“The NYT in an article is alleging that The United States Government has deliberately and with malice and forethought inserted unspecified computer malware into the Russian Federation power grid infrastructure with the obvious intention of destroying or severely damaging it if needed.
”But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.“
My opinion, if the article is true, which I doubt, is that such an operation would constitute an act of war. As such the Russian reaction, if they believed this to be true, could be, to put it mildly, “disproportionate”.
To put that another way, it is one thing to dick around in the shadows, but to overtly engage in what amounts to life threatening attacks on civilians? Folks, how are you going to feel if Russia puts missiles back in Cuba? That is on the same scale of action as this alleged stunt.
It also begs the question of the likelihood of any meaningful negotiations with Russia, or China over anything at all.
What does the committee think?
The whole NeoCon motivation portfolio is incomprehensible to me. The US treatment of Russia smacks of “you were supposed to become another U.S.A.” Socially, you can always tell the latest group think identified security threat by who the entertainment industry portrays as the most immoral supervillains. Those are Russians and Russian Oligarchs.
On China, I believe that they have engaged in a long term war with America and are doing an excellent job of it. I truly have no issues with dealing with the them as a currently non-military for. I have been fearful over a military confrontation with them for some time now.
Per your linked article: “Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.”
So the Obama administration was interfering with Russian electric grid controls at least 4 years before the 2016 election. I wonder what the Russian response could possibly have been? But it gets even better! The Russians interfered with Ukraine’s electric grid – for “a few hours” – in 2015. I bet that really upset Vice President Biden’s
former coke usingson who was working for Bursima, the company based in Cyprus which runs Ukraine’s natural gas system, since 2014. Don’t bother researching what then Secretary of State Kerry’s former ‘senior’ advisors were up to. Just don’t. Thank goodness all the people who failed from 2008 to 2018 are all still running the show. BTW I just loved the moniker “energetic bear”, it is so much more creative than “cozy bear”.
“Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place “implants” — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.”
Yeah, better not tell Trump you are doing all this stuff on behalf of President Bolton or he might send out a tweet or something. On a bright note only 144,000 illegals were caught crossing the US Souther border last month. Crisis over! Congratulations President
BoltonTrump. Better move our army to Poland – the country whose former President is also working for Bursima – because nothing deters illegal imigration from South of the Border like promising to defend some other country.
Insanity has taken over in the capitol city.
Tulsi is really starting to look good to this Trump voter and supporter.
Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.
The Russians must have considered the possibility of an attack on their power grid, and taken whatever precautions they could. As such, this is not “news” to someone skilled in the art. OTOH, this story claims the bugs are “in place”, ready for activation. This is guaranteed to cause a lot of extra work for some technical people in Russia. Could the committee comment about the purpose behind the publication of this story? It seems to have upset Trump, if nothing else.
Cue Russian rejection of MS Windows (STUXNET/HDIs for PLCs) and even GNU/Linux based solutions (DanceFloor) for the likes of KasperskyOS.
It does also raise a question about Loss of Load and consequent cooling issues for nuclear plants. Any ugliness resulting from such an action (with attendant reminders about make believe attacks on the Vermont grid by make believe Russians) could be interesting.
I think that there is a lot to think about and the feeling that will accompany the thinking will be one of chagrin and helplessness.
If the story is fundamentally true, the big thinkers in the National Defense establishment who were responsible for launching and implementing this program have ‘big thought’ the lot of us living in the real world several clicks closer to calamity.
Whether it is wholly true, partially true, or entirely false, the NY Times is egregiously irresponsible for publishing the story. The net effect of the story will be that those nations who consider themselves to be, or about to be, in a defensive posture vis a vis the US will say to themselves “we must do something about this”, initiate similar attacks, and undertake countermeasures; and of course, anything that increases the perception that the ambitions of the Beltway bureaucracies are technically unbounded and reckless will accelerate the formation of alliances in opposition.
The Times would no doubt argue that its bringing transparency offers a chance to open the door to reason. This is mere malarky coming from the Times. Reason would consist in the Times engaging in a thousand mea culpas for its part in fixing in stone the anti Russian hysteria that consumes the Capital beltway because the favored candidate lost the 2016 election. What do the people at the Times think? that their article will get Putin on the phone with Trump to say that we need to talk about this; that Trump will find the balls to say yeah, we do. The sanctimony of the Times is as boundless as the dysfunction of our Nation’s capital.
