In the cyberworld, President Donald Trump has been a war president since 2018, when he unleashed the Central Intelligence Agency to conduct cyberattacks against America’s enemies as it saw fit.
Trump’s authorization put Russia, China, Iran and North Korea in America’s cross-hairs, Yahoo News reported Wednesday, citing as sources what it said were “former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter.”
The report said Trump signed what is known as a presidential finding that allowed broad latitude for cyberdisruptions. The document took away restrictions that had been in place on the CIA and let the nation’s global spymasters decide how to fight America’s enemies unfettered by the need to get permission from the White House.
The “very aggressive” finding “gave the agency very specific authorities to really take the fight offensively to a handful of adversarial countries,” one former U.S. official was quoted as saying.
“The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back. And this was the way to do it,” a second former official said, according to Yahoo.
Trump’s directive means the CIA is doing far more than simply collecting intelligence. Under Trump, it has become a covert cyberweapon that disrupts the operations of enemy nations.
In a time when governments distance themselves from the dirty work of cyberattacks, Trump gave the CIA expanded power to attack media organizations, businesses, charities and even religious institutions whose independence from government is merely a front, according to Yahoo.
“Before, you would need years of signals and dozens of pages of intelligence to show that this thing is a de facto arm of the government,” a former official said, noting that the CIA chafed under restrictions imposed during the Obama administration. Now, “as long as you can show that it vaguely looks like the charity is working on behalf of that government, then you’re good.”
Neither the CIA nor National Security Council would comment on the report, which said at least a dozen cyberoperations have been successfully conducted under the new rules.
One source for the report said the new policy was an extension of the president’s management style.
“Trump wanted to push decision making to the lowest possible denominator,” a former intelligence official said.
When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was CIA director in 2017, he summed up the philosophy by saying, “We don’t want to hold you up, we want to move, move, move.”
Yahoo cited three examples of recent activity. In 2019, the FSB, Russia’s domestic spy agency, was hacked, losing 7.5 terabytes of data that went to various media organizations. In two efforts aimed at Iran, the names, addresses, phone numbers and photos of Iranian intelligence officers allegedly involved in hacking operations were posted on the service Telegram in 2019, while later that year, details of 15 million debit cards linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were put on Telegram.
In terms of Iran, the CIA has pursued cyberattacks on Iranian infrastructure, Yahoo reported.
“It was obvious that destabilization was the plan on Iran,” a former official said.
In June 2019, the Trump administration used the cyber-realm for its response to the downing of an American drone, according to The New York Times.
U.S. cyberattacks at the time sidelined an Iranian intelligence group and also took missile launch systems offline.
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