Russia's Cyber War Against America: Will Any President Fight Back?

This is very tricky territory, but my short answer is yes.

There is no doubt about Putin’s command of his cyber resources that are dedicated to infiltrating and undermining not only the U.S. political machinery, but the political machinery of many Western nations.

If a Russian agent — a real person — was found on a U.S. military installation attempting to sabotage an airplane, or ship, or other mission-critical equipment, including computer gear, he or she would be subject to the harshest penalties, and could, with authority, be shot dead at that installation (there are signs posted on the fences and buildings of most military installations that remind trespassers that deadly force can be applied). Their act of sabotage would be tantamount to a military action against the United States, and, if there were simultaneous actions being carried out around the country, I cannot imagine that a sitting U.S. president would not consider those concerted efforts to be an act of war initiated by the Kremlin.

The American political system, supported in the 21st century by the mission-critical electronic systems and networks of voting records, voting machines, voter registration lists, etc., is no less important, in my mind, than a robust and secured military force.

Of all the things that define the United States in our eyes and in the eyes of the world, our military—for defense—and our democratic system of one-person-one-vote—for the continuation of the republic—are respected for their integrity and security of their controls. Any attempt to sabotage either one of these core national supports by an outside agent—be it one person or a nation state—should be considered war-like, if not actually an act of outright aggression. Putin’s cyber forces didn’t have to actually change a single vote to be considered aggressors—all they had to do was cross our cyber-border and begin the process of the attack. To me, that was, and remains, an act of war. And I want to hear the President and the Congress call it by its name.

Now, I will take a moment to do something here that I have not done before in my Huffington posts, or any other social media platform, and that is to make very clear my deepest disappointment with the Obama administration—and President Obama directly—for not having acted firmly, forcefully, and unequivocally against Vladimir Putin’s cyber insurgency against our electoral system.

For many philosophical reasons, I was a solid Obama supporter—I’ve lost count of the editorials or blogs or other pieces I’ve written over the past few years in defense of Obama, or which were simply laudatory. You can find many such articles in my HuffPost columns and my blog, But What If I’m Write?

Earlier this year, I wrote a Quora answer responding to a question about Russia’s reasons for interfering in our elections. Let me quote a portion of my response:

What Putin is seeing now is a West that is dividing, cracks opening up between the U.S. and our allies, increasing levels of anxiety and frustration beginning to undercut the confidence that once bound all Western nations into one unbreakable stronghold. Trump’s election, allegedly doused with some form of Russian stink, has tainted the public’s trust, wound up the media to a fever pitch, driven a wedge deep into our representative government, and resulted in a shift in our national center of gravity with long-term effects felt far beyond our shores.

It is clear to me, having looked through not just the excellent Washington Post story on the Russian meddling, but reviewing as broad a range of news stories as I could find and trust, that Mr. Obama had every opportunity to stand up to Putin in the most direct terms, and to make public exactly what Putin was intending to do. And he didn’t do it. He didn’t choke; he simply did not take an action that he took an oath to carry out— “…to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” All enemies.

The Presidential Oath of Office does not equivocate. It does not say, “only when it is politically safe” or “when I’ve covered my ass,” or “when I know I won’t take heat for my decision,” or even, “when I know my opponents won’t jump all over this.” The President of the United States cannot put any political thumb on the scale of national defense. He, or she, cannot put any political thumb on the scale of voter sanctity. But President Obama did just that, in my humble opinion, by thinking he might somehow jeopardize the election process by letting the nation know what Putin was doing.

Here, in an excerpt from the Post article, is the sum total of Obama’s actions:

But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.

Suppose Mr. Obama had been tougher, more vocal, more counter-punching politically, economically, electronically against the Russians between July and October of 2016. Maybe voters would have had doubts, maybe things would have shifted even more toward Trump…we’ll never know, because President Obama and his team took the safe road—I’m sorry, I have to call it that—and let the Russians continue their work for months. And that work continues!

I believe a state of war exists between the United States and the Russians, and the sooner the President and the Congress put on their big-boy pants and call out Putin for his overt assault on our political system, the sooner we’ll stop living in our own self-centered land of denial, and the sooner the rest of the Western world will stand with us against this dangerous aggressor.