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US Might Take Retaliatory Action Against Russian Cyber Attacks


By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Vice President Joseph Biden made a strange statement. He claimed that the U.S. was making preparations to strike back at Russia for attempting to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. More specifically, Biden suggested that the Obama administration was set to authorize clandestine activity against Moscow in response to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacking.

Now that Biden has made this public statement, ensuing U.S. activities cannot be considered clandestine. However, he didn’t reveal what actions will happen or when they will happen. Even for Washington, the public claim that a clandestine operation will soon take place is certainly strange.

The message itself may be part of the response to Russian attempts to interfere with the election. The Obama administration only has a few more months in office. Escalating a low-level conflict with Russia is not something the President desires to engage in on his way out of the White House.

It’s also noteworthy that previous red lines set by the administration have been crossed without any meaningful retaliatory action. Furthermore, hitting Russia in any way will likely invite a negative response, which President Obama seeks to avoid. For example, the sanctions levied against Russia in response to the annexation of the Crimea led to Moscow’s intervention in Syria.

US Foreign Policy Becomes a Game of Moves and Counter-moves

President Obama will not want to increase tensions with Russia just before the election; this statement by the Vice President reveals that fact. There is very little reason to telegraph your intention to carry out a clandestine operation unless you have no intention of doing it.

The New York Times suggested that Mr. Biden might be engaging in some sort of psychological warfare against the Russians by sowing uncertainty about U.S. intentions. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Russia could care less about the U.S. threatening clandestine action, nor do they care if the U.S. releases its own trove of correspondence between Mr. Putin and his inner circle.

Western Media Overestimates Its Influence on Russian People

Western media tends to believe, as evidenced by numerous op-eds on the subject, that releasing information on Mr. Putin, such as his hidden wealth, will have a devastating impact on his standing in Russia.

The problem is that much of the media consumed within Russia comes from Russian media sources funded by the government. Outside news sources do make their way into Russia, but they don’t seem to resonate with the general public.

Western media must learn that just because it has a global presence doesn’t mean that it has a global audience. Counter-propaganda must be tailored and run through other sources that are appropriate for their targets.

Mr. Biden’s statement that the U.S. is preparing to retaliate against Russia may indeed be accurate, but the next president will be the person taking any retaliatory actions. That’s if anything is done at all.