- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Russian hackers blamed with pilfering Democratic Party emails committed espionage on par with the U.S. intelligence community’s own activities, but crossed a line by weaponizing what they stole, former CIA chief Michael Hayden said Tuesday.

In the wake of the Obama administration formally accusing Moscow of using cyberattacks to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, Mr. Hayden, a retired Air Force general and former National Security Agency director, indicated American spies acted similarly on his watch.

“I have to admit my definition of what the Russians did is, unfortunately, honorable state espionage,” Mr. Hayden said during an interview at the Heritage Foundation think-tank in Washington, D.C., The Hill reported.

The retired four-star general was weighing in on the Democratic National Committee breach that resulted in the compromise of thousands of internal party emails when he compared the alleged Kremlin operation to the U.S. government’s own endeavors.

“A foreign intelligence service getting the internal emails of a major political party in a major foreign adversary? Game on,” he said. “That’s what we do. By the way, I would not want to be in an American court of law and be forced to deny that I never did anything like that as director of the NSA.”

A breach like the one suffered by the DNC can show allow a hostile actor to see “how much of those platform positions the potential president-elect believes in personally, or doesn’t,” Mr. Hayden said.

That “is good spy stuff, that’s stuff we go for all the time,” he added.

Mr. Hayden said the Russian hackers “went beyond espionage” when it used stolen emails to interfere with the U.S. election instead of solely for intelligence.

According to Mr. Hayden, “once they got that information, they weaponized it.”

“In our terminology, that has now moved from an espionage activity to a covert or not very covert influence operation,” he said.

After months of all but blaming Russia, the Obama administration recently made the rare maneuver of formally accusing Moscow with being responsible for recent hacks and leaks suffered by the Democratic Party in the lead-up to next month’s presidential election.

In an Oct. 7 statement, the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence’s Office said they were “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.”

“Do not drop this in the cyber problem box. Drop this in the Russia problem box. Do not treat this by its means, treat it by its actor,” Mr. Hayden said at Tuesday’s event, according to The Hill.

“By the way, that Russia problem box — we’re going to need a bigger box,” he said.

Mr. Putin last week told reporters that hacking the U.S. wasn’t in Russia’s interests, and accused Washington of using the cyberattacks to manipulate public opinion.

Mr. Hayden, 71, manned the helm of the NSA under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before serving as director of the CIA from 2006 through the start of the Obama administration.

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