Saturday, October 15, 2016
He’s Just a Hack
So we have some pretty irrefutable evidence that Russia is hacking into Websites and email servers most relevant to the current presidential election – like hitting the Democratic National Committee or voting registration rolls in a couple of key states… just as the trailing candidate is screaming “rigged” at everything from microphones to moderators and voting machines. Trump has instilled deep skepticism – notwithstanding his audio-video sexual missteps that even have the GOP brass thinking he’s unelectable – within his immovable base, even to the point of suggesting that his followers monitor voters at polling stations to make sure they are who they say they are and do not vote twice, a rather brazen and probably illegal practice.
The Russians have been less-than-subtle that they do not like Hillary Clinton (who, along with Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has lambasted Putin and his policies, particularly in Syria). Vladimir Putin must be chortling to himself at how flattery makes Trump like him while insults make someone an enemy to talk-show-star Trump, without his even looking at the underlying political realities.
As Aleppo, from children to hospitals, faces destruction from Russian and Syrian military bombing and blasting, Trump has suggested, in the October 9th presidential debate, that working with Russia and its Syrian ally are the keys to defeating ISIS. This would make us follow Russian policies to the letter and ignore what Republicans and Democrats – in a rare show of unity – have said is for years unacceptable. Regardless of the outcome, the message to Middle Eastern powers would be clear: Russia is the real global player in the region… most certainly not the United States.
So now the White House has directly accused the Russians of the above hack. Putin has solidified his power at home by defying the United States at every turn. He’s invaded and conquered Crimea and seems to have the same intentions over part, if not all, of Ukraine. His military jets routinely violate the airspace over NATO member Baltic States, and he has more military forces – troops, missile launchers and legions of heavy armor – poised against the West than at any time since the Cold War ended. He’s even developed tactical nuclear weapons – which can be targeted in much narrower focused targets – with a rather clear suggestion that he could use them in any conflict with the West.
So what exactly can the Obama administration do against these obviously outrageous Russian cyber-attacks against us? “President Obama’s options range from the mild — naming and shaming the Russians, as he did on Friday [October 7th] — to the more severe, like invoking for the first time a series of economic sanctions that he created by executive order after North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Justice Department could indict the Russians behind the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the email accounts of prominent individuals, as it did with members of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who have been charged with stealing industrial secrets.
“Or Mr. Obama could sign a secret intelligence finding — similar to many he has issued to authorize Central Intelligence Agency efforts in Syria or drone strikes against the Islamic State — to attack and disable Russian computer servers or expose the financial dealings of President Vladimir V. Putin and his oligarch friends.
“While the last option is tempting, officials say, it would carry risks with the [impending U.S.] election... Attacks on online voter registration rolls could sow chaos at polling places, and the election infrastructure has never truly been tested against a power like Russia. The system that underpins American democracy is not even listed as an element of the nation’s critical infrastructure, a list that includes movie theaters and the Jefferson Memorial, among other monuments.
“Just as Henry Kissinger and other American strategists argued decades ago whether it was possible to wage a limited nuclear war, officials at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as well as outside experts, have been debating whether it is possible to control the escalation of a cyberconflict.
“In the nuclear era, seven decades passed with no answer, despite some close calls. Online, where the damage is less lethal but cheap, and attacks are hard to trace and easy to carry out, Mr. Obama and other top officials are proceeding cautiously. Well-armed cyberpowers face few limits to their ability to escalate attacks. And it is unclear how the United States can establish what the generals call ‘escalation dominance’ — the assurance that America can ultimately control how a conflict ends.” New York Times, October 8th.
What do every-day Russians think of these accusations from the United States? The bulk of those interviewed by the Washington Post (October 8th) “generally saw it as another sign of hatred toward Russia, and a desire to divert attention from issues unfavorable to Hillary Clinton… Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov… dismissed the U.S. allegations as an organized effort to ‘stir up unprecedented anti-Russian hysteria’ in a statement on the ministry's website.” Go Vladimir! Do whatever you want, and even more if Trump wins!
