CNN has made news with this headline: “How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House.”
Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.
While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say.
The White House in October said it noticed suspicious activity in the unclassified network that serves the executive office of the president. The system has been shut down periodically to allow for security upgrades.
The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. The intrusion was routed through computers around the world, as hackers often do to hide their tracks, but investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.
Only on October 28, days before the election, did the Obama administration admit that White House computers had been down for weeks. The administration said that it learned of the foreign intrusion, apparently by Russia, from “an ally.” So we didn’t detect it, and there was no indication of how long one or more hostile powers had access to White House computers before the intrusion was discovered.
The computers that were compromised were those serving the Executive Office of the President, which includes, besides the White House itself, such agencies as the National Security Advisor, the National Security Staff, the Office of the Chief of Staff, the Office of the White House Counsel, and many more. Last fall, we reported that State Department computers were down along with those of the Executive Office of the President. CNN now reports that the Russian intrusion started in the State Department, and was extended from there to the White House.
In a post on October 29, I wrote:
The computers in the Executive Office of the President have been down for two weeks because they were hacked by a foreign power–the Obama administration now says Russia–and administration technical personnel are having trouble bringing them back on line. This is a huge story, obviously, and it is inconceivable that Power Line knew about it, but no one in the vast Washington press corps got wind of the fact that computer systems belonging to the White House and dozens of important federal agencies (National Security Staff, to name just one) had been hacked and were out of commission.
Isn’t it reasonable to infer that major news outlets kept Russia’s cyberattack a secret until after the election because it reflected badly on the Obama administration’s competence as well as its complacent view of the world? Some “reset”! I think that is an inescapable conclusion. Even today, it is astonishing that the story has gotten so little attention in the Democratic Party press. One can only imagine the hysteria if the Bush White House had been hacked by a foreign adversary with technical capacities apparently greater than our own. We never would have heard the end of it. I suspect that this is one of many stories that will not be fully told until Barack Obama has long departed from office.