Washinton: Outgoing US President Barack Obama has alleged that Russia, under the direction of its President Vladimir Putin, was behind cyber attacks during the American election and had hacked into servers and email systems of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton Campaign which helped President-elect Donald Trump.
“What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I’ve seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack. Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” Obama told reporters during a White House news conference, indicating Putin’s involvement.
“They hacked into some Democratic Party e-mails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into there might be some things that we would not want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there was not anything particularly illegal or controversial about it,” he said yesterday.
A worried Obama lashed out at Russia for its alleged effort to influence the US election, saying the country does not produce anything and lacks innovation. “We’ve got to think what is happening to our political culture here. The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate,” Obama said.
“But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like,” he said.
Terming it a “pretty hierarchical operation”, Obama said there was not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the US. “We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government and I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the US election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” he said.
Obama said he had raised the issue when he met Putin recently in China. “In early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that did not happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, there were going to be some serious consequences if he did not.
And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process. But the leaks through Wikileaks had already occurred,” he said.
“The truth is, that there was nobody here who did not have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I am finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day, every single leak about every little juicy tidbit of political gossip, including John Podesta’s risotto recipe,” he said.
This particular concern around Russian hacking is part of a broader set of concerns about how the US deals with cyber issues being used in ways that can affect the infrastructure, affect the stability of financial systems, and affect the integrity of institutions like election process, Obama said.
“Just as I told Russia to stop it and indicated there will be consequences when they do it, the Chinese have in the past engaged in cyberattacks directed at our companies to steal trade secrets and proprietary technology, and I had to have the same conversation with President Xi,” Obama said.
“What we’ve seen is some evidence that they have reduced but not completely eliminated these activities, partly because they can use cutouts,” he said.
Noting that one of the problems with the internet and cyber issues was there is not always a return address, Obama said by the time one catches up to it, attributing what happened to a particular government could be difficult and not always provable in court. “Even tough our intelligence communities can make an assessment,” he said.