The Washington Post has a detailed and self-serving account today from several Obama administration officials on the actions taken to stop alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. The overall picture it paints is pretty much what we have come to believe about the Obama administration. It was wildly incompetent because it was staffed by wildly incompetent people. Politics and moving the progressive agenda forward trumped, so to speak, national security. And its capacity for self-congratulatory self-delusion was boundless.
According to the story, the first inkling the administration had of some organized plot by the evil and godless Russkies came in August when the CIA produced ” a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.” Apparently, most of the rest of the intel community was unwilling to get behind the assessment because the “sourcing” was a third nation which no one really trusted. By then there had been the distribution of the DNC’s emails via Wikileaks. This has been blamed on the Russians but the fact of the matter is that the only source for that claim is a consulting firm hired by the DNC, a firm whose findings have been challenged by tech and intelligence experts, and the FBI was forbidden access to the DNC server.
Obama was looking for another gutsy call to make:
Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.
But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.
Does any of this sound familiar?
From the statement of sorta-facts, we go to the bizarre:
In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.
Crime of the century? When someone can show me how an operation that resulted in Trump losing the popular vote was a success, maybe I’ll consider this over-the-top hyperbole as worthy of discussion. The only “unprecedented and largely successful attack on American democracy” that has occurred started after November 8 and involved the concentrated efforts of Obama and a lot of his senior staff and cabinet officials to concoct a bullsh** story about collusion with Russia to delegitimize the current administration.
They believe that a series of warnings — including one that Obama delivered to Putin in September — prompted Moscow to abandon any plans of further aggression, such as sabotage of U.S. voting systems.
Two points here. We know, for a fact, that Obama’s flaccid “knock it off” warning did nothing. Russian hacking efforts continued at full speed until at least November 1. The second point is that they US voting system is pretty much invulnerable to “sabotage.” Most voting systems, like the poll book systems of registered voters, are not in contact with the internet. The system is fed from the bottom up and the basic document, the voter registration form, is paper. Plus federal law gives any voter the right to cast a provisional ballot if they do not appear on the poll book. The worst the Russians could do would be to cause mass inconvenience.
Why didn’t they act?
They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow’s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day.
They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.
This is the part of the story that is the most grating.
The serious actions by Russia, if Russia was the DNC hack sponsor, were over by June. The only thing of significance after that was John Podesta giving away his email password. For the record, there is nothing in polling data that indicates either Wikileaks release had any effect on the election. If Russian activity was deemed unlikely to affect the election in August, that was certainly true later in the election.
What is most insulting to one’s intelligence is that the administration is actually claiming that it was so afraid of helping Trump that it actually let the Russians continue to operate with impunity. The illogical takeaway from this is that Trump was responsible for the hacks because he had so cowed and terrified the Obama administration that they were afraid to do their duty.
It is really too bad we no longer have walls and firing squads because if this story is true a lot of people at very high levels of government should be shot, if not for treason then certainly to prevent them from reproducing.
And did I mention walls? We need one of those for this feckless crew of Washington Post reporters.
Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.