President Barack Obama has ordered US spy agencies to prepare «a full review» of alleged Russian hacking related to the 2016 presidential race and malicious cyber activity related to US elections going back to 2008. He will study the report and consider a «proportional» response to the hacks. The time appears to be well calculated - the intelligence community may come to the conclusion that Russia influenced the outcome of the presidential election just days before the president-elect takes office.
The paper is not to be made public. It will be disclosed to «a range of stakeholders». Presidential aide Lisa Monaco said the results will be only available «to a range of stakeholders to include Congress».
According to White House spokesman Eric Schultz, the review will «look at malicious cyberactivity timed to our presidential election cycle, so it will be broader than just looking at this past election». The stated goal is to examine potential hacks by all foreign actors, including Russia and China.
During the presidential race, Russia was accused by intelligence agencies of hacking intended to influence US political institutions and elections.
In early October, the Obama administration blamed the Russian government for directing a digital campaign to disrupt the US election by infiltrating the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
In December, the revelations have been made public by the Washington Post, which followed an earlier CNN report on alleged Russian interference in the election. The issue also hit the headlines, when House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer sent a letter to the president asking to brief Congress on Russia’s alleged involvement in the election campaign.
According to Politico, in addition to the Democratic pressure campaign, several Republican committee and subcommittee chairmen have promised to hold hearings on the cyberattacks. The Washington Post reported on December 8 that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) was readying his own investigation, «working closely» with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Donald Trump openly challenged the intelligence agencies by rejecting the conclusion that Russia had sought to help him by meddling in the electoral process. «These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction», the Trump transition team said in an unsigned press release.
The president-elect has repeatedly stated there is no evidence to suggest that Russia interfered with the US presidential race. He believes that the intelligence community accusations about the intervention was politically motivated. In his interview with Time magazine for Person of the Year, Trump contended he still doesn't believe Russia was responsible for any election-related hacking. «I don't believe it. I don't believe they interfered,» he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that Moscow tampered with the US election, rejecting the accusations as »utter nonsense».
There are other people who reject the allegations and, more recently, the assertion that Russia was behind a barrage of fake news stories designed to influence voters. Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer underscored the point on December 10 telling CNN that there's little evidence that Russian hacking would have affected the overall outcome of the election. «What proof does anyone have that they effected the outcome because I've heard zero», he said. «Show me what facts have actually shown that anything undermined that election».
Experts in the field believe the accusations against Moscow are groundless. Jeffrey Carr, the founder and CEO of Taia Global. Inc., and the author of Inside Cyber Warfare, says nothing confirms Russia had any relation to the hacking efforts. He believes that the methods used to investigate - tracing technical analysis of code and the utilized software - cannot identify hackers.
William Binney, the NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, also questioned the allegations of Russia’s involvement. According to him, the probability was that an insider provided the DNC data.
Motherboard magazine cited its own source saying, «We are 99.9 percent sure that Russia has nothing to do with this and even though all this speculation is more sensational in the media, the insider theory should not be dismissed». »We think it is the most plausible», the source noted.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder said that «there is no proof whatsoever» that Russian intelligence sources are responsible for hacking thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.
It should be noted that, the only country with a proven record of conducting cyber-attacks on other nations is the United States itself. American military penetrated Iraqi networks during the 2003 invasion and cooperated with Israel to plant Stuxnet to subvert the operations of Iranian nuclear centrifuges in 2009-2010.
In 2013, Russia and the US agreed on a package of measures to boost information security, including information exchange between the computer emergency response teams (CERTs), the use of the existing nuclear hotline to communicate directly in a cyber crisis and the creation of a working group on emerging threats. The process never got off the ground as the US suspended the cooperation over Ukraine.
In 2011, Russia and China submitted a proposal for an international code of conduct for information security to the United Nations. The document failed to gather sufficient support, with the US leading the opposition. An is circulating in the UN. In its turn, Washington has never launched any international initiative on cyber security. Instead, it openly threatens Russia with cyberwar.
Russia and the United States face the same threats from hacking, so they must work together to combat it. Instead of threats and unconfirmed accusations with the alleged «evidence’ kept away from public, the US could relaunch the cooperation with Russia based on the 2013 accords. With Donald Trump in office, this step could become possible.
Looks like the outgoing US administration is ready to go to any length to obstruct the expected efforts of Donald Trump to normalize the relations with Russia. It blames Moscow for everything that goes wrong. It is in a hurry to take every step possible to prevent the improvement of bilateral relations. Evidently, the review ordered by President Obama is nothing else but an attempt to pit the intelligence community against Donald Trump. The outgoing administration is sticking to old methods of making sensational accusations to hit headlines without producing supporting evidence but the sworn-in president may demand solid evidence to put the accusers into an awkward position.