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Putin publicly praises Russian intelligence agency implicated in massive U.S. government hack

Russia officially denies responsibility for the massive, ongoing cyber hack of U.S. government and business networks, despite growing evidence its SVR foreign intelligence service carried out the sophisticated breach. On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin left his COVID-19 bubble to speak at the 100th anniversary of the SVR's founding, and amid his general praise for Russian security services and the SVR specifically, he slipped in some laudatory words for counterintelligence operations, according to a translation shared by the Kremlin.

"I know what I'm talking about here," said Putin, a former agent of the KGB, the SVR's predecessor. "And I rate very highly the difficult professional operations that have been conducted."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that Russia is "pretty clearly" responsible for the "very significant" cyber breach, and "White House officials had drafted a statement to be released Friday accusing Moscow of carrying out the cyber intrusions in a months-long campaign, but they were blocked from doing so," The Washington Post reports, citing a senior administration official. President Trump tweeted his first comments on the cyber attack Saturday, bizarrely suggesting that maybe China was to blame.

"Trump's aversion to calling out the Kremlin for its malign activities in cyberspace and his deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin has become a hallmark of his presidency," the Post notes.

Trump "behaves so much like a paid Russian agent," says Gregory Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council. "If you look at the string of his actions and pronouncements," he added, "the only consistent interpretation that you can logically draw is that he's in their thrall." Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed. "Starting with Trump's very first meeting with Putin to today's tweets we've seen an almost unbreakable pattern of denying the obvious about Russia's misdeeds while carrying water for the Kremlin," he told the Post.