The Obama administration had a “back channel” to communicate with Russian officials, according to a new report detailing Moscow’s efforts to delegitimize the U.S. presidential election results.
The news comes after Trump White House aide Jared Kushner was criticized for allegedly trying to open a back channel line of communications with Russian officials during the transition last year.
Former intelligence officials called Kushner’s alleged back-channel “dangerous,” but now Bloomberg reports the Obama administration had its own backchannel to Moscow.
The White House contacted the Kremlin on what Bloomberg described as a “modern-day red phone” after Russian operatives tried to infiltrate software and databases used by state election officials.
Bloomberg reports (bold is my own):
The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.
The “red phone” wasn’t literally a phone, but a secure messaging channel for ” urgent messages and documents,” according to Bloomberg. NBC News first reported on the red phone in December, noting the red phone has existed in various forms for the last 50 years or so.
In fact, the Obama administration said the red phone communications must have worked to keep Moscow from launching cyber attacks against election systems.
“Look at the results,” one Obama administration official told NBC in December. “There was nothing done on Election Day, so it must have worked.”
But that may not have been the case.
The White House provided evidence gathered on Russia’s hacking efforts and reasons why the U.S. considered it dangerously aggressive. Russia responded by asking for more information and providing assurances that it would look into the matter even as the hacking continued, according to the two people familiar with the response. “Last year, as we detected intrusions into websites managed by election officials around the country, the administration worked relentlessly to protect our election infrastructure,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for former President Barack Obama. “Given that our election systems are so decentralized, that effort meant working with Democratic and Republican election administrators from all across the country to bolster their cyber defenses.”
Bloomberg reported the cyber attacks “paint a worrisome picture for future elections” since the “newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.”
“They’re coming after America,” Comey recently told congressional investigators. “They will be back.”