What next? Grinning and bearing it is becoming more tiresome, but what choice do we have?
“the NY Times is egregiously irresponsible for publishing the story”
By all means this should be kept secret from the citizens of the USA. How dare Americans find out what the Obama administration did in 2012 or what the Congress authorized in the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019” or that John Bolton or General Nakasone can conduct offensive online operations without receiving direct presidential approval. By all means keep that secret, we don’t want anyone to hold Bolton and company accountable. Did you notice Pompeo’s name is nowhere to be seen in that article. I wonder why.
russian computer science professionals are now and have been for some at the very pinnacle of talent found anywhere in the world. i seriously doubt at this point in time there is anything we could plant into any of their critically important systems they can not identify in real time or soon thereafter.
frankly i would worry more about our own under protected power grid if a state possessing the computer talent russia and china have should they become vindictive for all horseshit we have thrown at them the past 20 years
Old saying seems quite applicable here:
“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
I wonder whether the people who cooked up this kind of bright idea have looked at who tends to win the annual International Collegiate Programming Contest, which is headquartered at Baylor University.
(See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Collegiate_Programming_Contest#2019_World_Finals )
This year, highly untypically, an American University – MIT – actually managed to make it among the Gold medallists, winning second place. (British universities as ever failed to make it among the top twelve.)
Also as ever, the Russians were way ahead of the field, with Moscow State University coming out winners, and two others in the top twelve.
In the twelve years since 2008, the Russians have won ten times, the Chinese twice. And there is strength in depth – the pattern where, in a leading global competition, around a quarter of the top universities are Russian is also familiar.
Another long-term change may also be relevant.
In the 2005 study ‘The Soviet Century’ in which he summarised his life’s work, the late Moshe Lewin discussed a report submitted to Andropov in November 1960 on the state of opinion among students in Odessa. (See the chapter ‘Kosygin and Andropov’, pps. 248-268.)
What the then KGB chief was told by his subordinates, unambiguously, was that contempt for the system and its ideology was endemic among the students, that the bright ones chose the natural sciences and technology because the ‘social science’ they were offered was so awful, and that this garbage was of interest only to those set on a career in the party.
And Lewin’s summary of the report to Andropov concludes: ‘Students’ preference for anything Western was scarcely surprising, given their lack of respect for those whom they heard criticizing the West.’
Actually, however, in the years that followed researchers at institutes associated with the Academy of Sciences, such as the Institute of the USA and Canada under Georgiy Arbatov, and the Institute for World Economy and International Relations under Alexander Yakovlev and Yevgeney Primakov, did a lot of rather good ‘social science.’
The conclusion key figures drew was the same as that of the students: that the ideology and the system were bankrupt. And that was a key part of the background to the Gorbachev-era ‘new thinking.’
Three decades later, perceptions of the West have, quite patently, radically changed.
One interesting case study is that of Primakov, another that of Sergei Karaganov, who went with Vitaly Zhurkin from Arbatov’s Institute to found the new Institute of Europe in 1987-8.
As Patrick Armstrong recalled some time back, it was what Primakov was writing in mid-1987 that was instrumental in alerting some of those in the West who had been interested in trying to figure out how the Soviet system worked to the recognition of the failure of the system which underpinned Gorbachev’s attempts at reform.
Both American and British intelligence agencies were utterly clueless.
(For a good treatment of the key July 1987 article in ‘Pravda’ to which Patrick referred from the time, see a piece in the ‘Christian Science Monitor’ headlined ‘Soviet shift in world policy. Revision of long-held view – of West as constant military threat – seems sign of new Soviet flexibility’, at https://www.csmonitor.com/1987/0716/oforn.html .)
By the time when, as Foreign Minister in March 1999, Primakov turned his plane back from Washington in response to NATO’s bombing of Serbia, he had already executed ‘Primakov’s Loop’ in a far deeper sense. In 1996, he had put forward an ‘Eurasianist’ vision for the future of Russia, based on a rapprochement with China, and the attempt to bring that country and India together.
(For a discussion by an Indian commentator sympathetic to his vision, see an obituary tribute by Rakesh Krishnan Simha published in June 2015, headlined ‘Primakov: The man who created multipolarity’, at
It took Karaganov much longer to abandon the dream of being reintegrated into ‘Western civilisation’: a key event, I think, being the 2008 Georgian war – as with Valery Gergiev.
