While U.S. national security officials have so far reported only intermittent efforts by Russian sources to compromise political organizations and campaigns, they have been worried – in the aftermath of Russia’s digital contact with U.S. election systems in 2016 – that Moscow might unleash more aggressive interference in the hours before voting begins, while the polls are open, or when the votes are being tabulated.
The existence of such a plan means that America is more fully integrating offensive cyber attacks into its overall military planning systems, a move likely to make cyber combat more likely and eventually more commonplace, sometimes without first gaining specific presidential approval. Cyber attacks are now on a more obvious path, in short, to becoming a regular currency of warfare.
The plan for retaliation against Russia is one of the first to be organized since President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August that simplifies and shortens the review for such operations. It has the effect – according to those familiar with the process – of giving the Pentagon additional prerogatives to prepare for strikes. It also preemptively addresses traditional intelligence community concerns that cyber attacks will compromise ongoing or future intelligence-gathering by exposing U.S. data collection operations.