Cyber Attacks, Responses, and Publicity

 

My friend Claire Berlinski — some of you might know her as well — sent me this link to an NBC article purporting to report that the Obama administration “is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.” She suggested that I post my response. With her kind permission, here it is, with some (very) light editing to fit the thing within the spirit of the CoC. The indented remarks are quotes from the article.

Me: This is crap. But thank you for forwarding it.

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia …

They taught us in sophomore English writing and speaking, and again in SOS: tell ’em what you’re going to say, say it, then tell ’em what you said. That works in speaking and writing. But it’s a disaster in conflict. That said, it would certainly be unprecedented for this administration to do anything more concrete than to shake their fingers very firmly.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation.

Heads up, guys, we’re a-comin’, and this is where from.

When a similar article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, I asked: How effective do we think we can be with a cyber attack against a nation that’s not as dependent on that technology as we are? An additional dimension would be to ping a couple of Russian attack submarines. How will we respond to the inevitable Russian response — can we even handle it—and how will we respond to the Russian response to our response to their response? Can we handle that? And so on. Can we escalate faster than they can respond?

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

Biden’s remarksare just more Obamatalk: a grayed out, faded pink line in sand. More empty rhetoric. By Biden, yet.

Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.

Kanuck is overly charitable. This administration has no credibility to lose.

Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.

“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”

How dumb is this? Escalation is as much a failure now as it was in Vietnam; I’m embarrassed that a CIA officer (if he’s not an NBC Construct, and if he actually said these things) doesn’t know that. Remind them we can do these things by doing these things? He gets at the weakness of this plan in step two. That’s not a reason not to do, but a reason to be better prepared for the response and to have a suitably broad range of counter-responses prepared — and not only in cyber. We need to play to our strengths and destroy their strengths while attacking their weaknesses. We don’t win by protecting our weaknesses — that’s passive, not active. But Obama is no Georges Danton.

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

But the Russians get to know in advance? And why shouldn’t we get to know? Do these guys actually think wars should be fought with the public’s money and blood without the public knowing?

Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.

Stavridis wants a useless, Obama-style wrist slap. We should do that, of course, but what press in Russia does this naif think will carry the story? If we want to get their attention, we should shut down their oil and gas pipelines (including the main line through Ukraine to Europe, although only briefly, to show Russia — and Europe — that we can), as well as the electric grid in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. Winter is coming. That stuff can be turned back on after our elections, or when we’re satisfied Russia will knock it off –whichever comes later. I’d say we also should isolate Kaliningrad military facilities from the Kaliningrad and central governments, if we have that capability, but that’s a capability we should hold back exposing until we’re in a shooting war, and not until one is imminent. (We’re looking for annihilation, not warning. See Hannibal at Cannae).

A second former officer, who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, said he was asked several times in recent years to work on covert action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective,” he said.

Putin is almost beyond embarrassing, he said, and anything the U.S. can do against, for example, Russian bank accounts, the Russian can do in response.

“Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?” he [a second former CIA officer] asked.

The irony drips. And not just in cyber.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell expressed skepticism that the U.S. would go so far as to attack Russian networks.

“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”

Other countries have already attacked us and continue to do so. Where’s this guy been since he retired?

The Obama administration is debating just that question, officials say — whether to respond to Russia via cyber means, or with traditional measures such as sanctions.

Dither, dither, dither. They’ve had eight years to figure out that decision, and the keys that would trigger it.

The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, documents indicate.

Really? They’re not doing it in Timbuktu? Outback, Idaho? Podunk Center, Iowa?

“I would quote a Russian proverb,” said Adm. Stavridis, “which is, ‘Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed. When you hit steel withdraw.’ I think unless we stand up to this kind of cyber attack from Russia, we’ll only see more and more of it in the future.”

Probe with bayonets, certainly. But when you hit steel, get the drills and hacksaws. Never withdraw. De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace … Or: Go through him like crap through a goose. Don’t hold onto anything; let the Russians do that. Hold him by the nose and kick him in the onager.

