On Friday, The Washington Post published an extraordinary, comprehensive report of the Obama administration's actions in the face of mounting evidence that Russia severely affected the U.S. presidential election last year. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," one senior Obama administration official confessed.
1. The initial August 2016 intelligence report that linked Putin directly to a cyber campaign to throw off the U.S. election was intensely secretive:
The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. [The Washington Post]
2. Obama's most severe response to the hacking hinged on hidden cyber "bombs":
Obama ... approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project ... was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. [The Washington Post]
3. When eventually told about the hack, key congressional Democrats and Republicans split on how to react:
"The Dems were, 'Hey, we have to tell the public,'" recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia's aim of sapping confidence in the system. [The Washington Post]
4. The assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election dulled the administration's response:
"Our primary interest in August, September, and October was to prevent [Russia] from doing the max they could do," said a senior administration official. "We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures."
The assumption that [Hillary] Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency. [The Washington Post]
5. Russia is on the verge of getting away with everything:
In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy [...] And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences. [The Washington Post]