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Washington Lacks Consensus on Russian Hacking

  • Michael Bowman

Washington continues to speak with a cacophony of voices on Russian meddling in last month’s U.S. presidential election, displaying a lack of consensus during the ongoing presidential transition period that could impact how America ultimately responds to the cyberattacks.

Reaction continued one week after President-elect Donald Trump publicly disputed U.S. intelligence assessments of Russia’s cyber activities, something the current White House occupant indicated he finds perplexing.

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 16, 2016. Obama admonished naysayers to "pay attention to what our intelligence agencies have to say."
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 16, 2016. Obama admonished naysayers to "pay attention to what our intelligence agencies have to say."

“Unless the American people genuinely think that the professionals in the CIA, the FBI, our entire intelligence infrastructure, many of whom by the way served in previous administrations and who are Republicans, are less trustworthy than the Russians, then people should pay attention to what our intelligence agencies have to say,” President Barack Obama said at a news conference Friday.

Some advising Trump said the case against Russia is not cut-and-dry.

“The Chinese are good. And one of the things you do in cyber is try to look like somebody else,” said former CIA director James Woolsey on ABC’s This Week program. “To have your hacking look like somebody else’s hacking.”

FILE - A man is seen walking across the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in a 2008 photo). Democrats say Trump will have to rely on intelligence agencies when he becomes commander-in-chief.
FILE - A man is seen walking across the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in a 2008 photo). Democrats say Trump will have to rely on intelligence agencies when he becomes commander-in-chief.

Plausible doubts or cover for Moscow?

But what the Trump camp sees as plausible doubts about the hacking attacks strikes others as providing cover for Moscow.

“For the president-elect to continue to give the Russians deniability is deeply damaging to the country,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, also on This Week.

Democrats note that Trump will have to rely on intelligence agencies when he becomes commander-in-chief.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, Dec. 13, 2016. Trump has publicly disputed U.S. intelligence assessments of Russia’s cyber activities.
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, Dec. 13, 2016. Trump has publicly disputed U.S. intelligence assessments of Russia’s cyber activities.

“He is doing damage to himself and to his ability to lead the country when he becomes president. We are going to have a national security crisis at some point,” Schiff said.

But some Republican lawmakers complain the Obama administration has pointed the finger at Russia while providing no proof.

“I think Putin is evil, I think the Russians are guilty of incredibly evil hacking around the world,” Republican Congressman Peter King of New York said on This Week. “If they have evidence, show it. They have not shown it yet.”

“We will provide evidence that we can safely provide that does not compromise sources and methods,” Obama said Friday. “But I will be honest with you, when you are talking about cyber security, a lot of it is classified.”

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