Last night the New York Times published an explosive article dealing with U.S. cyberattacks on Russia’s power grid. While this type of covert jousting is no doubt taking place all of the time between the world’s major powers, it’s certainly startling to be reading about it in the Gray Lady before our government was ready to discuss the matter. In his usual fashion, the President was quick to hop on his Twitter account and excoriate the newspaper that broke the story.
The really disturbing part of this story is the claim by the Times that President Trump was not “briefed in detail” about the operation. (Politico)
Citing administration officials, the Times also reported Trump was not briefed in detail on the program out of fear that he would spill secrets to Russians as he did with classified information to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister during an Oval Office meeting in 2017. That incident, first uncovered by The Washington Post, reportedly put a vital source on ISIS at risk.
For their part, the New York Times responded by saying they had checked with national security officials before running the story.
Accusing the press of treason is dangerous.
We described the article to the government before publication. As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns. https://t.co/MU020hxwdc pic.twitter.com/4CIfcqKoEl
— NYTimes Communications (@NYTimesPR) June 16, 2019
I’m seeing some traffic on social media claiming that Bolton somehow authorized the leak. By the Times’ own admission, this is not true. Bolton “declined to comment.” Unnamed “officials” at the National Security Council allegedly also refused to comment but said they “had no national security concerns” over the Times running the story.
The two major questions we should have about this report and the alleged cyberattack both involve issues of who knew what and when did they know it. First of all, if this operation was taking place without the President’s knowledge, that’s a major concern. Given the high stakes involved with an attack on Russia’s infrastructure, Trump needed to be in the loop. But, as I noted above, that’s not what the report said, at least not exactly.
Saying that the President was “not fully briefed” could mean many things. Was he informed that the program was in motion but they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide exact dates and times or the specific resources we would be able to penetrate? Or was the attack launched without ever letting President Trump know it was definitely going to happen? If it’s the former, that’s probably understandable. Our operatives might not be sure how far they could get in such a clandestine operation until they were attempting it. If it’s the latter, that’s highly disturbing.
But perhaps more to the point is the question of whether this type of covert operation should have been reported on in the first place. Is the public entitled to know about such cloak and dagger operations before intelligence agencies are ready to have the information divulged? This is a question we’ve been wrestling with for a long time. I recall a debate involving my father many years ago when the question arose of whether or not the United States ever assassinates foreign operatives to prevent some greater harm to our country? It’s almost a certainty that we do. Should we be angry about that?
George Orwell (not exactly a fan of big government as I’m sure you know) once wrote, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
Yet again, old George was wise and well ahead of his time.