We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment.
Now, the previous administration knew this by August 2016, but did not retaliate in any meaningful way. While President Obama did ultimately expel 35 Russian diplomats and introduce a range of sanctions against selected Russian industries, businesses, and individuals, cyber countermeasures against Russian infrastructure, disclosure of Vladimir Putin’s tens of billions of dollars in assets stolen from the Russian people, and crippling sanctions against the Russian economy were not deployed.
The president’s understandable hesitation to escalate a cyber clash that could create what he described as a “cyber wild, wild west” was doubtless one factor informing his restraint. The other, it is my sad duty to acknowledge, was partisan politics of the worst kind. Seeking a bipartisan statement from both the Democratic and Republicans leaders in both houses of Congress about the attack from Russia then underway, the president was effectively blocked by the Senate Majority Leader. Leader Mitch McConnell responded to the request by telling the president, “If you do that, we’re going to interpret that as you putting the thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton.”
Last July, President Obama’s former chief of staff Denis McDonough explained, “We viewed the Russian efforts as a serious national security threat unrelated to the outcome of this particular election, and we firmly believed that Russia should be punished irrespective of who won.” He was right then, and six months later, he is still right.
When I took the oath of office, I put my hand on the Bible and swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Like my 44 predecessors, I took that oath not as a Democrat or a Republican, but as an American. Now, inaction is no longer an option. Extremism in defense of one’s political party is no virtue. In the face of the mounting Russian threat, neither is moderation.
In recent months, the challenges to the freedom of the United States and its friends in Europe and North America posed by Vladimir Putin’s tyranny and reckless interventionism have only grown worse. Emboldened by the successes of his clandestine services and electronic troll armies here, Putin has tried to similarly influence elections in Germany, France, Norway, and Mexico. Even as he modernizes his nuclear arsenal, Putin has established permanent bases in Syria for Russian air and naval forces and is poised to intervene in Libya.
Back at home, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that Russian cyberattacks penetrated voting systems in 21 states. As the AP detailed just this week, Russian hackers known as "Fancy Bear” went after American defense secrets, targeting “at least 87 people working on militarized drones, missiles, rockets, stealth fighter jets, cloud-computing platforms or other sensitive activities.” While former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and former CIA acting director Michael Morrell have warned that the Russian attacks never stopped, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and CIA director Mike Pompeo have warned that the 2018 midterm elections face new threats from the Kremlin. “If it's their intention to interfere,” Secretary Tillerson explained, “They are going to find ways to do that.” Director Pompeo agreed, proclaiming simply, “Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that.” Recent studies about the production, proliferation, and consumption of “fake news” online suggest the impact on American voters will be very real.
These Russian attacks strike at the very heart of American democracy. When our confidence in electoral outcomes and the truth itself is jeopardized, all Americans regardless of party risk losing our belief in government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The time for restraint is past. Given the repeated Russian violations of American sovereignty, the time for action is now:
Therefore, it shall be the policy of this nation to regard any cyber attack launched by Moscow or its proxies against our nation, our allies in NATO, in North America or partners in other American collective security treaties as a Russian attack on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon Russia.
Ours will be a flexible response, using the complete range of cyberweapons at our disposal at the time and place of our choosing. We shall take some steps immediately; others may take weeks, months, or even years to develop, deploy, and launch. Some may never be used at all, but may only be hinted at by demonstrations of our capabilities.
We shall begin with the following five steps:
1. First, all sanctions approved by Congress against the Russian government, companies, and individuals shall begin as soon as possible. Sanctions on Russian debt, deferred thus far, will be implemented.
2. The personal wealth of President Putin has been estimated to be a high as $200 billion. But the gains of the purported richest man in the world are ill-gotten. As the secrecy of our sources and methods permit, the United States will begin publicizing Putin’s assets to the world. And to help hold him and his cronies accountable to their own people, the United States will use its powers under the Global Magnitsky Act to freeze the assets of the Russian president and his family around the world as circumstances require.
3. Should Russian cyberaggression continue, Moscow should expect countermeasures against its communications, financial, and industrial infrastructure. These may or may not be for demonstration purposes only. We will decide if and whether we will let the Kremlin know we were there.
4. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Nevertheless, the United States will provide defensive weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, to assist the Kiev government in protecting its territory from further Russian expansion. While we will support peace efforts to stop the fighting and enable the countries to address the Russian violation of international law with its occupation of Crimea, the Ukrainian people will not be left alone. At the same time, the U.S. and its NATO allies will step up our deterrence in support of our Article V mutual defense obligations. NATO will expand its pre-positioning of equipment and increase the frequency and size of exercises in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland.
5. To help defend America’s economic and political infrastructure from cyber attacks by state or non-state actors, I will ask Congress to double the budget for U.S. Cyber Command by the start of Fiscal Year 2019 on October 1. In addition, I am ordering $1 billion in election protection funding to be distributed to state and local governments to ensure the integrity of the 2018 elections. These dollars will not only help pay for enhanced cyber security for all voting systems, but to pay for paper ballots at all voting locations nationwide. Last, to minimize the ability of Russia to use its oil and natural reserves to hold its neighbors hostage, I am announcing the Trans-Atlantic Sustainable Energy Alliance. This partnership of North America and Europe will accelerate the development and deployment of wind, solar, and hydro power to reduce dependence on Moscow. After all, it’s hard to be a gas station with an army if you have no customers.
We, the American people, must be under no illusions that we can defend against every threat and deter every enemy. The calculations of cyber conflict are not the same ones as the logic of nuclear war. “Offensive” and “defensive” weapons are not necessarily separate. Electronic warfare is the ultimate asymmetric threat. That is, our heavily computerized infrastructure is more vulnerable than that of our potential enemies, foes who might be rogue intelligence units, cyber terrorists, or organized crime gangs. It is not inconceivable that an American response to a cyber attack might require a conventional military response. In a world of interconnected computer systems, no nation can be protected by the grim nuclear logic of “mutual assured destruction.” All are vulnerable to attacks large and small. In cyber conflict, there is only the promise of “mutual assured disruption.” We may be the most powerful, but we are not immune.
Tonight, I would also like to speak to the Russian people. Now as ever, the United States seeks peace between our two proud countries. We have been allies in the struggle to roll back and destroy the threat from Nazi fascism. After World War II, we waged a dangerous ideological struggle around the world and came eyeball-to-eyeball with a nuclear conflagration. But toward the end of the last century, Russia and America saw that we could have different kind of relationship, one based on peace, prosperity, and mutual respect. There is no issue—whether it be the fate of Artic development, the modernization of our nuclear arsenals, new regimes to govern cyber warfare, or accords to limit the militarization of space—we cannot work together to resolve. As President Kennedy explained to both our nations in June 1963:
So, let us not be blind to our differences-but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
To paraphrase from another American President, Abraham Lincoln: in your hands, my dissatisfied Russian friends, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of possible confrontation—or worse. The United States of America will not assail you. Russia can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. We look forward to the day when the hearts of Russians and Americans will once again be touched, as they must surely be, by the better angels of our nature.
That does not mean that the United States will be silent. We have seen your country exchange the Iron Curtain for an Iron Fist. We have witnessed freedom of the press crushed, journalists and political opposition murdered, and the rule of oligarchs and organized crime figures cemented. We won’t hesitate to condemn oppression and kleptocracy, and to encourage democracy, civil liberties, and respect for the rule of law. And we do this knowing we have blemishes of our own, that we fall short of the more perfect union we seek for ourselves and our children.
But Russia’s future is for the Russian people alone to decide. That future need not see our two nations on the brink of conflict. The United States will never shrink from defending its sovereignty and that of its allies. But neither will America and its people ever hesitate to extend the hand of friendship to any nation or any people willing to reciprocate.
My fellow Americans, I want to close by recalling that we have faced more deadly crises than the one I have described tonight. On Sept. 11, 2001, as President Bush told our nation still in shock at the slaughter of 3,000 innocent people in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., “Our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.” But no matter how bloodthirsty al-Qaida and its successors were and are, these terrorists never constituted an existential threat to the United States. Unchecked Russian aggression is such a threat, especially if Americans so distracted and disunited by their own bitter partisan squabbles cannot come together to face down the threat from without. If we cannot set aside party labels to jointly confront the threat from Russia, as Lincoln once said, “it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.