIA director defended the Obama administration’s handling of what is widely viewed as a significant counterintelligence failure during the presidential election.

After the election, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian intelligence officers.

Both the FBI and CIA are charged with the conducting counterintelligence–detecting and thwarting hostile intelligence operations. Both agencies failed to halt the Russians in 2016 either in the United States or abroad.

U.S. officials have said the targeting of U.S. and foreign elections by Russia is continuing.

President Trump in February criticized his predecessor in a Tweet for failing to act. “Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” he tweeted.

The first indications of Russian interference were spotted in late 2015 and early 2016 and the operation was mentioned in press reports in the spring of 2016. By the summer of 2016 the operations were confirmed, he said.

Obama also made clear to the CIA that he did not want the agency doing anything “in reality or in perception” that would have advanced the Russian disinformation and propaganda campaign, Brennan said.

Russian hackers had been detected navigating inside state election voter registration roll computers and other election-related networks.

“They had things that they could have done that they didn’t do,” Brennan said of the Russians.

In February, 13 Russians were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for running a St. Petersburg, Russia-based internet troll farm that carried out influence operations during the elections.

So far, no action has been taken against the Russian hackers engaged in email thefts.

Kenneth deGraffenreid, former deputy national counterintelligence executive, said Obama’s inaction was a major counterintelligence failure.

“If Brennan’s claims are true, the Obama administration’s inaction in the face of this Russian cyber aggression represents a serious counterintelligence failure that has had terrible consequences,” deGraffenreid said.

“Good counterintelligence requires an active element beyond collecting and analyzing the secret information that has been uncovered–namely countering this serious foreign intelligence threat in an effective way. The U.S. has the sophisticated tools to do this.”

“There simply is no excuse for not doing so,” he added. “Our national security depends on American leaders taking the action required.”

Full article: Ex-CIA Chief Says Obama Rejected Cyber Action Against Russia for Election Meddling (Washington Free Beacon)

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