Trump’s NSA Director Admits US Hasn’t Done Enough to Deter Russian Hacking

“President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay.”

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA Press

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Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Administration and the US Cyber Command, warned the Senate Armed Service Committee on Tuesday that the muted US government response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections would fail to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching a simliar, future campaign.

In a response to questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rogers said “I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay here…and that therefore I can continue this activity.”

The hearing also focused on the NSA and Cyber Command’s operating authorities. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked Rogers whether he had received orders to go after the Russian meddling operation where it originated: “Have you been directed to do so given the strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?” 

“No I have not,” Rogers responded, adding that based on authority he already has, he has “directed … to begin some specific work,” but wouldn’t elaborate in a public setting. Certain overt actions by Cyber Command, a branch of the US military, could be considered an a act of cyber warfare.

“But essentially, we have not taken on the Russians yet,” Reed pressed. “We’re watching them intrude in our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated, try to achieve strategic objectives that you have recognized, and we’re just, essentially, sitting back and waiting.” 

Rogers didn’t totally agree with Reed’s characterization, but, he said, “It’s probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing.”

Under further pointed questioning—Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asked “What’s the hold up?”—Rogers defended the agency’s inaction pending further instruction. “The challenge for us is that we have this thing called ‘the law’ and legal framework that right now shapes what [the Department of Defense] can and cannot do,” Rogers explained, adding that he’d need a specific policy directive with specific authority to “punish” the Russians, as Nelson put it. 

According to Ryan Duff, a cybersecurity expert who used to work at Cyber Command, the agency may not be properly situated to do the work Nelson and Reed seemed to be asking about:

Rogers’ answers to the questions follow similar statements the he and the leaders of other US intelligence agencies made during another Senate inquiry earlier this month. From Mother Jones‘ previous reporting: 

“I can’t say I’ve been specifically directed to blunt or actually stop” Russian influence efforts, NSA Director Mike Rogers replied. Rogers added that he considers it his agency’s job to gather intelligence for policymakers rather than act on it.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, appearing eager to defend Trump, said the president has generally asked the intelligence community to address threats, adding that the CIA takes “all kinds of steps to disrupt what the Russians are trying to do.” But he did not say that Trump has specifically directed the agency to prevent Russian interference.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said he has not been “specifically directed by the president” to combat Russian meddling. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, similarly said Trump has not urged him to address Russian meddling. Nor has Trump pressed for any interagency effort to combat Russian interference, Coats conceded. “We essentially are relying on the investigations that are underway,” he said.

See Rogers’ full exchange with Warren here:

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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