Obama Reportedly Knew of Putin Meddling in U.S. Election for Months Before Responding

According to Washington Post report, information on Putin's activities reached the White House in summer, but Obama only ordered measures against Russia in December

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U.S. President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 28, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The White House learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered intervention in the U.S. election already at the beginning of August 2016, but former President Barack Obama lingered and ordered a public response only four months later, according to The Washington Post.

The Post reported on Friday that Obama received a CIA intelligence report on the matter in August, which was revealed only to him and three other senior aides. The report was based on sources in the Russian government who detailed Putin's direct involvement in a cyber campaign meant to harm the U.S. election. It also stated the Russian president's instructions: To cause the defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton or at least harm her chances of winning, and to aid the election of now-President Donald Trump.

At this stage, the extent of Russian involvement in the U.S. election was starting to become clear. A month earlier, the FBI had opened an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic and Republican parties' computers. At the end of July, some 200,000 emails stolen from Democratic National Committee computers were published by WikiLeaks. And on top of that, the U.S. State Department and the FBI noticed an uptick in the number of Russian requests for short-term visas for workers with technical skills at Russian facilities.

However, according to the Post, other intelligence agencies only adopted the CIA's position at a later date. The Obama administration published a report stating that the Russians intervened in the election during the last weeks of his term, five months after the information was received. During this time, there were debates within the administration as to how to react and punish Russia. In the end, in December Obama approved the expulsion of 35 diplomats and the imposing of limited sanctions on Russia.

The former American president also approved the planting of cyberweapons in Russian infrastructure, so that these could serve as "digital bombs" to be used in response to Russian activities, according to the Post. The project is still in planning stages, and is expected to take months. To cancel it, Trump would have to sign a new order, and it is yet unknown whether he would do so.

The matter became public at the end of September, following the statements of two senators who made it clear that according to intelligence information they had received Russia was trying to sabotage the election. Meanwhile, intelligence agencies came to agree that Putin himself orchestrated the intervention in the election.

At the beginning of October, the Obama administration publicly referred to the issue for the first time. Early drafts of the statement named the Russian president, according to the report, but the final statement did not. The U.S. administration then warned the Kremlin a number of times against further interference in the election, including in a conversation between Obama and Putin.

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