“Current and former officials,” who the report claims have direct knowledge of the situation, say the CIA has been tasked with providing options to the White House.
Sources tell the channel that US intelligence has started preparations for the operation and has even obtained “reams of documents” to target Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “unsavory tactics.”
Earlier this week, the White House said President Barack Obama was weighing a “proportional response” to Moscow. Spokesman John Earnest told reporters that the president was still deciding on “response options” that would probably not be announced in advance and may never be disclosed.
As sources have told NBC News, there is “a division” at the Obama administration on whether or not Capitol Hill should retaliate.
“If someone has decided, ‘we’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places,” a former CIA officer, who worked on Russia, said.
The same source has also revealed that it was not an unusual practice for the White House to ask the CIA to pitch options for anti-Russia measures, including cyberattacks. However, it never went further than just requests.
“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” the former CIA officer said.
Another former officer confirmed the words of his colleague to NBC News. As the one who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, he said that over the years he was asked several times to work on action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective.”
He believes that embarrassing Putin was a particularly tough case, because there is not anything the US can do to which Russia would not be able to respond. Of a hypothetical example being made of Russian bank accounts, he said: “Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?”
The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within, the documents indicate.
According to officials, the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence has a team of “hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions.”
On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the US is “sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
When asked if Americans would know a message was sent, Biden replied, “hope not,”essentially echoing the White House.
WikiLeaks, however, expressed doubt over the seriousness of the report about the “clandestine” cyberwar on Russia.
Accusations against Russia have been louder in recent days with WikiLeaks releasing thousands of dubbed “Podesta emails” exposing Hillary Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, views on Syria and details of her presidential campaign. In much of the US media reporting, the perception is that the Kremlin works along with WikiLeaks, providing it with materials to post. The allegations have been denied both in Moscow and by WikiLeaks.
This week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the claims of Russia trying interfere in the US presidential election as “ridiculous.”
“It’s flattering, of course, to get this kind of attention – for a regional power, as President Obama called us some time ago,” Lavrov said in an interview with CNN. “Now everybody in the United States is saying that it is Russia which is running the [US] presidential debate,” he said, adding, “we have not seen a single fact, a single proof.”