Duckworth to NSA Director: Did Russians Bug the Oval Office?
[WASHINGTON, DC] - U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) wrote to National Security Agency (NSA) Director Admiral Michael Rogers to ask whether any security sweeps were conducted following the President's recent meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador, as well as whether any listening or recording devices were found in the Oval Office. In the letter, Duckworth asked Admiral Rogers whether the NSA or the Central Security Service were consulted before top Putin officials and staff were allowed into the Oval Office. She also asked if either agency was asked to provide White House staff or the Secret Service with a training on how to safeguard information. American press were barred from that meeting but Russian state-sponsored media was allowed in, raising concerns about whether any of their equipment was compromised or could have resulted in a security breach.
"The United States Government must counter the hostile actions of the Russian Government and its authoritarian allies, such as Syria and Iran," wrote Duckworth. "However, I am deeply concerned that President Donald Trump's increasingly erratic, inconsistent and inflammatory rhetoric and actions undermine our Nation's ability to execute an effective whole-of-government approach ... I am most alarmed and frustrated, however, at reports that the Commander in Chief used his meeting to deliver highly classified intelligence to the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador - who themselves may have been recording the Oval Office meeting, with or without President Trump's knowledge or approval."
President Trump's decision to host Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office came less than 24 hours after Admiral Rogers testified that the NSA was able to warn our critical North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) ally, France, about Russia's interference in its recent presidential election. In light of Admiral Rogers' testimony, Duckworth questioned the "strategic logic, value or wisdom of the Commander in Chief's perplexing decision to honor Russia's Foreign Minister" with an Oval Office meeting. She also noted how Russia's continued efforts to influence the outcomes of elections across the world, including the United States, have alarmed the intelligence community. Duckworth recently wrote to Defense Secretary Mattis expressing her concern that, in light of these threats, the President's decision to disclose highly classified information to the Russian government could undermine the Defense Department's development of a comprehensive strategy to confront Russian aggression.
"President Trump's decision to share sensitive intelligence that was provided by an ally undermines trust and threatens the U.S. Intelligence Community's ability to gather future information that may be vital to stopping future terrorist plots," added Duckworth. "Beyond putting our Nation's security at risk and harming our credibility across the globe, the decision to reveal this information could lead to the loss of life, betraying brave individuals willing to risk everything to help us degrade, disrupt and dismantle ISIL ... It is vital that we better understand the views of Cybercom, NSA and CSS on the status of these efforts and potential damage wrought by President Trump's unusual affinity and devotion to maintain friendly relations with the Putin Government."
A copy of the letter is available below and online here.
May 22, 2017
Admiral Michael S. Rogers
Commander, U.S. Cyber Command
Director, National Security Agency
Chief, Central Security Service
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300
Dear Admiral Rogers:
I want to commend the dedication and hard work of the civil servants and uniformed personnel who serve with the National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Cyber Command (Cybercom) and the Central Security Service (CSS). As you testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 9, 2017, the hard work and expertise of the NSA enabled our Nation to identify and warn our critical North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, France, about Russia's interference in its recent presidential election:
"...we had become aware of Russian activity. We had talked to our French counterparts prior to the public announcements of the events that were publicly attributed this past weekend, and gave them a heads-up, "look, we're watching the Russians, we're seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here's what we've seen. What can we do to try to assist?" We're doing similar things with our German counterparts, with our British counterparts. They have an upcoming election sequence. We're all trying to figure out how can we try to learn from each other, and that's much more my NSA role than my Cyber Command role."
Russia's interference in France's presidential election is particularly concerning in light of the declassified findings of the January 6, 2017, Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Your May 9 testimony indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government may be emboldened by their successful 2016 influence campaign. As the declassified ICA noted:
"Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow's longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
· We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence."
An observer of recent events may reasonably conclude that after Russian President Putin witnessed his government interfere in the American election to help elect his preferred candidate, President Donald Trump - Putin was further emboldened to interfere in the French election in support of the Russian Government's preferred candidate, Marine Le Pen - who coincidently, was also the French candidate favored by President Donald Trump, who did not offer a formal endorsement, but publicly described Le Pen as the "strongest" candidate.
The United States Government must counter the hostile actions of the Russian Government and its authoritarian allies, such as Syria and Iran. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) plays an important role in developing and implementing a unified, cohesive strategy to combat the Russian threat. However, I am deeply concerned that President Donald Trump's increasingly erratic, inconsistent and inflammatory rhetoric and actions undermine our Nation's ability to execute an effective whole-of-government approach.
