Since Inauguration Day in 2017, the left has run with a narrative that accuses President Donald Trump of “colluding” with the Russian government in the 2016 election, of selling out the country to win the presidency and leaving the nation weakened and exposed to further cyberattacks and election interference.
Of course, anyone with common sense knows that narrative is patently absurd, and an objective look at Trump’s actions toward Russia since taking office make it abundantly clear that he is anything but a “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
We can now add one more action to the list of moves made by Trump that are actually quite detrimental to Russia’s interests. In this case, all it took was reversing an in-practice Russia-friendly policy put in place by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the policy in question was a classified set of rules known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, secretly signed by Obama in 2012 and exposed to the public via Edward Snowden’s leaks in 2013.
The headline on the Wall Street Journal story summarized it succinctly: “Trump, Seeking to Relax Rules on U.S. Cyberattacks, Reverses Obama Directive.”
The Obama-era policy had put in place a restrictive inter-agency process that dictated how and when cyberweapons could be deployed against an enemy or rival, a time-consuming and uncertain process that required multiple agency heads to sign off on an operation before it could proceed.
In reversing this policy, the Trump administration has taken an “offensive step forward,” one official told the Journal. It is “intended to help support military operations, deter foreign election influence and thwart intellectual property theft by meeting such threats with more forceful responses,” the Journal reported.
It remains unclear exactly what the new, presumably streamlined, process will entail, as the new policy is classified and has not been leaked.
Critics and lawmakers had complained about the previous policy as it appeared to hamstring and limit the U.S. government’s capabilities in responding to a cyber threat with cyberattacks of our own, as it placed a plethora of bureaucratic hurdles in the way of any rapid reaction to adversarial moves.
Ostensibly, the reason for the bureaucratic hurdles and requirement that multiple agencies sign off on a proposed plan of action prior to commencement was to ensure that no one agency would step on the toes of another or unwittingly interfere with other ongoing operations.
To be sure, there is some merit to that worry, as a rapid cyberattack against a specific target could unknowingly undermine secret and separate efforts at espionage or investigation of that specific target or related targets.
“If you don’t have good coordination mechanisms, you could end up having an operation wreck a carefully crafted, multiyear espionage operation to gain access to a foreign computer system,” Michael Daniel, a White House cybersecurity coordinator in the Obama administration, told the Journal.
While that is certainly a valid concern, in practice it seems that the policy instead served to create inertia among the varied government agencies — and inertia that actually prevented any real or substantial activities from taking place in a timely and responsive manner.
Yet, even as a number of former officials admit that the prior policy had plenty of flaws, they nevertheless worry that new problems could arise under the new policy.
Joshua Geltzer, senior director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council at the end of the Obama years, stated, “I am sympathetic to trying to make our cyber capabilities more nimble in their use. On the other hand, there were some very real and hard legal questions associated with cyber about what operations the government would take that still have not been resolved,” he added.
Perhaps, but given the fact that the new policy is classified and at this point remains unleaked, it is entirely possible that the “very real and hard legal questions” have indeed been “resolved” already, and folks who are now out of the loop like Geltzer and Daniel and other former Obama officials simply don’t know it yet.
Regardless, Trump has yet again undermined the “Russian puppet” narrative by taking yet another tough stance against Russia — and any other adversary, for that matter — by making it easier for the U.S. government to rapidly utilize cyberweapons in response to future provocations and threats.
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