In the absence of direction from the White House, National Security Agency Director and commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command Paul Nakasone is working to form a cooperative effort between the two agencies to thwart foreign interference in the 2018 midterms.
According to The Washington Post, Nakasone’s is the latest initiative by the U.S. intelligence community to counter Russia in light of President Donald Trump’s nonexistent guidance.
“Nakasone, and the heads of the other three-letter agencies, are doing what they can in their own lanes, absent an overall approach directed by the president,” said Michael V. Hayden, who has headed the NSA and the CIA. “As good as it is, it’s not good enough. This is not a narrowly defined cyberthreat. This is one of the most significant strategic national security threats facing the United States since 9/11.”
Nakasone wants to better coordinate NSA intelligence gathering on Russian cyberactivities and CyberCom’s plans to thwart Kremlin operations.
The joint CyberCom-NSA Russia group is working with the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security, each of which has its own initiative to detect and deter Russian influence operations. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray last year set up the foreign influence task force to counter such attempts. It works closely with DHS, which has its own task force focused on election security — with an eye to the midterms — and has worked with state and local authorities on the issue.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post that agencies are working within their authorities but “the lack of presidential guidance to address this as a national problem impedes the ability” to execute a more effective and comprehensive effort.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last month, Victoria Nuland, former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said that, “While the Trump administration has taken some important sanction steps to punish Russia for past actions, strengthen Cyber Command, and harden our electoral infrastructure, it has not launched the kind of presidentially led, whole-of-government effort that’s needed to protect our democracy and security for malign state actors who are intent on weaponizing information and the Internet.”
Lawmakers are working to encourage Trump to take a leadership role on the issue as well:
Congress meanwhile is considering a measure allowing the president to authorize Cyber Command to disrupt any Russian election interference and social media manipulation operations outside the United States — a form of political pressure as the president does not need the authority to act. The Senate has passed the provision, contained in the National Defense Authorization Act, and is negotiating it with the House.