I do not understand the strategic logic, value or wisdom of the Commander in Chief's perplexing decision to honor Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, with a meeting in the Oval Office - when less than 24 hours earlier, you testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee about NSA's efforts to help a NATO ally counter the hostile cyber activities of Russia.
In addition, I am troubled by President Trump's decision to ban American press from the meeting, while allowing Russian Federation-controlled media outlets to enter the Oval Office with their own audio-visual equipment. It is also interesting that President Trump failed to disclose that the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, would be attending the meeting - a secret attendee whose presence in the Oval Office was only revealed to the American public when Russian media publicly posted the photos of President Trump laughing and smiling with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak.
I am most alarmed and frustrated, however, at reports that the Commander in Chief used his meeting to deliver highly classified intelligence to the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador - who themselves may have been recording the Oval Office meeting, with or without President Trump's knowledge or approval.
President Trump's decision to share sensitive intelligence that was provided by an ally undermines trust and threatens the U.S. Intelligence Community's ability to gather future information that may be vital to stopping future terrorist plots. Beyond putting our Nation's security at risk and harming our credibility across the globe, the decision to reveal this information could lead to the loss of life, betraying brave individuals willing to risk everything to help us degrade, disrupt and dismantle ISIL.
In conducting oversight of the Federal Government's effort to counter the Russian threat and protect critical human intelligence assets abroad, it is vital that we better understand the views of Cybercom, NSA and CSS on the status of these efforts and potential damage wrought by President Trump's unusual affinity and devotion to maintain friendly relations with the Putin Government. Accordingly, I am requesting you provide your detailed assessment and explanation of the following:
1. Whether the United States Secret Service or any other representative of President Trump consulted with NSA and/or CSS on information security best practice safeguards to implement prior to giving top Putin officials and staff access to the White House and Oval Office;
2. If NSA and/or CSS was in fact consulted prior to the Oval Office Meeting with Russian officials, whether either entity approved of, or expressed concern with, President Trump's decision to allow the Russian Federation and affiliated media outlets to bring electronic equipment onto the White House grounds and into the Oval Office;
3. What security sweeps were conducted following the Oval Office meeting, and whether NSA and/or CSS was consulted by the United States Secret Service or any other representative of President Trump, in carrying out these post-meeting security sweeps;
4. Whether any Russian-planted listening or recording devices were identified in the Oval Office, in the White House or on the White House grounds - and if devices were found, your assessment of the potential damage caused by the breach;
5. The impact on NSA and CSS morale as a result of the Commander in Chief's disclosure of highly classified intelligence, which NSA and CSS employees attempt to protect and safeguard daily and which if they disclose, would be prosecuted and sent to prison.
6. The impact of last week's White House meeting on perceptions held by Cybercom, NSA and CSS personnel, along with our NATO allies, in regard to our Nation's intent with respect to Russia;
7. An assessment of current U.S.-Russia relations and whether you agree with the statements of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who noted, "Challenges posed by Russia include alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons; treaty violations; the use of hybrid warfare tactics to destabilize other countries; and involvement in hacking and information warfare," and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who observed, "Russia is a full-scope cyber actor that will remain a major threat to US Government, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical infrastructure";
8. Given the apparent contradictions - in word and deed - between the White House and the NSA, an assessment of NSA's ability to develop a fully integrated Russian strategy and whether last week's meeting undermined your efforts; and
9. In light of the President revealing deeply sensitive information to Russia pertaining to our efforts to combat ISIL, please provide an impact assessment of this revelation on NSA's current and future operations, including an analysis on how this disclosure may impact current intelligence sharing arrangements with our allies, whether those agreements were threatened and whether you have been contacted directly by any of your counterparts expressing their concerns with President Trump's words and actions.
Given the sensitive and likely classified nature of these requests, my office is ready to help facilitate the logistics of ensuring classified information is properly transmitted in accordance with all applicable guidelines for handling of classified material.
I want to reiterate my appreciation to the hardworking Americans who serve in Cybercom, NSA and CSS. No matter what President Trump says or tweets, they should know that their service and sacrifices are recognized by those who understand the gravity of the threat posed by Russia and its close allies, such as Syria and Iran. Thank you in advance for reviewing my request and I look forward to your prompt reply.
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