By Ryan Grim
WASHINGTON — A former CIA operative who now serves as a member of Congress indicated at a recent public event that the U.S. has engaged in “offensive cyber operations” against Russia, a revelation that comes while the two countries are effectively squaring off in Syria and Ukraine.
The disclosure of the operations, which are likely classified, may have skirted the legal line with some coy phrasing.
“I got a degree in computer science. I did some offensive cyber operations when I was in the CIA,” said Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who was at the agency from 2000 to 2009.
Hurd was speaking at an event on Thursday organized by The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons. “Were you the Stuxnet dude?” Clemons quickly interjected, referring to an alleged joint U.S.-Israeli effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear infrastructure in 2009.
“No, no,” Hurd said. “Let’s just say I’ll probably never be invited to Moscow anytime soon. And I’m not too concerned with that.”
Several media outlets, including The Huffington Post, have previously reported that hackers linked to Russia have launched cyberattacks against U.S. government agencies — but attacks by the U.S. government against Moscow are lesser known.
A spokesman for Hurd downplayed the significance of his remarks. “I’ve heard him say that exact same thing before. But he has never, even in private conversations, gone beyond that or gotten more specific,” Shana Teehan said. “I assume he’s being discreet for a reason.”
It is likely that Hurd received guidance from the CIA before he departed about the degree of specificity in which he could discuss his past work. He has dismissed the idea that he is prohibited from talking at all about his time in the CIA as “purely apocryphal” and cited his experience as an undercover officer on his campaign website.
The freshman lawmaker quickly gained a reputation as “one of Congress’s top thinkers on cybersecurity,” said Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation who hosted Hurd on a cybersecurity podcast last year. It’s unclear if Hurd went past what he is allowed to disclose. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on whether that information is classified.
Hurd likes to tell people that he decided to run for Congress after briefing lawmakers as an undercover CIA agent and discovering how poorly they understood the Middle East. With undercover postings in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hurd said that during his nine-year stint at the agency, he “chased al Qaeda all over the world, chased Iranian scientists” — but sometimes, the members he briefed knew barely anything about the issues at hand, and often couldn’t be bothered to learn.
“To be frank, I was pretty disappointed with the caliber of our elected officials,” Hurd said at Thursday’s event, describing a scene in which he heard one member ask how soon the briefing would be over so they could get on with the pressing business of rug shopping in Kabul. Hurd recalled that one of the most senior members present at the briefing asked about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam. “It’s OK for my big brother not to know that because he sells cable — but for a guy who’s sending our boys and girls to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — unacceptable,” said Hurd, using phrasing he has used almost verbatim to tell the same story before.
Hurd elaborated at length, and to great comedic effect, on his not-so-charitable view of his pupils-turned-comrades in the House during Thursday’s event. Watch the video above to see him blow his own cover, and then blow up on his colleagues.
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