Obama Orders 10-Year ‘Deep Dive’ into Election Hacking

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, about the administration's approach to counterterrorism campaign.

AP / Carolyn Kaster

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President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, about the administration's approach to counterterrorism campaign.

And he wants the intelligence community to deliver it before he leaves office.

The White House has requested the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to present a full review of the cyber and espionage activity aimed at United States elections, going back to 2008.

“This is something the president wants done under his watch,” Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters at the White House on Friday.

The probe will not be specifically focused on Russia. For example, experts have blamed China for election hacks in 2008 against the Obama and McCain campaigns. However, the intelligence community’s assertion that Kremlin-backed actors led hacking activities against the most recent election would be included in the review.

“This will be a deep dive,” Schultz said. But he added that the effort was “not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election” and would not call into question the election results. “This will be a challenge for the next administration.”

The announcement comes after lawmakers across party lines called for more information to be made public about Kremlin-backed activities aimed at destabilizing the United States presidential election.

On Sunday morning, John McCain, R-AZ, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, Senate Democratic Leader-elect, and Jack Reed D-RI, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services said that they would press ahead with hearings. “This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security,” they wrote in a statement.

“Congress’s national security committees have worked diligently to address the complex challenge of cybersecurity, but recent events show that more must be done.  While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.

Last week, Democrats and independents on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent a letter to the president, saying, “We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian Government and the U.S. election that should be declassified and released to the public. We are conveying specifics through classified channels.”

In a separate statement, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said, “Interference in America’s democracy and our electoral process by any outside power is unacceptable. I commend the President for undertaking a comprehensive review of meddling in the election by Russia. Similarly, I strongly believe Congress must play a proactive role in this investigation.”

And in an implicit reply to president-elect Donald Trump, who this week once again rejected the consensus IC view that Russia meddled in the election he won, Warner added, “As the incoming Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I know that one of the primary missions of the intelligence professionals in this country is to render their best professional judgment, regardless of political considerations.”

Graham has been particularly outspoken on this issue. “I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia. I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay the price,” Graham said Wednesday in a CNN interview.

In the House, Democrats pushed legislation that called for a formal probe. The effort was led by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

“We are deeply concerned by Russian efforts to undermine, interfere with and even influence the outcome of our recent election,” Schiff said in a letter.

Schultz said that the review was unrelated to Congressional pressure. “We’ve received requests from Congress for briefings on this. We’ve been briefing them on this. We’re happy to go through the process to figure out” if more material can be declassified, he said.

On Friday The Washington Post published a bombshell report stating that intelligence agencies had discovered the names of actual agents involved in the transfer of stolen emails to Wikileaks. 

On October 7, the office of the Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement underlining their view that the “Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

German intelligence agencies have also on Thursday said that they have seen increased influenced operation activity from Russian actors, possibly connected to the planned 2017 Federal Election. We see aggressive and increased cyber spying and cyber operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament and employees of democratic parties,” said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germamy’s BfV intelligence agency.

All this provides seems to suggest that the White House and the intelligence community are sitting on much more information linking Kremlin-backed actors to activities meant to destabilize the United States electoral process.

Speaking before an intelligence group on October 20, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper hinted at having more information than has come out publicly. “That’s one of the reasons we waited for as long as we did to make the statement, was to ensure that we had sufficient evidence both forensic and otherwise, to reach the conclusion we reached as articulated in the statement. I don’t think I need to say anything more about it, other than the fact the statement speaks for itself. It was mainly addressed to the American electorate, not to any foreign nation-state.”

Much evidence has already been made available to the public through private cyber companies, primarily and most importantly CrowdStrike, the company that DNC called to investigate the breach of its networks. In a June 15 blog post, CrowdStrike averred that Russian-state backed actors stole private email information related to the DNC.

The ultimate aim of those activities, whether to elect Donald Trump, or simply to test influence operation capabilities, had been mostly a matter of speculation. But Friday’s Washington Post report said that the CIA had determined that the intent of Russia’s involvement was to put Trump in the White House. The report said that senators on the intelligence committee had been briefed on the conclusion, and the evidence supporting it, and this was among the information that they wanted declassified. 

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