Why Obama failed the United States on cyber defense

People who know me know my politics. I'm normally pretty liberal, usually to the left of many of my Democratic friends. But not on all issues. I'm a veteran, a former intelligence guy, and spent decades dealing with cybersecurity issues, even before people knew there were any.

There is a significant issue that's been sticking with me for six months and I feel compelled to mention it, now that it's finally getting some press. Let me summarize:

In 2016, America's mainland was attacked for the first time in its history, and President Obama ignored it and President Trump is pretending that it didn't happen.

I am referring to the 2016 election hacks by Russia. Notice I said "hacks," not RT propaganda or Putin jerking Clinton's chain. There were actual penetration attempts against software and voting officials email accounts, and in the computerized world that we live in today, this should be considered as much an act of war as shooting at military ships or outright annexation of disputed land.

Yes, we can quibble with my statement above. Obama probably took some actions, but the ones that we know of were futile and meaningless. Trump may in fact be doing something about it that I don't know about. But the fact remains that this is not some back alley spy-vs-spy thing, this was the equivalent of a military aggression against our democracy. Regardless of the response that's ultimately deemed necessary by our leadership, the American public should have been informed of this prior to the election, and IMHO, Congress, screwed up as they currently are, should have been involved. Since Obama didn't do it then, Trump must do it now. If he doesn't, because it appears to invaldidate his election, Congress should do it for him. It's their job.

President Obama knew about the Russian attempts to hack our voting machines several months before the election. Apparently, he did not call Putin out on this publicly because he was sure that Secretary Clinton would win, and the whole thing could be dealt with quietly, not tarnishing his legacy.

This is a miscalculation based on ego and political algebra that rivals any Shakespearean hubris ridden tragedy. Obama let us, the American people, down. He should have addressed Congress and the nation, and told us what was happening, even if it did trigger a constitutional crisis. I hold Obama accountable, not because he's a venal or corrupt politician, but for the exact opposite reason--he is a good man who made a bad mistake for the wrong reasons.

I predict that this will be his true legacy, and it's not a good one for the history books.

And as for Trump? He's a narcissistic bully who was given a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Congressional chocolate factory. I really don't expect any better from him, which is sad. But regardless, his duty is clear. 

This attack should be dealt with appropriately by a unified American government, not because of politics but because of patriotism.


All quotes are from: David Holtzman, Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy, Jossey-Bass, 2006.

“It’s no coincidence that emails have been the key evidence at the center of most political and financial scandals since the mid-1990s. Data lasts forever. Privacy does not.” 


“The Internet is a wonderful venue for anonymous tricks whose political potential hasn’t been fully realized. Many voters depend on the Internet for political information, but it’s also the ideal echo chamber for whisper campaigns -- extremely difficult to attribute slander and even harder to effectively refute charges. The 2008 presidential election may be the first war of words fought primarily on the Internet, not by official websites or the candidates, but by third parties using slander, labeling and outright lying to get their candidate elected. 2006 could make Nixon’s 1972 reelection bid look like a pillow fight.”

“When pictures are created deliberately to damage another person’s reputation, they’re spreading disinformation, an intelligence term for deliberately misleading people by providing false information. Information technology can mislead as well as inform since there’s no obvious way to check the quality of the content on a given site.”