Former US President Barack Obama was informed by the CIA last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential race, a report says.
The CIA’s top-level intelligence also showed that Putin ordered the operation to damage the electoral chances of Trump’s main rival Hillary Clinton, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking during a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Hyatt hotel on October 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
The envelope, containing the information, was delivered by a courier to the White House and it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be seen by just four people: Obama and three senior aides.
Obama and his team struggled to figure out how to react as they were concerned that they would be seen as attempting to tip the scales in the presidential race, the Post reported.
The White House viewed the information as a deep national security threat once they received it, the report added.
Thus, a secret intelligence task force was created to firm up the information and come up with possible responses.
The administration left countermeasures until after the vote, but delivered stiff warnings to Moscow not to go farther, the report said.
At least four direct warnings were issued by Obama to Putin and the American spy chief to his Russian counterpart via top diplomatic channels.
They apparently had an impact, officials told the Post, adding they believe that Moscow withdrew from any possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.
"We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures," a former senior official told the Post.
According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Obama's failure to respond to Putin amounted to “choking.”
"It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked," the official told the newspaper.
After Trump's shock victory, some of the Obama administration officials strongly regretted shying from tough action.
This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by AFP)
"From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, 'Wow, did we mishandle this,” one official told the paper.
The options they had on the table included more sanctions on the Russian economy, leaking intelligence that would embarrass Putin diplomatically, and launching cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure.
Obama, however, took modest measures at the end of December, expelling 35 Russians and adding to existing sanctions.
He also authorized a plan to place cyberattack implants in the systems of critical Russian infrastructure, according to the Post.
It is not clear whether Trump has followed through with that, the Post added.
Since he started running for president, candidate Trump was a staunch supporter of improving relations with the US’ former Cold War foe.
On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey right in the middle of an investigation into Russia’s meddling of the US presidential elections, an allegation Moscow has repeatedly denied.