The Obama administration was warned of Russian preparations to disrupt western elections as early as 2014, Politico reports.
The initial 2014 report presented to the administration described a disruption apparatus spanning the U.S. and Europe, although it did not specifically mention a Kremlin threat to the U.S. 2016 election. Throughout the 2014-2016 period, intelligence officials reportedly brought several options to counter Russian cyber-espionage efforts world-wide, but were brushed off by the Obama White House.
“The truth is, nobody wanted to piss off the Russians,” a former intelligence official told Politico. The Obama administration similarly did not entertain the longstanding request of the U.S. intelligence community to shutter two Russian spy compounds in the U.S. prior to the election. “Secretary Kerry refused to consider it,” an official said.
Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election directly coincided with the Obama administration’s failed efforts to broker a ceasefire deal in the Syrian civil war, where Russia actively sponsors Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Obama’s reticence to confront Russia over its actions at the time stemmed from his desire to save his multiple failed deals in Syria, The New York Times reported in December 2016.
“Everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen,” a senior Department of State official elaborated at the time.
Many former Obama administration officials have lamented their response to Russian attempts to influence the election. One senior administration official, however, admitted to WaPo that the response to Russian actions in the election “is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend.” He continued, “I feel like we sort of choked.”
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