Today, however, Karaganov is an impassioned champion of the ‘Eastern orientation.’ As such, he explains in article after article – generally available in good English translations – that the ‘Petrine’ period in Russian history is over.
Ironically, even such an admirable – and invaluable – commentator as Stephen F. Cohen appears to have difficulty grasping the radicalism of what is involved here.
Commenting last October on the disdain for ordinary American voters revealed by ‘Russiagate,’ he wrote that:
‘It is worth noting that this disdain for rank-and-file citizens echoes a longstanding attitude of the Russian political intelligentsia, as recently expressed in the argument by a prominent Moscow policy intellectual that Russian authoritarianism springs not from the nation’s elites but from the “genetic code” of its people.’
(See https://www.thenation.com/article/whos-really-undermining-american-democracy/ )
Actually, the ‘Ogonyok’ interview with Karaganov to which Cohen alludes says almost the reverse of Cohen suggests.
It is, among other things, a plea to his fellow-intellectuals to stop regarding the weakness of a ‘democratic’ culture in Russia as a mark of inferiority.
Instead, Karaganov is suggesting, they need to grasp that it has been, and continues to be, a perfectly ‘rational’ adaptive response to the harsh imperatives of survival in the ‘heartlands’ of Eurasia, which is ‘genetic’, in the sense that traits which work for organisms over long periods of time become entrenched.
(While the ‘deplorables’ may get a lot wrong, this one they called right, and the Moscow/St. Petersburg ‘intelligenty’ got it, as we sometimes say in England, ‘arse about face.’)
(See https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/pubcol/We-Have-Used-Up-the-European-Treasure-Trove-19769 .)
All this, I am afraid, puts me in mind of a crucial moment in British history.
By 1937 the then head of the Government Code and Cyper School, Alastair Denniston – viciously caricatured in the film ‘The Imitation Game’ – had realised that in the wars of movement which was now likely on land as well as on sea, encrypted communications were going to be even more important than they had been in 1914-18.
And he also realised that the problems of breaking the codes were becoming vastly more difficult, and required top-class mathematical talent.
(See https://spartacus-educational.com/Alastair_Denniston.htm .)
As a result, Denniston went to dinner at ‘high tables’, in Oxford and Cambridge. From the connections he established, came the work done by Turing and other less well-known but crucial mathematicians, like Gordon Welchmann and Jack Good (born Isadore Jacob Gudak.)
A central part of the background to this, however, was that in the late ‘Thirties very many British intellectuals who had thought that Hitler was just a loud-mouth – a very easy ssumption to make in the early ‘Thirties – shifted towards the view that there was a potential ‘existential threat’ from Germany.
Of its nature, this would demand the utmost not just from those who had to fight the wars, but also from those who used the most sophisticated intellectual tools to make sure that, in so doing, they had the crucial advantage of intelligence superiority.
I am not sure the thought has crossed many people’s minds, in Washington and in London, that not only does Russia now have what looks to be a rather competent ‘general staff’, who are looking for ‘asymetric’ ways to counter the power of NATO, but that Western policy over the past thirty years may have created a not entirely dissimilar sense of ‘existential threat.’
If one thinks this is so, obviously one will conclude that an unintended consequence of rather stupid Western policies may have been to make it much easier for Soviet strategic planners to recruit and exploit some at least of the best scientific minds.
Moreover, if my suggestion is remotely near the mark, then a ‘cyberwars’ contest may be precisely that in the ‘relative advantage’ does not lie with the West, because throwing money at the problem does not help that much, if on the other side there are people who want other things – honour among them, and glory.
Can anyone imagine how either honour, or glory, could inspire anyone to do what Robert Hannigan told them to do, as both motives once inspired people who worked for his predecessors?
But then, people in London and Washington seem to find it difficult, these days, to understand that people could work for anything other than money. That, or ‘insiderdom.’
As far as I know, all governmental computers in Russia run Astra Linux https://astralinux.ru Even my youngest daughter’s school ditched MS Windows years ago and run the public Astra Linux and I think Libre Office.
I have a question. If our military were to engage in such activities without notifying the president and without his authorization, how many breaches of the UCMJ would that be?
a great many.
How many utility workers are a security risk due to personal debt? How well is the power grid maintained? Have the back up systems been tested for function?
