The head of the nation’s largest electronic spy agency and the military’s cyberwarfare arm has directed the two organizations to coordinate actions to counter potential Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections. The move, announced to staff at the National Security Agency last week by NSA Director Paul Nakasone, is an attempt to maximize the efforts of the two groups and comes as President Trump in Helsinki on Monday said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “extremely strong and powerful” in denying Russian involvement in the presidential election two years ago. It is the latest initiative by national security agencies to push back against Russian aggression in the absence of direct guidance from the White House on the issue.
“Nakasone, and the heads of the other three-letter agencies, are doing what they can in their own lanes, absent an overall approach directed by the president,” said Michael V. Hayden, who has headed the NSA and the CIA. “As good as it is, it’s not good enough. This is not a narrowly defined cyberthreat. This is one of the most significant strategic national security threats facing the United States since 9/11.”
Nakasone, who became the chief of both NSA and U.S. Cyber Command in April, told Congress in his confirmation hearings earlier this year: “The most important thing is we want the [Russians’] behavior to change. . . . We want them to pay a price.” He added that one of the most disturbing facts is that the United States’ adversaries, including Russia, “don’t fear us.”
On Friday, the same day that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for hacking Democrats’ emails, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats issued a new alert on Russia. “The warning lights are blinking red again,” he said, also likening them to the danger signs that presaged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.