By Rene Sotolongo:
Did you know that back on October 31, 2016, President Barrack Obama sent a secure “Red Phone” communique to Russian President Vladimir Putin? It was the first time in his presidency that he has used the “Red Phone” communication system. (It’s not an actual telephone; instead, it sends a secure email message between the two countries.)
The contents of that communique? According to NBC News, President Barack Obama reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that directly interfering with the U.S. election could result in an “armed conflict.”
“International law, including the law for armed conflict, applies to actions in cyberspace,” he said, adding, “We will hold Russia to those standards.”
In fact, one of Obama’s senior advisers reportedly told the president months ago that he should use the phrase “act of war” when it came to Russia’s alleged meddling in the presidential election.
But keep in mind that, to date, there is no actual conclusive evidence that proves Russia did it. There is also no proof that their intent was to influence the elections. By their own admission, the CIA and select members of Congress stated that the evidence was at best “circumstantial.”
But yet Obama goes on live national television and decrees, “Whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them.”
According to Obama, he confronted Putin in September at the G20 conference, telling the former KGB chief to “cut it out.” But what is important to remember here is that this “alleged” confrontation occurred a full month before the U.S. publicly pointed the finger at Russia. In short, based on reports, Obama and his administration knew about the alleged hacking for months prior to the election.
So why is it that now, only after the elections and Hillary Clinton’s loss, has the Russian hacking become an issue?
In fact, Obama strongly defended his administration’s response, including his refusal before the voting to ascribe motive or reason to the “jacking.” He also failed to discuss what effect it might have had.
But now, after the fact—and after the election loss—Obama goes on national TV to poke the “Russian” bear with a stick.
Obama also did not call out Putin, but he did say that Putin knew about the email hacking, and Obama left no doubt about who he felt was responsible. He said, “Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin” and repeated a U.S. intelligence assessment “that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government.”
Obama went on to say, “I think there’s no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact on the integrity of our elections, that we need to take action and we will, at a time and a place of our own choosing.”
With the Russians demanding to see evidence that implicates them in cyberattacks, President Barack Obama is vowing retaliation for hacking operations aimed at interfering with the U.S. election. The president has promised a “proportional” yet unspecified response to the hacking of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign chairman.
But much like Obama’s red line, his calling out of Russia (and his implied threats) have now become a national embarrassment. Russia has come out and explicitly told Obama to show us the evidence or “shut up.” To date, neither Obama nor his administration has produced any concrete evidence.
In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., Chairman of the House intelligence committee, complained that his committee’s oversight into the hacking has been stymied because the intelligence agencies have not provided information to the committee.
Domestically, Obama did not call out Trump by name, but he did call out Republicans who he said fails even now to acknowledge the seriousness of Russia’s involvement in U.S. elections. Obama expressed incredulity about GOP lawmakers and voters who now say they approve of Putin, and he said unless that changes, the U.S. will be vulnerable to foreign influence.
All this, of course, because Trump has dismissed the CIA’s assessment. He stated that the conspiracy surrounding Russian hacking is “ridiculous,” while arguing that both Democrats and the CIA are trying to undermine the legitimacy of his victory.
Then Clinton jumps into the fray, directly citing Russian interference. She said, “Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.”
All of this is naturally straining the already tense diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia. Especially when you consider what is happening in Syria.
In short, Obama has blamed Russia for standing in the way of international efforts to stop the civil war in Syria, where government forces have beaten back rebels in Aleppo. Obama pinned the bulk of the blame on Russia, as well as Iran, for propping up Syrian president Bashar Assad. “This blood and these atrocities are on their hands,” he said.
So what is Obama planning?
Well, consider this: according to multiple sources within the U.S. government, the CIA has been tasked with preparing an unprecedented act of cyber warfare against the Russians.
In fact, NBC News reported that numerous current and former government officials have told them the White House had asked the CIA to deliver options for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation.
But what many people don’t know is that way back in 2013, Obama laid the groundwork for launching a pre-emptive cyberattack against “rogue nations.” According to the New York Times, President Barack Obama concluded a secret legal review of the administration’s new cyber war guidelines. The guidelines give President Obama the power to order pre-emptive cyber strikes to protect national security interests.
Then, in 2015, Obama took the unprecedented and unconstitutional action of declaring a national emergency to deal with cyber threats.
In fact, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel claimed that an executive order was needed to give the president a “spectrum of tools” to combat cyberattacks by supplementing current diplomatic, law enforcement, military, economic, and intelligence capabilities.
Now put all the pieces together.
Obama laid the groundwork for a cyber war way back in 2013. He declared a national emergency—because the National Emergencies Act ( 50 U.S.C. § 1601-1651) gives him broad powers which can only be stopped by an enacted “joint resolution.” Given our dysfunctional Congress, this would take forever or would never happen. Consider that he declared a national emergency, we never heard about it, and Congress has done nothing to reverse it.
Now couple that with the accusations of Russians “hacking” our systems, his promise of a “retaliation,” and the consensus that the next war will be fought in cyberspace. You can see exactly where this is going. Obama is pushing for war.
Rene C. Sotolongo is an OpsLens Contributor and a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who served for over twenty years as an Information Systems official. Sotolongo also specialized in homeland security and counterterrorism.