In 2016, CIA Director John Brennan divulged still-classified “wake-up call” intelligence that prompted the Obama administration to reconsider how it viewed Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
That information was revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report, which focused on the Kremlin’s active measures during the 2016 presidential campaign and on the Obama administration’s faltering response to Russian interference and WikiLeaks dumps.
The 54-page, heavily redacted bipartisan findings stated, “Moscow’s history of leaking politically damaging information” and the “increasingly significant publication of illicitly-obtained information” by WikiLeaks were “not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach.”
“The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the intelligence community, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue,” the Senate report concluded, noting Obama officials then guarded that secretive late July or early August intelligence as closely as the preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden.
The specific information that jolted the Obama administration into action is hidden within a blacked-out section titled, “[Redacted] Intelligence Was The ‘Wake Up’ Call.” The information appears to have been revealed to Obama officials by Brennan, based on a nonredacted footnote citing his June 2017 Senate testimony and on paragraphs noting that the information was “briefed by Director Brennan.”
Exactly what Obama national security adviser Susan Rice recalled from that briefing is redacted, but the report states that, “within an hour or two of learning of the information, Ambassador Rice advocated for the material to be briefed to President Obama.”
Rice said “the president’s reaction was of grave concern” and “prompted her to call the first of a series of restricted small-group Principals Committee meetings on the topic.”
“During the meeting with the President, Director Brennan also advised the President of a plan to brief key individuals, including congressional leadership, but not to disseminate the intelligence via routine reporting channels,” the report stated.
The report stated that, due to the August recess, the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders, including then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were briefed individually from early August through early September.
The Senate committee noted, “The receipt of the sensitive intelligence prompted the National Security Council to begin a series of restricted Principals Committee meetings to craft the administration’s response.” The discussions “were atypically restricted” and excluded key officials, including the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Most Obama officials interviewed by the Senate first learned of the DNC hack from the news media in mid-June. Their initial reaction was that it “fell within the bounds of traditional espionage and was not understood immediately to be a precursor to an active measures campaign,” the report stated.
The “weaponization of information” began with June blog posts by Russian military persona Guccifer 2.0 and Russia-operated DCLeaks.
“Despite this, as of mid-July 2016, both the intelligence community and policymakers were generally not under the impression that Russia was engaged in an active measures campaign targeting the 2016 election,” the committee said.
Three days after WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked DNC emails, the FBI announced it was “investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC.”