Liz Peek

Obama and the cyber threat: Leading from behind hurts US…again

Liz | 12/19 at 12:18 PM

President Obama has been punished for his dithering. If indeed Russia was behind the many unsavory revelations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and if indeed Obama facilitated that effort by failing to push back against the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails, it is an ironic capstone to eight years of leading from behind. 

As a consequence of failed U.S. leadership it falls short of the murder of 400,000 Syrians or the ongoing slaughter in Iraq, but it is perhaps to Mr. Obama and his Democratic colleagues the worst of possible consequences. 

The liberal establishment is under attack by President-elect Trump, and Mr. Obama is at least in part responsible.

The president claims to have found out about the DNC email hack only this past summer; the intrusion was discovered, as the New York Times has revealed, more than a year ago. 

It seems unlikely that the president would not have been told about the event; disclosures from the DNC could and indeed did prove damaging to the credibility of Mr. Obama and his party. 

It also seemed unlikely when Obama told the country he was not aware that Hillary Clinton had used a private email server – that he found out “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.” 

We now know, thanks to Russian hacking perhaps, that in fact the president communicated with his Secretary of State on her Clintonemail.com unauthorized email address, and that her aides panicked when he made the claim, knowing it was untrue. More irony.

There have been numerous other instances when Mr. Obama seems to have been out of the loop. He didn’t know that patients at the VA were being denied care, he didn’t know about the NSA spying on foreign leaders, he didn’t know about Fast & Furious, or the IRS targeting of right-wing groups, or the Justice Department wiretapping of AP reporters and James Rosen. Either the Obama White House has the worst internal communications imaginable, or the president has frequently used the “nobody told me” defense to shift responsibility elsewhere.

In the current occasion, Mr. Obama is intent on blaming the Russians for the election of Donald Trump, but shoulders no responsibility for not having prevented Vladimir Putin’s alleged interference. Who is shocked? Mr. Obama has time and again stepped back from confronting our adversaries, leading even Hillary Clinton to argue in 2014 that “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Mrs. Clinton was critical of her boss for failing to take a more aggressive role in building resistance to the Assad government, saying the failure to do that “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” That was when Obama’s approval ratings were sliding and Hillary had not yet decided to run on his coattails. It was an accurate assessment.

Obama has pressed for an investigation into accusations that Russia was behind the leaked emails from the DNC and Hillary’s campaign chair. Several senators have taken up to call for a special bipartisan panel to investigate the charges that Russia was behind the hacks in an effort to sway our election. That seems reasonable, and we support finding out the truth of the matter, but Democrats should note that the findings will quite possibly highlight the White House’s negligence.

One of the groups that have pointed the finger at Russia is CrowdStrike, a tech company called in to assess the hit to the DNC. That group identified two “sophisticated” Russian-based organizations, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, active in the DNC network. In 2015, says CrowdStrike, Cozy Bear “infiltrated the unclassified networks of the White HouseState Department, and US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition to the US government, they have targeted organizations across the Defense, Energy, Extractive, Financial, Insurance, Legal, Manufacturing Media, Think Tanks, Pharmaceutical, Research and Technology industries, along with Universities.”

CrowdStrike notes that the malicious attacks carried out by Fancy Bear reflect Putin’s strategic interests but suggests uncertainty about the ties of these groups to the government by saying “may indicate affiliation with …(Main Intelligence Department) or GRU, Russia’s premier military intelligence service.” (Italics added.)

One might ask: what did the Obama administration do about these penetrations?  The answer, as far as we know and based on what we’ve heard from the White House – nothing. 

Now that he and his party have been humiliated, and that his legacy is in jeopardy, Obama wants a full accounting, and vows retaliation. The ever-compliant New York Times pitches the president as “wary”, and as confronting a bewildering range of possible responses. In taking on the Russian bears, they suggest, he is searching for the Goldilocks solution – not too damaging, but damaging enough.

President Obama has spent eight years being “wary”—reluctant to challenge our adversaries, or to respond to their transgressions. China has promised not to militarize islands in the South China Sea, but photos show they have installed missiles on those disputed outposts. Russia has promised to join the fight against ISIS but instead bombed U.S. allies in Syria. Putin illegally seized the Crimea and we watched it happen. 

Both countries have engineered provocations against our planes and ships – the most recent China’s theft of an underwater drone. Obama chose to look the other way so as not to endanger his toothless climate accord with China or the realization of the Iran nuclear deal.

The Obama administration has reportedly spent billions of dollars acquiring the world’s most effective cyber-capability. Our arsenal, we are told, is second to none. And it should be. But, just as a great army can be rendered useless by an inept general, those cyber weapons are worthless if directed by a dithering president. In his last 32 days in office, it is hard to imagine that Obama can overturn eight years of leading from behind.

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