White House Fails to Detect a Single Cyber Threat

After ordering ‘national emergency,’ Obama admin finds no cyber danger

White House
White House / AP
May 31, 2016

The White House has been unable to detect a single cyber security threat more than six months after issuing a "national emergency" to deal with what the administration identified as growing and immediate danger, according to a new government report.

Six months after President Barack Obama invoked emergency powers to block the assets of any person caught engaging in "malicious cyber-enabled activities," the administration has not identified a single qualifying target, according to the Treasury Department, which disclosed in a report that "no entities or individuals have been designated."

The April 2015 directive issued by the White House identified an "increasing prevalence and severity of malicious cyber-enabled activities" among individuals living outside the United States.

These activities were said to constitute "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," prompting Obama to declare "a national emergency to deal with this threat."

A half a year later, the White House still has not invoked this power to combat growing cyber threats, despite a rise in such activity among rogue nations such as Iran, North Korea, and China.

"The Department of the Treasury took no punitive licensing actions, and it assessed no monetary penalties," according to the department’s first periodic review of the president’s emergency order.

The White House has not explained why it has not yet invoked its powers, even following reports that Russian hackers penetrated the State Department and "sensitive parts" of the White House’s computer networks last year.

The Pentagon and other branches of the U.S. government also have been the targets of these types of attacks, which officials have traced back to the Russians, North Koreans, and others.

Military organizations tied to the Iranian government also have been identified as hacking into the email and social media accounts of White House officials.

The emergency powers invoked by Obama could be used to sanction individuals tied to these attacks if the administration agrees that such a determination should be made.

Those responsible for the cyber attacks already reported by the media and currently being investigated by federal authorities could quality for designation under these emergency powers.

The cyber threat posed by other nations and foreign criminals continues to grow, according to the White House, which moved to take further action on this front in February.

"Criminals, terrorists, and countries who wish to do us harm have all realized that attacking us online is often easier than attacking us in person," the White House disclosed in announcing the creation of national plan of action to combat cyber terrorists. "As more and more sensitive data is stored online, the consequences of those attacks grow more significant each year."

A month after Obama invoked the emergency powers, Congress launched a probe into data breaches at the White House. Some lawmakers suspected that the White House had attempted to downplay the extent of these attacks by Russians and others.