Remember the right-wing conspiracy theory that there was a stand down order in Benghazi! That FOX News myth has been entirely discredited despite Hollywood fiction like 13 Hours.
But it is now increasingly fair to ask whether there is at least an implied “stand down order” from the Trump White House to the intelligence agencies to not take more aggressive actions to thwart Russia’s ongoing cyber warfare against the U.S. and to protect our elections.
Last week at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Cia Director Mike Pompeo, and National Security Director Admiral Mike Rogers on whether they had received specific direction from President Trump to blunt future Russian interference efforts. The officials indicated they had not received a specific direction of the sort from the president. Live coverage: FBI director testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee.
This despite the fact that all the intelligence agency heads reconfirmed that they believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s assessment that there has been no decrease in Russian interference since.
“We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here,” Pompeo told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that Russia views its influence efforts against the 2016 election as successful, and warned that the 2018 midterms could become a target for Moscow.
“There should be no doubt that Russia perceived its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats said.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo asserted that the intelligence community is engaged in a “significant effort” to counter Russian and other foreign influence operations against the United States.
But Pompeo’s assertion was seriously undermined on Tuesday by the testimony of National Security Director Admiral Mike Rogers, who is also head of U.S. Cyber Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Cyber chief says Trump has given him no new authority to strike at Russian interference threat:
The head of U.S. Cyber Command warned lawmakers that penalties and other measures have not “changed the calculus or the behavior” of Russia as it seeks to interfere with this year’s midterm elections.
“We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’ ”
“If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Rogers said.
He said that President Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of the midterms, but Rogers has directed Cybercom’s National Mission Force, which protects the U.S. homeland from foreign cyberthreats, “to begin some specific work.”
He did not elaborate.
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“What I see on the Cyber Command side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here, that this is going to continue, and 2016 won’t be viewed as isolated,” he said. “This is something that will be sustained over time.”
Asked by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether he’d been authorized by either Trump or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to do more against Russian attacks, Rogers said: “No, I have not.”
When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sought clarification, Rogers said he had taken additional steps within his purview, but “I haven’t been granted any, you know, additional authorities, capacity and capability.”
A frustrated Reed said, “We’re watching [the Russians] intrude on our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognized, and we’re just essentially sitting back and waiting?’’
Rogers, who is retiring this spring, demurred. “It’s probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing,” he said.
Reed pressed on whether Russia’s malicious activities, which include hacking email accounts and manipulating social media, can be stopped at their origin.
“I don’t have the day-to-day authority to do that,” Rogers said.
Aaron Blake and Ellen Nakishima analyze at the Washington Post, NSA director Mike Rogers’s remarkable comments about Trump’s Russia efforts — or lack thereof:
For months, it’s been acknowledged — often quietly — that the Trump administration isn’t doing much to deter further Russian interference in U.S. elections. The Washington Post reported extensively in December about how President Trump doesn’t even like to talk about Russian interference — much less act to prevent it — and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders struggled last week to name concrete steps he had taken.
But we may have just seen our most high-profile admission yet that the U.S. government is asleep at the wheel — from the government itself.
Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, made some pretty blunt statements Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rogers acknowledged that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably believes he’s paid “little price” for the interference and thus hasn’t stopped. He also said flatly that Trump has not granted him any new authorities to strike at Russian cyber-operations.
Rogers’s statements were delivered rather plainly, but it became clear as the hearing progressed that he sensed a lack of drive to prevent a repeat of 2016.
“What I see on the Cyber Command side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here, that this is going to continue, and 2016 won’t be viewed as isolated,” Rogers said. “This is something that will be sustained over time.”
He said of Russian interference: “We’re taking steps, but we’re probably not doing enough.” He said that sanctions and other measures haven’t “changed the calculus or the behavior” by Moscow. “They haven’t paid a price at least that’s sufficient to get them to change their behavior,” he added.
And in a couple of key moments, he made clear that he hasn’t been given additional authorities. After Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked Rogers whether he’d been authorized by either Trump or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to do more against Russian attacks, Rogers said, “No, I have not.” After Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sought some clarification, Rogers said he had taken extra steps within his purview, but that “I haven’t been granted any, you know, additional authorities, capacity and capability, and — no, that’s certainly true.”
The totality of his testimony suggests that not enough is being done, and that the lack of action is likely to lead to a repeat of what happened in 2016.
Exactly what Rogers might want as far as added authorities isn’t clear — and probably wouldn’t be discussed in an unclassified briefing. But even President Barack Obama, whom Trump has criticized for not doing more to combat Russian interference, authorized the planting of cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure, as The Post reported in June.
In isolation, Rogers’s comments about not being given additional authorities could be viewed as simply answering a direct question. When combined with his saying “we’re probably not doing enough” and that Putin hasn’t paid enough of a price to change his behavior, it’s clear that Rogers sees something missing from the effort to prevent a repeat: willpower.
We have a president who lacks the will or commitment to defend the United States against the ongoing cyber warfare attacks from a hostile adversary. This is an unprecedented dereliction of duty by a president, and an impeachable offense. Code Red: dereliction of duty by a ‘criminally incompetent’ commander-in-chief.