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Fecteau: Obama Strikes Back, but Too Little, too Late?

Sunday, January 01, 2017


The Obama administration held Russia incrementally accountable for suspected meddling in this past presidential election through a combination of sanctions and other actions. Some media reports say this is one of the toughest responses in American history to hacking. 

If so, that is just sad.  President Barack Obama needs to go much further. 

Russia has not been our cyber-friend. It routinely hacked, compromised, and stole sensitive information from American online networks. In fact, a number of news organizations recently reported Russia was behind hacks at the Vermont Utility, leaving harmful malware behind. 

Enough is enough. Russia should face some stiff penalty to deter future attacks, and send a strong message to other countries planning such attacks. 

The current actions appear inconsequential, if only symbolic. Russian intelligence officials and state-sponsored hackers sanctioned hold few assets in the United States. The 35 suspected intelligence operatives’ careers are ruined, but does it matter? Russian based private organizations, such as Zor Security, will have problems doing business in the United States, but the bulk of its business is likely with Russia – a negligible measure.  

Also, is this too little too late? The American government knew about these cyberattacks for years. Regarding the latest, most controversial ones, the FBI was aware Russian sponsored actors penetrated or sought to penetrate a number of political networks since the fall of 2015. 

In defense of the Obama administration, it likely didn’t want a Russian reprisal especially during election season. Yet, I should note, Democratic National Committee officials have since acknowledged its systems were routinely compromised; these hacks should also be further investigated. 

The Obama administration, and the incoming Trump administration need to understand: we are in a cyberwar. Obama’s response seemed too tempered, and reserved. How many countries need to hack our systems before the American government realizes this? The United States must respond to these cyber-intrusions with a real response to make countries like Russia think twice. 

The United States government should further retaliate. Both the CIA and the National Security Agency have the capabilities to penetrate or erode Russian cyber-networks. For example, the intelligence community – specifically the CIA or the NSA -- has the ability to penetrate foreign cyber-networks, and leave behind harmful malware – two can play at that game, huh? 

While I agree with President Obama on a number of issues, I wish he took the cyber threat more seriously earlier on. President Obama has less than a month in office. For his legacy’s sake, he needs to respond to Russian sponsored hacking in a firm, determined manner. These latest penalties are simply insignificant. 


Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a Democratic candidate for office in 2014 and 2016. He is a former White House national security intern and Iraq war veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


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