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President Trump secretly authorized CIA to execute cyberattacks on China, Iran, Russia: report

'The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back'

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A Wednesday report from Yahoo News claims that President Donald Trump in 2018 authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to carry out cyberattacks against China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other countries.

The Yahoo reports cites a bevy of current and former U.S. intelligence sources.

What are the details?

According to the report, the 2018 directive reportedly resulted in at least 12 cyberattacks against the targeted countries.

"The Central Intelligence Agency has conducted a series of covert cyber operations against Iran and other targets since winning a secret victory in 2018 when President Trump signed what amounts to a sweeping authorization for such activities, according to former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter," Yahoo reports.

The authorization — otherwise known as a presidential finding — enables the CIA to have more "freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets," the outlet adds, instead of having to continuously obtain direct approval from the White House.

The CIA drafted the finding, which was promoted by the National Security Council, which allowed the agency "very specific authorities to really take the fight offensively to a handful of adversarial countries," according to a former federal official.

The outlet reported, "Another key change with the finding is it lessened the evidentiary requirements that limited the CIA's ability to conduct covert cyber operations against entities like media organizations, charities, religious institutions, or businesses believed to be working on behalf of adversaries' foreign intelligence services, as well as individuals affiliated with these organizations."

Another former official added, "Before, you would need years of signals and dozens of pages of intelligence to show that this thing is a de facto arm of the government. [Now,] as long as you can show that it vaguely looks like the charity is working on behalf of that government, then you're good."

One anonymous intelligence official told the outlet that Trump ordered the attacks because "The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back. And this was the way to do it."

The outlet said that a "current senior intelligence official" said that the Trump-era interest in offensive operations is "phenomenal." The official added that the directive are now "able to play like we should be playing in the last couple of years."

Another official, however, said that Trump "way overcorrected" with the bold move, which prompted some concerns within the agencies.

What else?

Yahoo adds that the new cyber powers may well become a "lasting legacy of the Trump administration."

"People thought, 'Hey, George W. Bush will sign this,' but he didn't," a former official told the outlet. CIA officials also reportedly also thought, "'Obama will sign it.' Then he didn't."

"Then Trump came in, and CIA thought he wouldn't sign," recalled the same former official. "But he did."

You can read the full report here.

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