President Trump has hurled the dire charge of "Treason" at the New York Times for its lengthy investigative piece alleging US intelligence has stepped up systematic cyber attacks on Russia's power grid. “This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country…” Trump tweeted Saturday evening in response to the story which ran hours earlier.
He then hastily added in a follow-up tweet in all caps, "ALSO, NOT TRUE!" — as if only then realizing his initial tweet seemed to actually vouch for the story. The follow-up further excoriated the Times for their reporting with "not even the slightest thought of consequence!"
Whether this means the president is outraged that a true and verified report could be detrimental to US credibility and national security, or that fake news could hurt the US and invite unnecessary cyber retaliation is still not fully evident, but Trump's impulsive Saturday evening tweets appear to back the former.
.....ALSO, NOT TRUE! Anything goes with our Corrupt News Media today. They will do, or say, whatever it takes, with not even the slightest thought of consequence! These are true cowards and without doubt, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2019
And the Times was quick to respond to the "treason" charge as follows:
Accusing the press of treason is dangerous.— NYTimes Communications (@NYTimesPR) June 16, 2019
We described the article to the government before publication. As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns. https://t.co/MU020hxwdc pic.twitter.com/4CIfcqKoEl
The NYT report outlines an alleged ongoing US operation to infiltrate and implant malware in Russia’s power grid as preparation for any potential major cyber warfare operation in the future, and further as "a warning" to the Kremlin. However, the story is light on details and heavy on the usual anonymous "current and former officials".
According to the Times, “officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets.” The officials described that “it has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year,” and that they are “doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.” Though US operations hadn't reached the level of specific attacks, the malware constitutes what's described as a “persistent presence” within Russia’s infrastructure.
The report casts the latest ramped up cyber efforts targeting Russia as part of a broader campaign to clandestinely probe the country’s electrical grid going back to 2012 — efforts which grew following alleged Russian hacking and election meddling connected with the 2016 election.
Crucially, as CNN describes of the NYT report, "Two administration officials told the Times they believed President Donald Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the US computer code being implanted inside the Russian grid."
And further, the story is outright suggesting the White House's own intelligence briefers are actually withholding vital national security information from the president:
Pentagon and intelligence officials describe to the Times "broad hesitation" to tell Trump about the details of the operations against Russia. They tell the Times there was concern over how Trump would react, and the possibility that Trump might reverse the operations or discuss it with foreign officials.
So there it is - assuming the report has merit - essentially a major "clandestine military activity" is being run by US defense and intelligence commanders but while intentionally circumventing the White House's lawful civilian oversight?
Indeed, perhaps Trump is right to have word "treason" as his first thought — though it wouldn't be on the part of the Times reporting but on the part of those seeking to hide the operation from the president himself.