Former CIA Director Michael Hayden drew parallels on Tuesday between the intelligence failures in the lead up to 9/11 and Russian meddling in American affairs through social media in 2016.
Hayden was responding to a CNN story released Monday about a former Obama White House official who said the US government could have thwarted a Russian troll group’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. The official, Brett Bruen, who served as the White House director of global engagement from 2013 to 2015, said he warned colleagues on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council in 2014 that America would be targeted by Russian trolls.
Watching a segment of Bruen’s interview on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday morning, Hayden said that it reminded him “a bit of pre-9/11.”
“I know there are serious differences here. But in terms of the intelligence analysis, pre-9/11, we knew al Qaeda was coming after us, but we thought they were coming after us in terms of US interests overseas, not in the homeland,” Hayden said.
Hayden said that similarly in the lead-up to 2016, the intelligence community did not realize that Russian disinformation techniques used in Crimea could also be exported to, and be effective in, the United States.
He said Obama was too slow to respond to the threat of Russian disinformation and he said that some people in the intelligence community would acknowledge that they were slow in emphasizing the reality of the threat to the President.
Bruen recalled his time in the administration, in 2014, “I was sitting in the Situation Room saying, ‘Why do we continue to look at this as an issue that only concerns Ukraine, that only concerns Eastern Europe? This is something that’s going to march across Western Europe. This is something that’s going to march over to our shores, and we need to be ready.”
While a half dozen former State Department and NSC officials who spoke to CNN all agreed more should have been done to counter Russian misinformation in the lead-up to the 2016 election, they disagreed on what tactics could or should have been implemented to deter it.
“I would have loved to have had more support for that from all across government, not just from the State Department but from the intelligence and defense communities as well,” said Rick Stengel, the State Department’s undersecretary of state for public affairs under Obama.
“But even today, I’m not sure that there is an effective way of countering, much less thwarting, disinformation and propaganda. And if there is, I haven’t heard of it,” he said.
Another person who served on the NSC at the time said she was not convinced that Bruen’s proposed plan on its own would have thwarted Russian troll activity aimed at the US.