And the more fundamental question of honor and integrity. (Assume these carefully unnamed sources aren’t a set of manufactured, fictitious “sources” — they actually exist.) How can we trust them? They’ve already violated their honor and integrity by breaking their oaths to protect secrets and speaking out of turn, against their employers’ wishes. That’s why they’re speaking anonymously. Or, if their boss authorized the “leaks,” their boss is dishonest: How can we trust an authorized leak? Of course, that’s the conundrum legitimate whistleblowers face, too, but these folks — if they exist — aren’t whistle blowing; they’re speaking for the benefit of their own ego or for the Russians.

Or they’re Russian misdirection plants.

 

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  1. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I assume we have file cabinets full of unflattering information on Putin and his acolytes. Why not release some of that stuff?

    Do it through some dark web entity.

    Clearly they don’t get the whole “speak softly” thing.

     

    • #1
  2. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I saw these headlines all over the place this morning and could not believe it. I asked what in the world are they thinking in the comments on @peterrobinson ‘s post today on Trump.  This is alarming beyond words. and who announces their intentions? It is so insane that I am wondering if it isn’t deliberate to distract from the election, and the WikiLeaks contents?  Where is the proof that the DNC was hacked by them? No one has been able to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I wonder if they are so desperate that they would risk something this serious?  It just can’t be.  Something is seriously wrong here.

    • #2
  3. Travis McKee Inactive
    Travis McKee
    @Typewriterking

    I don’t recall just when our government decided to equate chemical and biological weapons with nuclear ones, but doing so, coupled with the promise to retaliate against bio and chemical agents with nukes, seems to have shelved ideas against deploying them against our forces.

    We have failed to establish a doctrine equating cyber with physical terrorism. Currently, we still treat cyber-attacks just like we treat espionage: something we acknowledge all nations do against all others.

    Doctrine needs updated. A shame we lack serious leadership at the federal level.

    • #3
  4. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Yeah, I’m perplexed by this whole story. Warning someone that you have a secret plan is like a guy about to be robbed who sticks his finger in his jacket pocket and claims to have a gun.

    But from a strategy level, I’m worried about the timing. You don’t make such bluffs when you don’t have to. The fact that the Obama Administration is trying this bluff now makes me wonder what prompted it.

    • First, especially after the Hillary Wikileaks came out this week, we all know that the Democrat party conducts its business anonymously through the media. If any of the “favored” media outlets reports a story, it’s most likely they were given the story – or the Democrats allowed it to be leaked – so we suspect that this story is a deliberate move by the Administration is some kind of game.
    • And the idea that this is happening in the last stage of the election, during a stream of Wikileaks releases, makes me wonder if that’s what the Obama Gang is responding to.
    • I mean, you’d hope that any cyberwar threats would be reserved for something existentially serious, but this Administration is so craven that I wouldn’t put it past them.

    .

    This is pure guesswork on my part … but this story is so unusual that you can’t help but speculate. Something’s going on, and frankly, I trust this Administration only to screw things up.

    • #4
  5. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    It has been Russia’s goal to imbed itself permanently into the Middle East – they have gotten what they wanted with help from Iran and others. They are grinning like a Cheshire cat with all they have been able to accomplish with O and HRC/Kerry in charge.  They may even have the nod from China and others, lest we start trouble with them, to retaliate.  I don’t understand the wisdom of what is happening 3 weeks before a major election, but if they say there has been tampering by Russia to our election system, or somehow the results cannot be trusted, I won’t believe it, even if HRC is elected.  Whoever gets the keys to the front door of the WH will have one hell of a big plate of mess on their hands. Thank you Obama.

    • #5
  6. TempTime Member
    TempTime
    @TempTime

    Thanks for the post.  Good work that is of benefit to all of us to read.

    • #6
  7. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Front Seat Cat: Where is the proof that the DNC was hacked by them? No one has been able to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    A broad reach of the Intel community thinks it was the Russians, and in matters related to intel, there’ll almost never be confirmation beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The community could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe them.

    The larger problem for me, though, is the ease and frequency with which they (whomever “they” might be) hack the Democrats’ electronic communications.  It’s like the Democrats just don’t give a rat’s patootie about security of any sort.

