The Obama administration is asking the CIA to prepare possible retaliation scenarios against the Russian government in response to recent hacks surrounding the US presidential election.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) October 14, 2016
According to NBC News, sources say the agency has been tasked with preparing a “clandestine” and wide-ranged cyber operation aimed at embarrassing Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Kremlin leaders.
“The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation,” the report states.
Given the unprecedented nature of the operation, the White House – if it chooses to proceed – is reportedly aiming to match the severity of alleged Russian hacking.
An attack on the Russian power grid, for example, would be vastly disproportionate and set a dangerous precedent – opening the US up to a similar attack. Therefore, an operation designed to discredit Putin in the eyes of the Russian public is a more likely scenario.
“While the National Security Agency is the center for American digital spying, the CIA is the lead agency for covert action and has its own cyber capabilities. It sometimes brings in the NSA and the Pentagon to help…” the article continues.
One former intelligence officer alleged that a large cache of documents exposing the “unsavory tactics” of Putin has been gathered while retired Admiral James Stavridis stated that attacks could be taken against Russia’s ability to censor online content concerning “the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.”
Whether or not such an operation will be carried out remains to be seen given the administration’s history of abandoning covert action against Russia, former CIA officers claimed.
“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”
Expressing similar doubts, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell argued that it was unlikely the US would attack Russian networks.
“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” Morell said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”
The release of the NBC News story also raises questions on whether the report was leaked intentionally by CIA or intelligence community members in support of overt, as opposed to covert, action against the Kremlin.
The Obama administration last Friday officially blamed Russia for political hacks involving the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
Analysis from Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer