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Report: Obama knew of Russian attempt to ‘hack’ election in 2014, but still chose to do nothing

The Obama administration knew of Russian plans to interfere in U.S. elections as early as 2014, but chose to do nothing, a new report reveals. The White House and senior-level officials in other agencies didn’t retaliate or push back against the Kremlin over fears of political backlash, the report said. (Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images)

The Obama administration knew of Russian plans to build disinformation networks that would be used to interfere in foreign elections, including in the United States, but chose not to act over fears of political ramifications, Politico reported Monday.

The report said that as early as 2014, former President Barack Obama knew of Moscow’s plans to build foreign intelligence infrastructures that would later be used to manipulate elections, but chose not to take precautions because they were “doubtful” Russian President Vladimir Putin would act — despite the early warning signals.

Differing accounts

Politico spoke with more than a dozen current and former national security officials, and each of them relayed a similar message: The Obama administration dropped the ball and should have acted sooner to prevent Russian interference.

On the other hand, Ned Price, the national security council spokesman under Obama, went on the record to dispute that account.

He told Politico: "The Obama administration was nothing but proactive in responding to Russian aggression in all of its forms.."

The crux of the matter

Despite knowledge of Russian aspirations to harm elections, the White House and senior-level officials in other agencies didn’t retaliate or push back against the Kremlin over fears of political backlash.

"The truth is, nobody wanted to piss off the Russians,” an intelligence official told Politico.

"We were kind of caught in a Catch-22," another said.

The "fever pitch"

The government's inaction against Russian thuggery reached a "fever pitch" last summer, according to Politico, when a covert CIA agent was "brutally beaten" in the streets of Moscow outside the U.S. embassy just days after emails concerning Hillary Clinton's campaign began to trickle onto the internet.

The situation was considered an emergency and retaliation plans were drawn. However, the Obama White House again chose inaction over strength, intelligence officials said.

"There was some real anger" within the intelligence community, an official said.

Plans, but no action — until it was too late

Intelligence officials drew up retaliation plans in response to election interference, but didn't act on them until after the election. One such plan included expelling Russian diplomats and closing Russian diplomatic compounds or "dachas" in Maryland and New York that were suspected of being used as covert intelligence bases.

However, Secretary of State John Kerry "refused to consider" that option, an intelligence officer said.

The national security council also pushed back against those options so hard that nothing was done for months, even after the intelligence community became aware of Russian actions in the election last summer.

It was only after the election, in December, that the State Department expelled Russian diplomats and closed the two dachas. They also announced additional sanctions on Russia for their interference in the election.

Three important questions

  1. Why were senior levels of the Obama administration, such as Secretary Kerry, so reluctant to respond to Russia's manipulation attempts, given the importance of free and fair elections in our country?
  2. Did the Obama administration retaliate after the election out of political convenience (because their candidate lost and scrutiny was gathering around Trump's campaign)?
  3. Why does the media continue to zero in on Trump knowing the Obama administration chose not to act over a threat they were well-informed of?
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