Last week, Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, unexpectedly made some news. At a Senate hearing, Rogers explained that the United States is “probably not doing enough” to combat Russian efforts to attack American elections, and asked about his own agency’s work, Rogers added that he hadn’t yet been directed by his boss – Donald Trump – to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting our elections.
Asked about the testimony, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration is doing all sorts of things to address the Russian threat, and she pointed to three pieces of evidence:
1. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has held some meetings.
2. U.S. officials are “looking at a number of different options,” none of which Sanders would identify.
3. The State Department’s Global Engagement Center has been given resources.
It’s that third one that seems especially relevant today. The New York Times reported:
As Russia’s virtual war against the United States continues unabated with the midterm elections approaching, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy.
As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center – which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign – speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts.
To put it mildly, this isn’t encouraging.
Indeed, it adds new context to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ deeply unfortunate argument from last week. Told that the head of the U.S. Cyber Command hasn’t yet been directed to combat Russian cyberattacks, the White House press secretary pointed to a State Department office that hasn’t spent the money it’s received to combat Russian election interference.
So, from the administration’s perspective, what exactly is Team Trump doing in preparation for an expected Russian attack – aside from delaying implementations of sanctions intended to punish Russia for the last attack?
Postscript: On a related note, CNBC’s John Harwood had a great piece the other day, contextualizing Trump’s embrace of Russia: “[W]hatever the special counsel concludes legally about ‘collusion,’ evidence on public display already paints a jarring picture. It shows an American president who has embraced Russian money and illicit favors, while maintaining rhetoric and policies benefiting Russia and undercutting national security officials of his own country.”