Former CIA Analyst Warns Russia Threat Being Ignored Like Al-Qaeda Was Pre-9/11

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A former CIA analyst who served during the War on Terror says warnings over Russia are being treated like those about Al-Qaeda before 9/11. Natalia Kolesnikova/Reuters

A former CIA analyst warns the Trump administration’s approach to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is comparable to how the the Bush administration treated warnings about Al-Qaeda before 9/11.

Russia’s influence and propaganda “is continuing in the United States and across Europe,” said Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst and targeting officer during an interview on MSNBC ahead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony Tuesday.

Bakos said that the American intelligence community is “getting frustrated because they're probably trying to get policymakers’ attention.”

“To me it's probably a little like pre-9/11 when there was pre-warning analysis being written and delivered to policy makers and they're not really getting any feedback or any strategies,” she said.

Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into Russia’s efforts to interference in the 2016 election, saying that he has not been briefed on the details of how Russia hacked into American political parties or worked to influence the election.

In early January the American intelligence community published a report that concluded Russia had hacked the emails of both Democrat and Republican party officials and engaged in a disinformation campaign. Russia’s aim, they said, was to help then candidate Donald Trump to win and damage his rival Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Read more: Let's act now to prevent hacking of the power grid

A leaked top-secret National Security Agency document recently helped to corroborate this assessment.

“I've never received any details, briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaigns,” Sessions testified. When questioned whether he never sought any information about the hacking after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Homeland Security issued a joint statement about it last October, Sessions said “no.”

When asked by Senator John McCain, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, whether he was aware of Russia's development of a cyber weapon that can disrupt the United States power grids, Sessions said “ I don't believe I can discuss the technological issues.”

Sessions said “it is very disturbing that the Russians continue to push hostile actions in their foreign policy” and that the government “do not have a sufficient strategy dealing with technological and I.T. penetrations of our system.”

As Attorney General, Sessions is the chief law enforcement officer and lawyer for the U.S. government leading the Department of Justice (DOJ). Sessions is tasked with overseeing the work of the FBI, which engages in countering foreign intelligence operations and addressing cybersecurity threats to the U.S., among its other duties.

Other Trump cabinet figures — such as CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defence James Mattis, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly — have been briefed on Russia’s interference. For his part, President Donald Trump calls Russia’s interference a “hoax.”

In March, cybersecurity experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned the Trump administration in a report about the hacking risk faced by America’s electric grid, oil pipelines, and other critical infrastructure.

Trump signed an executive order to strengthen federal networks and critical infrastructure in May, but experts said it did little to push forward the policies of President Barack Obama, who left office shortly after American intelligence issued its Russian hacking report.

Bakos said that the seeming lack of preparedness harks back to the days before 9/11 at the CIA. She worked as an analyst there from 2000 to 2010.

On August 6, 2001, the CIA gave George W. Bush a briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

The warnings came as early as May 2001, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center Cofer Black, told Politico in 2015. “It was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die,” he said.

Bakos said that American intelligence agencies are probably “very focused on trying to counter Russia's active measures,” but without concern amongst policy makers, not much can be done.

A former senior U.S. official expressed concern to Bloomberg Tuesday that Russia now has three years to study what they have have learned about the U.S. voting system and won’t hesitate to use what they’ve learned.