The scale and scope of the recently revealed computer hack of scores of federal government agencies, U.S. corporations and perhaps other targets appears to be unprecedented.
The U.S. response must be commensurate. First, an intensive investigation must determine how many entities were compromised and how much damage has been done. How did the cyberattack go undetected for nearly nine months? What can be done quickly to staunch the digital bleeding? And how can the U.S. effectively respond without triggering a self-defeating escalation?
Under normal times, under a normal president, this nation would lead a domestically bipartisan and internationally allied response to such a breach. But President Donald Trump is not that president.
Indeed, instead of concurring with most every expert — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the Russians "pretty clearly" were behind the attack — Trump deflected Kremlin complicity, suggesting Saturday that China could be the culprit before once again putting his obsessive grievance over losing the election over the interests of the country.
"The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality," Trump tweeted. "I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA."
First, the hack is not being overplayed. In fact, it may not be getting enough attention. "The scope of this and the sophistication of this are probably unparalleled," Paul Triolo, who heads the geo-technology practice for the Eurasia Group, told an editorial writer.
And blaming Russia isn't a chant, but the data-driven analysis of intelligence professionals like Trump's former Homeland Security Adviser Thomas P. Bossert, who wrote in a New York Times commentary that "domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation — both hallmarks of Russian behavior."
Some other Republicans have reacted responsibly, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who said Sunday on "Meet the Press" that "Russia acted with impunity." Speaking of Trump, Romney added: "We've come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia."
Romney's congressional colleagues shouldn't have the same blind spot about the Kremlin — or the president. Which is why it's not only damaging to democracy but dangerous to national security for so many GOPers to continue to indulge Trump's election lies.
Congress should instead ensure that Trump doesn't make President-elect Joe Biden's task even harder. To that end, Congress should be quite clear that it will override Trump's peevish veto threat of the new National Defense Authorization Act, which has several provisions to strengthen cyber defense, over unrelated legal protections for social media sites.
"You would hope that the U.S. government response would be more uniform," Triolo said. "In this particular time, it's a very troubling response from the top." Especially since the hack is not only political but, as Triolo describes it, "a very serious attack on the fabric of the internet more globally."
Accordingly, a more global response is needed. That means more unity at home and cohesion abroad. Trump is not the leader who will accomplish, let alone attempt, this. But Biden should not be hindered by an outgoing president and complicit congressional members putting party over country.