The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging "clandestine" cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership.
The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joe Biden told "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that "we're sending a message" to Putin and that "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact."
When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, "Hope not."
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News' Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia's ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.
The White House is considering launching a clandestine cyber operation against the Russian government to counter Moscow’s alleged interference in the US presidential election, media reported citing intelligence officials.
"The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation," the report said.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the White House’s threats to retaliate "bewildering."
“If that should one day happen, each of you must know where the nearest bomb shelter is,” a report on the state-controlled network, NTV, noted, before taking viewers on a tour of a nuclear bunker in Moscow.
This month Russia held a large-scale civil defense drill across the country, meant to prepare people for disasters, among them nuclear catastrophe. The drill, which Russian authorities claimed affected 40 million people, and particularly the way it was presented on state television, resembled Soviet-era exercises, with scenes of schoolchildren flooding out in evacuations and being taught to hurriedly pull on gas masks.
Russia’s defense ministry has announced how the country would function in time of war, clarifying which government bodies would take command. The answer was largely it would, taking control of governor’s offices, local administrations and the police. The military simulated that scenario during a huge exercise in southern Russia.
The maneuvers took on harder forms as well. This week, Russia deployed nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, its northern European enclave between Poland and Lithuania that put the weapons within striking distance of Western capitals.
Still, despite the threats, the display has sometimes shown its seams. In the NTV reportwarning people to identify their nearest fallout shelter, the presenter interviewed a retired colonel "showing several possible scenarios of the catastrophe" on a map.
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