The most patriotic moment of former FBI director James Comey’s testimony this week came when he attempted to jolt the nation awake to the subversive force that in many ways has already stormed our shores.
“They’re coming for America,” Comey said of Russia, “and they will be back.”
In fact with each passing month since the November election, an unsettling picture of the kaleidoscope of Russia interference last year has come more clearly into focus. Initially, we learned of how ferociously “fake news” infected our digital digest, largely at the direction of a Russian bots and trolls. That was November. Then in early January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified 25-page report detailing the intelligence estimate of 17 agencies that Russia had engaged in a widespread and highly sophisticated propaganda effort to hack political targets (both Democratic and Republican), create misinformation campaigns, and drive coverage
those campaigns. And yes, they were doing it all to benefit Donald Trump.
In March, we got a couple more bombshells: Obama administration officials were so freaked out by team Trump that they scrambled to preserve intelligence about the Russian meddling by dispersing it widely across the government; and James Comey told us for the first time that the FBI was investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and had been doing so since last July. (Good god, since last summer!)
The New York Times provided April’s head turner: the CIA had briefed top Congressional lawmakers—the Gang of Eight—about Russian efforts to help Trump win the election as early as last August. Though the FBI had already opened an investigation by then, it had not yet concluded Russia was working in support of Trump. However, the drip, drip, drip of leaked DNC and Podesta emails in the fall would begin to change minds within the agency.
By the time former CIA chief John Brennan was up in May, what could be left? Plenty. Brennan described a harrowing few months at the agency last summer when he saw intelligence suggesting possible collusion between Trump and Russia that he felt was “worthy” of further investigation by the FBI. Brennan found the intel so unsettling that, beyond briefing lawmakers, he contacted his Russian counterpart in the intelligence community last August and told him to knock it off.
Those are the basic threads leading up to this week’s leaked National Security Agency report detailing Russian efforts to go beyond external influence campaigns and reach directly into US voting systems themselves.