Warning Russia on Hacking Isn’t Enough
After the stunning disclosures last month that Russia had tried to interfere with the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Obama administration hinted at some kind of retaliation. So far, however, its only known response has been to publicly identify the Russians as the culprits and warn them against interfering again in America’s democratic processes.
President Obama should not stop there, as some administration officials suggest he might. Doing so would allow Russia to believe it can operate with impunity in cyberspace and could even invite further hacking. Because Donald Trump, an outspoken admirer of Vladimir Putin, is unlikely to act, it is up to Mr. Obama to hold the Russian president to account. (Even after intelligence briefings confirming Moscow’s involvement, Mr. Trump refused to blame the Russians and said, “Maybe there is no hacking.”)
A stronger White House response would begin with Mr. Obama revealing more information about how the hacking was done and by whom. He could also decide to disclose Russian computer codes, embarrass wealthy Kremlin officials by exposing their overseas bank accounts and even disable Russian networks. And he could impose sanctions on Russians who were responsible for the hacking or on military leaders who are bombing civilians in Syria. Whatever he decides, the trick will be to do it without igniting a cyberwar.
The hacking involved emails from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, which were then leaked to WikiLeaks. Democratic leaders were embarrassed, and Mr. Trump’s campaign gained an advantage. “This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect,” Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, said last week.
Mr. Obama is said to have chosen a conservative response to this behavior because he did not wish to invite further Russian interference in the election. Nor did he wish to be seen as acting for political reasons. At least for now, the warnings appear to have halted further Russian cyberattacks. And there is an understandable reluctance in the White House to pre-empt Mr. Obama’s successor by taking additional action.
Americans cannot know for certain that the hacking has ended. Many experts doubt that warnings alone will be enough to deter Mr. Putin, who has shown no hesitation in challenging America during the postelection transition by continuing to bomb Aleppo, in Syria, and by installing new nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, Russia, near the NATO border.
Senator Lindsey Graham has called for congressional hearings to broadly examine Russia’s relationship with the United States, including its role in the hacking, while Senator Ben Cardin has suggested imposing new sanctions. Regardless of what Mr. Obama decides, Congress has a responsibility to pursue paths to ensure that the country’s electoral system is not similarly compromised in the future.