‘This is a BIG’: U.S. Officials Alarmed By Leaked NSA Document Proving Russian Election Hack
A highly classified NSA document proving that hackers connected to Russian military intelligence penetrated the US voting systems days before the 2016 election has national security experts and former intelligence officials reeling. The NSA document adds yet another layer to the “growing scandal” involving the president and his associates.
According to the leaked document, first published by The Intercept, Russian military intelligence executed a cyber attack on the U.S. voting system, targeted at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials shortly before last November’s presidential election.
“In addition to being the strongest public indication so far that Russia interfered in the US election, the document also indicates that Russian hackers may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood,” writes The Intercept.
The NSA document adds yet another layer to the “growing scandal” involving the president and his associates and experts in the U.S. Intelligence community expressed alarm over its revelation.
The leaked report is “evidence for the public now to see yet another example of quite a coherent operation” by the Russians, said Glenn Carle, a CIA veteran and former spy. “And that is significant.”
Bob Deitz, a veteran of the NSA and CIA who worked under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush said of the document: “This is indeed a big deal.”
Claire Finkelstein, a professor and national security expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was equally alarmed: “Wow, this is huge,” he said.
The document’s findings seem to more clearly indicate an attempted Russian cyberattack on the US electoral system than past findings did, Finkelstein noted.
“We tend to associate this kind of stuff with China and North Korea,” Finkelstein said. “Technologically advanced societies like ours are often soft targets, and there is every reason to expect Russia to engage in this kind of activity.”
The US intelligence community determined in 2016 that there was ample evidence of Russian interference in the election and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved. US Intel Officials also concluded that Putin specifically chose to help candidate Donald Trump at the cost of Hillary Clinton and to cast her in an unfavorable light.
But until the NSA’s report, dated May 5, was leaked earlier Monday, Russian influence during the 2016 election was gauged to be a largely covert operation. This latest document suggests that Putin’s activities were far more overt.
According to the document, the attack was conducted by the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency. “That’s no longer just covert activities like email hacking and dissemination of fake news,” Finkelstein said. “This starts to look much more like a cyber attack, and it could certainly look like a military attack on US interests,” Finkelstein added.
The timing of the document’s publication has raised further questions, since it came to light three days before former FBI Director James Comey was set to testify before the Senate about conversations he had with Trump as part of a broader inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Comey was fired May 9 — four days after the NSA document, which Trump as president would have been briefed on, was compiled by the intelligence agency.
As noted by Business Insider, these latest developments may also point to a potential bind that top intelligence officials could find themselves in.
“What do you do if you’re serving the president, and this is information he has to know,” but it relates to a topic in which Trump’s and his associates’ ties are being examined as well, one official asked.
Law enforcement and investigative officials typically do not inform the subjects of investigations of their findings. “But in this instance, that is the chain of command,” he said.
Trump’s fuzzy relationship with Russia also adds another wrinkle to fallout after the release of the NSA document, because it raises questions about whether nations with interests that are antithetical to US interests can be considered enemy nations when the president himself has not clearly outlined them as a threat.
“As commander-in-chief of armed forces, the president identifies who constitutes a threat to the US,” Finkelstein said. “If, however, there’s a clear attack on the US of a military nature, and that includes a cyberattack like this one conducted by Russian military intelligence,” then the president’s definition of what constitutes an enemy nation may start to carry less weight, Finkelstein added.
One of the steepest threats arising from the latest revelations about a deeper penetration of US voting systems, Deitz, the NSA and CIA veteran, said, was to democracy itself.
“Democracies ultimately rest their legitimacy upon fair elections,” he said. “And if people believe that elections are rigged or otherwise corrupt, they will lose faith in them,” he said, according to the report.