Barack Obama's former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers, told NBC News on Saturday that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election are the "political equivalent of 9/11."
"This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious," Vickers told NBC News. "The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had … I don't see much evidence of a response."
President Donald Trump, who U.S. intelligence agencies believe was the beneficiary of the alleged Russian operation to hack into Democratic email systems and release embarrassing information, has repeatedly evinced skepticism that any such operation occurred, or that Russia was responsible.
"You've got to restore some measure of deterrence," Vickers said. "You hit 'em back, punish 'em in some ways, which I don't think has been done by the last administration or this one. They are kind of on the offense, and we're not pushing back."
Department of Homeland Security officials believe Russia not only hacked into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign email systems, but probed as many as 21 states' election systems for vulnerabilities. Investigators have also turned up evidence voter roll data in at least one county was manipulated, and stolen in other cases.
Continuing FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and congressional investigations are looking into whether Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to maximize the damage done by the leaks, but no hard evidence of such has yet emerged to the public. However, Trump's alleged interference in the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn — namely, by firing the agency's director, James Comey — has spawned its own ongoing scandal.