POLITICO discusses the diametric views the soon-to-be former and incoming National Security Advisors have on Russian hacking, propaganda, and influence on the 2016 presidential election:
In their public comments, McMaster and Bolton have presented a stark contrast in their views on Moscow’s involvement in the hacks and online trolling that roiled the 2016 presidential election. While McMaster has taken a hard-line stance in blaming Moscow for orchestrating the digital disruption campaign, Bolton has made headlines by casting doubt on Russia’s role.
In fact, it was McMaster’s remarks on the subject that caused his strained relationship with the president to spill into public view.
Speaking at a February conference in Munich, McMaster proclaimed that evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections was “incontrovertible.”
Trump lashed out on Twitter in response: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”
Conversely, Bolton — a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration — has cast doubt on the evidence linking Russia to the Democratic National Committee hack, suggesting that the Obama administration was blaming the Kremlin for political purposes.
In December 2016, when Bolton was being floated as the possible deputy secretary of state, the former diplomat suggested that the digital footprints left behind at the DNC may have been a “false flag.”
“If you think the Russians did this, why did they leave fingerprints?” he asked during a Fox News interview.
Bolton is either being completely intellectually dishonest or he is obtuse and incapable of understanding how cyber attacks are executed. Seeing as he will be the next National Security Advisor, this should be a warning to the type of illogical thought processes that will go into future US national security decisions.
Every cyber attack leaves some form of a so-called fingerprint. Whether it is an IP address accidentally exposed and attributed to a specific organization, a set of attack tools used and left behind in haste because the actors had to get out before being caught, or a complete series of tactics, techniques, and procedures specific actors use on a reoccurring basis – there are always going to be some form of a fingerprint. These are just some of the many data points used when attributing attacks to specific groups performing operations across the globe.
What Bolton should already know seeing as he is a former US Ambassador, but is so obviously playing politics with, is the US intelligence community is embedded in networks all over the globe. The National Security Agency regularly watches Russian, North Korean, Chinese, and Iranian actors while in the act of breaching networks. This has allowed the NSA to fingerprint the techniques the different actors leverage, which is often how attacks are attributed to groups like Fancy Bear, Lazarus, and the countless others.
If the NSA is not watching an attack, it is likely one of the various US allies are collecting data. Take for example, the case of the Netherlands intelligence agency witnessing in real-time as Russia’s Cozy Bear conducted cyber attacks. So even if the US IC is not collecting data and learning how actors perform operations, its allies are and will share both the raw intelligence and the analysis conducted. This is what allows the US IC to be so successful.
The US is on a dangerous path. If Bolton opts to ignore strong evidence of Russian meddling in US election and sovereign affairs, the US should be prepared for what is likely the outcome or goal of his being hired as the National Security Advisor: to legitimize and sell a war against either North Korea or Iran to the American people.