How The Obama Administration Watched The Russians Meddle In Our Election And Then Gave A “Stand Down” Order
Michael Isikoff, the guy who wouldn’t run the Monica Lewinsky story but would take dictation from Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, has teamed up with David Corn of Mother freakin Jones to write a book on the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It is titled Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump and Mother Jones is running excerpts (here | here). They are eye-opening. The takeaway one gets is that there is a lot of behind the scenes pressure on Obama and his sycophants to explain how this
bullsh** story Russian meddling was allowed to happen. And we are discovering that there are enough busses for just about anyone to be thrown under. And John Brennan is doing the tossing.
Brennan spoke with FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA, and asked them to dispatch to the CIA their experts to form a working group at Langley that would review the intelligence and figure out the full scope and nature of the Russian operation. Brennan was thinking about the lessons of the 9/11 attack. Al Qaeda had been able to pull off that operation partly because US intelligence agencies—several of which had collected bits of intelligence regarding the plotters before the attack—had not shared the material within the intelligence community. Brennan wanted a process in which NSA, FBI, and CIA experts could freely share with each other the information each agency had on the Russian operation—even the most sensitive information that tended not to be disseminated throughout the full intelligence community.
Brennan realized this was what he would later call “an exceptionally, exceptionally sensitive issue.” Here was an active counterintelligence case—already begun by the FBI—aiming at uncovering and stopping Russian covert activity in the middle of a US presidential campaign. And it included digging into whether it involved Americans in contact with Russia.
The article goes on to describe a “principals only” meetings in the NSC, i.e. meetings where only the heads of agencies and very senior White House staff were allowed to attend, meetings that had no distributed agenda and about which the attendees were not allowed to talk to anyone. These meetings were trying to decide what Russian motives were.
At this point, Obama’s top national security officials were uncertain how to respond. As they would later explain it, any steps they might take-calling out the Russians, imposing sanctions, raising alarms about the penetrations of state systems—could draw greater attention to the issue and maybe even help cause the disorder the Kremlin sought. A high‑profile U.S. government reaction, they worried, could amplify the psychological effects of the Russian attack and help Moscow achieve its end. “There was a concern if we did too much to spin this up into an Obama-Putin face-off, it would help the Russians achieve their objectives,” a participant in the principals meeting later noted. “It would create chaos, help Trump, and hurt Clinton. We had to figure out how to do this in a way so we wouldn’t create an own-goal. We had a strong sense of the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.”
A parallel concern for them was how the Obama administration could respond to the Russian attack without appearing too partisan. Obama was actively campaigning for Clinton. Would a tough and vocal reaction be seen as a White House attempt to assist Clinton and stick it to Trump? They worried that if a White House effort to counter Russian meddling came across as a political maneuver, that could compromise the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to work with state and local election officials to make sure the voting system was sound. (Was Obama too worried about being perceived as prejudicial or conniving? “Perhaps there was some overcompensation,” a top Obama aide said later.)
At this point, we can safely call bullsh** on this. The exact same constraints applied after the election. And, as we’ve seen, no one in the Obama administration, much less Brennan, had any second thoughts about launching a totally unfounded story claiming that not only had the Russians favored Trump but asserting he may have colluded with them and that they may have kept Hillary Clinton from campaigning in Wisconsin and Central Pennsylvania and cost her the election.
Why the Hell Are We Standing Down?
MARCH 9, 2018
CIA Director John Brennan was angry. On August 4, 2016, he was on the phone with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, the security service that succeeded the KGB. It was one of the regularly scheduled calls between the two men, with the main subject once more the horrific civil war in Syria. By this point, Brennan had had it with the Russian spy chief. For the past few years, Brennan’s pleas for help in defusing the Syrian crisis had gone nowhere. And after they finished discussing Syria—again with no progress—Brennan addressed two other issues, not on the official agenda.
First, Brennan raised Russia’s harassment of US diplomats—an especially sensitive matter at Langley after an undercover CIA officer had been beaten outside the US embassy in Moscow two months earlier. The continuing mistreatment of US diplomats, Brennan told Bortnikov, was “irresponsible, reckless, intolerable and needed to stop.” And, he pointedly noted, it was Bortnikov’s own FSB “that has been most responsible for this outrageous behavior.”
Then Brennan turned to an even more sensitive issue: Russia’s interference in the American election. Brennan now was aware that at least a year earlier Russian hackers had begun their cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee. We know you’re doing this, Brennan said to the Russian. He pointed out that Americans would be enraged to find out Moscow was seeking to subvert the election and that such an operation could backfire. Brennan warned Bortnikov that if Russia continued this information warfare, there would be a price to pay. He did not specify the consequences.
Bortnikov, as Brennan expected, denied Russia was doing anything to influence the election. This was, he groused, Washington yet again scapegoating Moscow. Brennan repeated his warning. Once more Bortnikov claimed there was no Russian meddling. But, he added, he would inform Russian President Vladimir Putin of Brennan’s comments.
This was the first of several warnings that the Obama administration would send to Moscow. But the question of how forcefully to respond would soon divide the White House staff, pitting the National Security Council’s top analysts for Russia and cyber issues against senior policymakers within the administration. It was a debate that would culminate that summer with a dramatic directive from President Barack Obama’s national security adviser to the NSC staffers developing aggressive proposals to strike back against the Russians: “Stand down.”