After Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, U.S. military and intelligence ramped up a secret program that inserted malware into the nation-state’s power grid, but didn’t brief President Trump over concerns that he might shutter the program or leak information about it to foreign governments, according to a new report.
The effort “has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year,” the New York Times cited a senior intelligence official as saying. “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.” The initiatives have been conducted under the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, which gave the defense secretary the ability to run “clandestine military activity” to counter cyberattacks without seeking presidential approval.
President Trump said the Times story was untrue and publishing it akin to treason. “Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia. This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country,” the president tweeted.
But the Times issued a statement noting it had run assertions in the report by spokespersons for U.S. Cyber Command chief Paul Nakasone and National Security Adviser John Bolton before publication. “As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns,” the news outlet said.
The intelligence community in the past has expressed concern that the president might reveal sensitive intel with foreign entities. The president caused quite an uproar in May 2017 after sharing intelligence on ISIS gathered by an ally with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, then inadvertently confirming that information came from Israel on a recent visit there. The intelligence included information that ISIS was making bombs that look like laptop batteries.