Senators Fault Obama for Weak Response on Russian Meddling


(Bloomberg) -- Former President Barack Obama’s administration wasn’t “well-postured” to counter Russian meddling in the 2016 election once evidence of the interference surfaced, the Senate Intelligence Committee found in a new report.

That failure came even though intelligence was available from as far back as 2015 indicating significant Russian efforts, including several attempts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to warn the Democratic National Committee in 2015 and 2016 that “malign” actors had attempted to penetrate its network.

The 54-page document -- issued by the bipartisan leaders of the committee -- is the third installment of a planned five volumes based on research by staff who have been looking into the Russian activities since 2017.

Senators Fault Obama for Weak Response on Russian Meddling

U.S. intelligence agencies issued a public finding in October 2016 -- weeks before the election -- that Russia interfered in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Republican Donald Trump win. But Republicans, including Trump, have blamed Obama’s administration for failing to sound a clear alarm months earlier.

Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, faulted Obama’s administration in a statement Thursday.

‘Paralysis of Analysis’

“Frozen by ‘paralysis of analysis,’ hamstrung by constraints both real and perceived, Obama officials debated courses of action without truly taking one,” he said. Burr said government officials are now in a better position to identify foreign interference efforts and address vulnerabilities that Russia or hostile foreign actors may seek to exploit.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement that “there were many flaws with the U.S. response to the 2016 attack, but it’s worth noting that many of those were due to problems with our own system – problems that can and should be corrected.”

He added, though, that “a legitimate fear raised by the Obama administration – that warning the public of the Russian attack could backfire politically – is still present in our hyper-partisan environment.”

In the fall of 2016, the committee’s report recounts, the Obama administration issued several warnings to Moscow, but tempered its response over concerns about appearing to act politically on behalf of Clinton, undermining public confidence in the election and provoking additional Russian actions, according to the report.

‘Sow Discord’

Early on, the committee report found, the administration had difficulty understanding the scope of the interference.

“While it was clear to administration officials the committee interviewed that Russia was taking steps to interfere in the election, the extent of Russian activity to influence voters, sow discord in U.S. society, and undermine confidence in democratic institutions only emerged later,” according to the report.

But the report said available intelligence could have served as a warning, including when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “publicly alluded to the threat of cyberattacks against presidential campaigns during a May 2016 event.”

The committee found that Russia continued its cyber activity, including further public dissemination of stolen Democratic emails, clandestine social media-based influence operations, and penetration of states’ voting infrastructure through election day in 2016.

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