Foreign governments have launched numerous cyberattacks on the U.S. government and sensitive industrial sites, but Republicans say President Obama has not responded in a forceful way to years of Russian hacking.
A more assertive response might have headed off the type of hacking Russia is accused of launching during the presidential election, they say.
Russia, whose supposed cyberoffensive now is generating a Democratic Party movement that would delegitimize the incoming presidency of Donald Trump, has hacked Pentagon systems. In 2014 it penetrated computer networks at the White House and the State Department. Neither the White House nor the mainstream media reacted with any great alarm.
In one of the most extensive hacks on America, Chinese hackers invaded the massive files of the Office of Personnel Management and stole personnel data and security background checks of millions of federal workers.
In other examples, the Federal Reserve, which sets monetary policy and oversees the banking industry, detected more than 50 cyberbreaches between 2011 and 2015, and some were called espionage, Reuters reported in June, citing federal records. The IRS also has acknowledged that taxpayer files have been stolen by hackers.
Mr. Obama’s record on defeating hackers has come into focus during the transition as he orders a sweeping probe of Russia’s alleged hack on the president’s own Democratic Party.
His White House spokesman has joined Democratic politicians in issuing a blistering attack on Mr. Trump and his aides for ties to Russia, even as it was this administration that early on reached out to the Kremlin and asked for a “reset” in relations. In 2010 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped Moscow create a “Russian Silicon Valley.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest even seemingly questioned the patriotism of Trump supporters in Congress.
House intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes accused Mr. Obama of not taking Russia’s cyberthreat seriously until now, a month before he leave office, when Democratic Party politics are involved.
“Russia’s cyberattacks are no surprise to the House intelligence committee, which has been closely monitoring Russia’s belligerence for years,” Mr. Nunes said. “As I’ve said many times, the intelligence community has repeatedly failed to anticipate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s hostile actions.
“Unfortunately, the Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous intelligence committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression. It appears, however, that after eight years the administration has suddenly awoken to the threat,” said Mr. Nunes, California Republican.
CIA Director John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s former campaign adviser and White House aide, has taken the extraordinary step of having his agency add to the climate of illegitimacy Democrats are trying to wrap around the Republican president-elect.
The Washington Post reported last week that CIA briefers told senators that Mr. Putin had ordered the hacking to help elect Mr. Trump, who sporadically has praised the former KGB officer as a stronger leader than Mr. Obama.
The CIA assessment goes well beyond a statement by James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence. He told the House intelligence committee on Nov. 17 that his agency does not have good intelligence on any link between the Putin regime and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website that published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Mr. Clapper assessed Russia’s motives as a desire to “interfere” in elections in the West, as it has done in Europe. He did not say it was designed to get Mr. Trump elected.
Former CIA officer Kent Clizbe charges that Mr. Brennan has politicized the spy agency, and with the hacking brief to Congress, even more so today.
“But all the politicization of the CIA of the previous eight years is nothing compared to Brennan’s current operation — his vile use of the good name of the CIA in an attempt to invalidate our presidential election,” Mr. Clizbe said. “Brennan’s misuse of the CIA in an effort to serve his political masters is unprecedented and unforgivable. These are the actions of totalitarian dictators, using foreign security services to sully political opponents. Someone needs to stop him before it’s too late.”
Mr. Earnest, the White House press secretary, was asked Monday what the administration did to thwart Russia from hacking U.S. sites.
“Our intelligence community, our national security agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, were closely watching Russia’s malicious cyberactivity,” he said. “There was an ongoing investigation. It was being investigated. It was being closely watched in order to protect our democracy.”
Mr. Earnest unleashed a long attack on Mr. Trump, a recitation that might be unprecedented for a White House during what is supposed to be a smooth transition.
“You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyberactivity,” Mr. Earnest said. “The president-elect didn’t call it into question. He called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on. The last several weeks of the election were focused on a discussion of emails that had been hacked and leaked by the Russians. These were emails from the DNC and John Podesta — not from the RNC and Steve Bannon.”
Mr. Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive, is a senior Trump adviser headed to the White House.
Mr. Trump said in July that perhaps Russia could find the 33,000 emails deleted from Mrs. Clinton’s secret server during her tenure at the State Department. A federal judge ruled that her exclusive use of a private server for government business violated federal information laws.
Mr. Earnest also attacked Mr. Trump’s supporters in Congress.
“So what I’ve stated is not an argument but really just a presentation of objective facts about what all of you and the American public knew in advance of the election,” he said. “And, yes, this was all material that was known by Republican politicians in the Congress that endorsed the president-elect. And how they reconcile their political strategy and their patriotism is something they’re going to have to explain.”
One of those supporters is Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine Corps officer who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“How misinformed. I think this statement verifies just how out of touch and clueless this administration truly is to the demands and expectations of the public,” said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff. “There’s a reason why Democrats don’t have the House and the Senate, and have lost seats in various elections. I can tell you that Rep. Hunter was not duped by any stretch, and to question his patriotism means that he’s being questioned both as a lawmaker who loves this country and will fight for its interests and a U.S. Marine who did three tours.”
He added: “If the administration and Democrats are so worried about Russian hacking, they should have done something about it. They didn’t, but stating concerns now sure makes it one heck of an argument of convenience.”
As Mr. Obama began his second term, a number of experts said the U.S. still had not adjusted to the new world of hundreds of hackers attacking America daily.
“We are in a conflict — some would call it war,” Oracle’s security chief Mary Ann Davidson told Congress. “Let’s call it what it is. Given the diversity of potentially hostile entities building cadres of cyberwarriors probing our systems for weakness, infiltrating government networks and making similar attempts against businesses and critical industries, including our defense systems, is there any other conclusion to be reached?”
It was not until February that the White House proposed $3 billion in new funding to upgrade cyberdefenses and appoint a federal czar to oversee network protection.
When Russia hacked the White House two years ago, there did not appear any public threats against Moscow. The news media treated the story as a sign of the times: China, Russia and other adversaries are trying to hack into thousands of computer networks.
What makes the election hacking different, Democrats say, is that a foreign power was interfering in an election by targeting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman and the DNC. WikiLeaks periodically dumped huge volumes of emails, creating news stories on Clinton aides’ intolerance toward Christians and, sometimes, toward each other.
Mr. Earnest stopped short of saying that the embarrassing disclosures released by WikiLeaks were a main factor in the election’s outcome, noting that analysts have cited a number of issues, such as Mrs. Clinton’s official emails and her strategy in battleground states.