We had a bunch of Wile E. Coyote Super Geniuses show how fragile they could make the financial system and the auto manufacturing parts supply system a few years ago. How robust and secure are the electrical power distribution systems?
I doubt Russian professionals will need to do much of anything because most of the Russian grid isn’t connected to the internet.
Additionally, it’s more of a reason for them to continue moving away from Windows/Linux and off to their own distro AstraOS running Elbrus processors.
Thank you for the insightful commentary. One thing strikes me as relevant today, based on your comment about British intellectuals in the thirties shifting “… towards the view that there was a potential ‘existential threat’ from…”
It is my perception that American intellectuals see America itself as an existential threat to thier ideas and are unlikely to recognize threats from abroard, either cyber in Russian, China or India (the later two nations also have thousands of nationals resident with H1B or student visas); or physical by a population dilution migration effort now underway on America’s borders. As to you final observation I can’t agree more.
So we learn Cyber warfare has evolved its own version of MAD. From the NYT article:
“The question now is whether placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia. While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target.”
Also: “As it games out the 2020 elections, Cyber Command has looked at the possibility that Russia might try selective power blackouts in key states, some officials said. For that, they said, they need a deterrent.”
And I thought Rachel Madcow’s “What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo today?” was a one off result of her watching too many Coen bros. movies. Russiagate paranoia level 11 appears to now be the official USG position, thanks in no small part to clickbait fearmongering pieces like this in the NYT and elsewhere of course.
My oldest son, Aric, who is an MIT graduate and now Techinical Director of Dell Computer’s Security subsidiary which handles a lot of real time computer security of large financial institutions. In a Father’s Day phone call this morning I asked him about the NY Times article. He clearly thought getting into a cyber security battle with Russia was a very bad idea. His analysis was it was like sending minor leaguers (U.S.) against major league cyber players (Russia). He was well aware of Russians attempting to break into U.S. Systems, mainly for profit, but there is a lot of computer talent in Russia that can be recruited as needed. Most U.S cyber knowledge exists at the level of personal computers while most of Russina cyber expertise exists at the mainframe computer level. It is the latter knowledge that can be devastating to many of our core systems running most of American commerce, transportation and utilities.
jdledell – Nice house you have. Do I get a discount on Dell stuff? Joke
My expectation is that the Times article will have considerably more effect in foreign capitals than in ours. We have the very same NY Times and political journals like the Washington Post to thank for this for the reason I mentioned, their constitutional inability to accept the result of the 2016 election. Their irresponsible reporting to mitigate their grief has created a political atmosphere inside the Beltway where the lunatic element in the bureaucracies will be credited for having done a good thing and most everyone else won’t give a crap because it is the Russians after all, you know, those nefarious Russians the Times, the Post, the Networks have been telling us about for 2 1/2 years ad nauseam.
If the article has its wholly unintended effect of stiffening Trump’s spine towards draining the swamp he inherited as he promised to do, getting rid of the Boltons and the Pompeos, sending Javanka back to the upper east side of Manhattan, it will have been an ill wind that blew some good. But in that regard, when it comes to the Donald, I’m tired of holding my breath. On the other hand, I imagine that the article will generate some serious conversations in Moscow and Beijing.
Welchmann’s achievements, particularly as a pioneer of traffic analysis, have certainly been overshadowed by the work of Turing. Having read his book, I would be grateful if anyone here may be able to affirm or correct my impression; that the IC’s ire at its publication in 1982 was primarily due to its exposé of the critical importance of traffic analysis to an adversary, rather than the fact that (or the details of how) Enigma was broken.
Only now is GCHQ attempting to subvert end to end cryptography, which seems to suggest, at least until now, it has not been deemed a critical threat. The real lesson of The Hut Six Story to me was the importance of metadata and from the other side, the importance of tools like anonymous remailers for real privacy.
All this is only possible because everybody links all their hardware together via the internet, i.e. via the public telephone network. Why do they do that?
Israel has a few russians but they are not good at maths so not to worry everthing will be alright in the morning.There is no more state,just players,who have no allegiance at all who believe in get rich or die trying
So who at the Times pushed the story? The stenographers got fed the whole thing from someone who had the pull to get it in print, no? If you squint at this POS, the overall result is T looking like an irrelevance. Bibi’s done a good job keeping T right where he wants him, still in office but in a straight-jacket that has him stepping and fetching Bibi’s water. Sound a lot like Bibi has the motivation, expertise and resources to plant this one.