CIA Director Mike Pompeo just warned that the U.S. will retaliate against Russia if that nation attempts to interfere in this year's midterm elections.
The warning came on Monday, in an interview with the BBC's security correspondent, Gordon Corera.
Asked if he thought the Russians would target the midterms, Pompeo’s response was to the point.
"Of course, I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that. But I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election. That we'll push back in a way that is sufficiently robust, that the impact they will have on our election won't be that great."
The operative words there are: "we’ll push back in a way that is sufficiently robust."
Because that line strongly implies that the Trump administration has already made a decision to retaliate against any Russian effort to disrupt the election.
For a start, note that Pompeo’s is a declarative commitment: "we’ll push back," instead of an equivocating "we can push back if necessary" etc.
If meant seriously, such a policy would have to be authorized at the highest levels of the government. After all, only Trump could order retaliation to a Russian cyberattack or any other form of interference. Indeed, even if Trump has chosen to defer to Pompeo on any possible response, he has at least made that decision.
Yet it’s also interesting that Pompeo used the words "sufficiently robust." That language suggests a pretty aggressive counter-response to any Russian aggression.
What might this entail? In response to a query, the CIA told the Washington Examiner that "we won’t be able to provide additional information beyond the Director’s remarks." That said, we can make some educated guesses.
At the the low end of retaliatory response, for example, it could involve the National Security Agency (while the CIA has some advanced cyber-capabilities, the NSA is the premier U.S. cyber-intelligence service) crashing Russian government servers, disrupting the communication flows of the Russian intelligence services, or shutting down the personal bank or other accounts used by top Russian officials.
The U.S. intent would be to impose a cost calculation on Russian government that has not been felt until now. Put simply, the U.S. would be saying, "You do not want to play this game with us."
Regardless, Pompeo’s interview is good news. It shows that Pompeo gets the nature of the enemies we face and seems comfortable embracing risks to deter and defeat them.
For an inside the Beltway player, those are rare qualities. And ones perfectly suited to the CIA.