A brazen Russian counterintelligence operation that stretched from the Bay Area to the heart of the nation’s capital hacked into devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams and may have made other electronic incursions into some of America’s most sensitive intelligence systems, Yahoo News reports. The previously secret operation, which one former senior intelligence official called a “stunning” technical breakthrough, was a motivation for the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russian diplomats, which had been attributed only to Russia’s interference with the 2016 American presidential election.
In December 2016, the the Obama administration announced that it was giving nearly three dozen Russian diplomats just 72 hours to leave the United States and was seizing two rural East Coast estates owned by the Russian government. The election interference was the public rationale for the harshest U.S. diplomatic reprisals taken against Russia in several decades. But both compounds and at least some of the expelled diplomats played key roles in a counterintelligence operation that hampered the FBI’s ability to track Russian spies on U.S. soil, forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to former U.S. officials. These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.