Russia’s involvement in last year’s White House race was no “act of war,” former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden said Tuesday, discounting claims raised across Washington amid lingering accusations over Moscow’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
“I would never use that term,” the retired four-star Air Force general told The Hill in an interview Tuesday, separating himself from a growing list of Democrats and Republicans who claim Russia committed an “act of war” by interfering in last year’s presidential election.
Instead, rather, Gen. Hayden said the Kremlin’s actions leading up to November’s election amounted to the “most successful covert influence campaign in the history of covert influence campaigns,” The Hill reported.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a January report that Russian President Vladimir Putin used cyberattacks and other tactics to influence the outcome of last year’s White House race and hinder Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning.
While federal investigators further probe those claims on Capitol Hill and FBI headquarters, a handful of prominent current and former government officials have accused Russia of waging an outright war by meddling in last year’s election.
“There’s no question there was a very serious effort made by Mr. Putin and his government, his organization, to interfere in major ways with our basic fundamental democratic processes,” former Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican, said last month. “In some quarters, that would be considered an act of war.”
“I’ve never agreed with Dick Cheney in my entire life, but when he said this was an act of war, I have to agree with the former vice president. It was an act of war,” former interim Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile agreed last month.
Weighing in this week, Gen. Hayden cautioned against decrying Russia’s alleged actions as an act of war.
“We are very sloppy with our language,” he told The Hill. “My concern is not that it’s going to lock us into an inappropriate response. My concern is it’s just another reflection of, we haven’t gotten the deeper understanding required to really operate in this domain — what constitutes normal state-to-state activity, what constitutes a crime, what constitutes espionage, what constitutes war.”
“This is not a cyber problem. It’s a Russia problem. You drop the problem in the Russia box, not the cyber box, which then gives you a whole range of things to respond to,” he added. “I’d give arms to the Ukrainians. I’d make sure we complete those deployments to the Baltics of NATO forces.”
Other members of Congress who have equated Russia’s alleged election meddling as an “act of war” include Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Lois Frankel, Florida Democrat.
The federal government currently lacks a comprehensive policy with respect to the nation’s ability to wage and response to cyberattacks, however, spurring lawmakers on the Hill last month to introduce a bipartisan measure requiring Washington to adopt formal rules for cyberwar.
Gen. Hayden directed the NSA between 1999 and 2005 before leading the CIA from 2006 to 2008.