Trump clashes with secretary of state Mike Pompeo over who was responsible for massive cyberattack

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David Millward
·4 min read
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Mike Pompeo - Mike Segar/AFP
Mike Pompeo - Mike Segar/AFP

Donald Trump was last night at odds with one of his closest allies, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, over who was responsible for the massive cyber-attack on the US government.

 

While Mr Pompeo fell into line with the consensus that Russia orchestrated the hack, Mr Trump suggested without evidence that China could have been the culprit, adding that it  may have also helped rig the election in favour of Joe Biden.

Playing down the severity of the attack, the US president wrote:  "The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality.

"I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). 

"There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA."

According to reports in the US Mr Trump is considering removing  CYBERCOM Commander and NSA Director General Nakasone from positions over their handling of the attack.

Mr Pompeo had been the first member of the Trump administration to lay the blame with the Kremlin, endorsing the findings of the US intelligence community.

“I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Mr Pompeo said in an interview on Friday.

“This was a very significant effort,” he said, adding that “we’re still unpacking precisely what it is.”

Considered one of the president's staunchest supporters, Mr Pompeo was vocal in endorsing his claim that November's election had been stolen as he told reporters he anticipated "a smooth transition to a second Trump administration." 

He is not the only steadfast Trump ally to have fallen out with the president.  Bill Barr, who resigned as attorney general last week, was a target of the president's wrath as he said that there was no evidence of substantial fraud in November's election.

Mr Pompeo's willingness to speak out on the hack ahead of Mr Trump was seen as evidence of the secretary of state demonstrating his independence amid speculation that he could be a contender for the Republican nomination in 2024.

His stance on Russia is very much in line with views expressed by a number of senior Republicans.

Florida senator Marco Rubio, who said the attack bore the hallmarks of a Russian cyber operation, called for the US to respond if it was confirmed that the Kremlin was responsible.

“But it’s crucial we have complete certainty about who is behind this,” Rubio said. “We can’t afford to be wrong on attribution, because America must retaliate, and not just with sanctions.”

President-elect Joe Biden said his administration would impose “substantial costs” on those responsible.

“A good defence isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” Mr Biden said, adding, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyberassaults on our nation.”

Moscow, however, has denied involvement with the country's ambassador, Anatoly Antonov claiming there were “unfounded attempts by the US media to blame Russia”.

A few days before the cyberattack became public knowledge, the US announced it was closing the last two remaining consulates in Russia. It was unclear whether the events were linked.

The extent of the damage caused by the attack, which embroiled major government agencies, think tanks and at least 40 companies, is still emerging.

There are fears that it will take several months to clear the hackers out of the networks they penetrated.

The only way to guarantee security, he added, was to burn down and rebuild the penetrated networks. said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and former chief technical officer of the leading cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. 

“We should buckle up. This will be a long ride, cleanup is just phase one.”