The other harsh reality is the rising populist movement in American and Europe that seems to be a move of “everybody for himself” that is clearly pushing the United States and Europe apart. With another winter approaching, Europe does not appear to want to risk being cut off from Russian natural gas supplies. That Russia is hacking the United States – the latter increasingly viewed as a rogue country itself (a perception enhanced by the backing Donald Trump has already secured) – seems to be a fight that the EU wants no part of, even though Russian hackers have played that nasty hacking game on the Continent as well.
“Russian hackers were identified by German intelligence officials as the culprits behind a cyberattack that damaged a blast furnace owned by ThyssenKrupp, Germany’s biggest steel maker. Forensics experts discovered malware in the plant’s system that had previously been tied to a well-known Russian espionage group.
“That same group was later found to be responsible for a cyberattack on a major French television network, TV5Monde, last year that brought down the station for several days and cost tens of millions of dollars in repairs. And the Russian group, known in the cybersecurity community as APT28 or Fancy Bear, was responsible for a string of cyberattacks on the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Mr. Obama decided not to name the Russians in those attacks. ‘The Russians have had a string of unbroken successes against U.S. targets, and they haven’t paid much of a price,’ Mr. Lewis said. That may have created an impression in the Kremlin that cyberattacks would carry no consequences.
“The deeper concern is that Russia, like other major powers, has a long playbook ready for potential future attacks. Security experts point to evidence that a well-funded Russian hacking group, known asEnergetic Bear, has been probing the networks of power grid operators and energy and oil companies in the United States, Europe and Canada. That could be exploration — or it could be preparation of the battle space in the event of a future conflict.
“This summer, hackers calling themselves the Shadow Brokers released a trove of N.S.A. tools that the agency had used to break into and spy on foreign networks. Though it is not yet clear who was behind the attack, some speculated that an N.S.A. insider had leaked the trove, while others said it may have been Russian state-sponsored hackers putting the United States on notice.
“Mr. Obama seems likely to invoke some kind of financial sanctions under the new executive order, which allows the Treasury secretary to freeze the financial assets of individuals tied to hacking attacks or prevent them from conducting financial transactions.” NY Times. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the salient provisions of the most recent anti-Clinton WikiLeaks hack (accurate or not; there is no way to verify) wound up on Sputnik, a Russian news service, and almost instantaneously was transmitted and re-reported by the Trump campaign on the same day. Is WikiLeaks benefitting from Russian assistance, many are asking.
Here’s how liberal DailyKos (October 11th) reported the above: “The latest round of Russian intelligence hacks involved emails captured from the account of Hillary Clinton’s election chair, John Podesta. On Monday, portions of the latest Wikileaks discharge were published by the Russian news service Sputnik, including what seemed to be a particularly damning sequence in an email from long-time adviser Sidney Blumenthal.
“The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012… Here’s how that email was reported in Sputnik.
“In an email titled ‘The Truth’ from Hillary's top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that "one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable" in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.” The temporal connection between Russian sources and the Trump campaign continues to be disturbing, over and above the current battle over inappropriate sexual discussions which have their only ugly edge.
Still, the schism between the U.S. and much of the rest of the world – enhanced by a staggering disbelief that so many Americans have embraced the arrogant isolationist policies of Donald Trump – is growing, and the Russians love every minute of it, taking whatever steps they can to destabilize Western alliances against them. Even the Filipino president tells our president to “go to hell” as he sidles up to Russia and China. As a lame duck president, Obama still has to take some tangible steps against Putin’s aggression. His choices go from bad to worse, but a strong response is still necessary.
I’m Peter Dekom, and our domestic political squabbles, from a gridlocked Congress to a candidate who appeals to the worst of our fears, have undermined the prestige we once had to “get the job done.”