The US is normally secretive about its cyberattacks against Russia, but it just acknowledged one of them. President Trump confirmed to the Washington Post in an interview that he authorized an attack against the Internet Research Agency (a troll team key to Russian interference with US elections since 2016) that started on the day of the 2018 US midterm elections and lasted several days. Trump characterized the move as effective. “Look, we stopped [Russia],” he told the Post.
He also incorrectly claimed that former President Obama “said nothing” about Russian interference during the 2016 election. Obama publicly criticized Russia in October 2016 for targeting the Democrats, and imposed sanctions in December. Reports also surfaced of Obama launching a secret cyber operation in August of that year after learning of Russian attempts to hack American election systems.
The 2018 US attack on Russia was reportedly meant to disrupt efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of midterm results, which saw the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives.
The confirmation is a change of tune for Trump. He previously claimed that Russia had stopped cyberattacks agains the US and has supported Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of interference in the 2016 election despite evidence. Here, Trump is directly confirming at least one Russian interference attempt.
It’s not certain how Russia will respond to Trump’s statement, although history suggests it’s unlikely to acknowledge the IRA’s activities. As it stands, American intelligence agencies and internet giants have shifted much of their attention to potential Russian actions during the 2020 election — those officials and companies will want to know if Trump’s statement will lead to a similar crackdown.