    Eric Hines

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    On the other hand…….this may be exactly the time that Russia has chosen to cause the most trouble – they know we are distracted with the messy election, and O is on the way out and before someone else is in office. They just ran a major drill for 4 days involving 40 million citizens and have called back their children who are living or studying abroad? An acquaintance sent me this story – not sure if it is true, but this would be a good day to stock the bunker folks……..

    http://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/cyber-warfare-air-force-kept-silent-on-possible-russian-attack-against-secret-drone-support-network_10142016

     

    • #8
  9. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Eric Hines:

    Front Seat Cat: Where is the proof that the DNC was hacked by them? No one has been able to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    A broad reach of the Intel community thinks it was the Russians, and in matters related to intel, there’ll almost never be confirmation beyond a shadow of a doubt. The community could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe them.

    The larger problem for me, though, is the ease and frequency with which they (whomever “they” might be) hack the Democrats’ electronic communications. It’s like the Democrats just don’t give a rat’s patootie about security of any sort.

    Eric Hines

    Doesn’t seem like it was very difficult. Some kid in Tennessee hacked Palin’s email by guessing her password. There seem to be more than enough civilian hackers out there doing stuff like this.

    • #9
  10. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Steve C.:

    Eric Hines:

    Front Seat Cat: Where is the proof that the DNC was hacked by them? No one has been able to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    A broad reach of the Intel community thinks it was the Russians, and in matters related to intel, there’ll almost never be confirmation beyond a shadow of a doubt. The community could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe them.

    The larger problem for me, though, is the ease and frequency with which they (whomever “they” might be) hack the Democrats’ electronic communications. It’s like the Democrats just don’t give a rat’s patootie about security of any sort.

    Eric Hines

    Doesn’t seem like it was very difficult. Some kid in Tennessee hacked Palin’s email by guessing her password. There seem to be more than enough civilian hackers out there doing stuff like this.

    There are a couple of possibilities from this, aside from the obvious that no system is going to be hack-proof; it’s an ongoing battle.  One possibility is that the Dems are no good at this/don’t care about this.  The other, which does not contradict the one, is that the Republicans haven’t been targeted yet.

    Eric Hines

    • #10
  11. Pseudodionysius Inactive
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    A broad reach of the Intel community thinks it was the Russians,

    You’ll pardon me if I’m not bowled over by that analysis.

    • #11
  12. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    How does turning off the flow of Russian gas to Western Europe show American strength rather than European dependency?

    And is there a role for threats in warfare?  In terms of getting the enemy to start expending resources in one area instead of another they seem to be a valid part of the arsenal.  There’s more to it than an actual surprise attack. Look at how Islamic State and various jihadi groups use threats to leverage their impact against the millions of time more powerful West.

    • #12
  13. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Zafar: How does turning off the flow of Russian gas to Western Europe show American strength rather than European dependency?

    It doesn’t show American strength so much as it shows a capability–one among many.  And it emphasizes that European dependency; they need to take steps, not chit-chat to break that dependency.  If we have to come up in their face to prod them, so be it.  It’s in our interest that they not depend on Russian oil or gas.

    Zafar: And is there a role for threats in warfare? In terms of getting the enemy to start expending resources in one area instead of another they seem to be a valid part of the arsenal.

    No, there’s no real role for threats.  There is a role for statements of facts: do this/keep doing this, and this other thing or things will happen.  Threats have no value until they have teeth: strikes of some sort consistent with statements that this or other things will happen must occur, or there is no diversion of their resources to other areas; they know it’s all just finger-shaking.  The Islamic terrorists’ “threats” get results because the terrorists back up enough of their statements with actual deed to give them credibility.

    Want our…adversaries…to divert resources?  The time to do that starts well before any need for threats, or statements of facts, arises.  Technological developments in the economic sector, steps to have a burgeoning economy, weapons development and deployment, manpower buildup.  Engage them in competitions in which they can’t hope to keep up but think they must try.

    Surprise attacks.  Tactical surprise always is useful.  But any attack’s prongs must go in at times and conditions and from directions and along dimensions of our choosing–i.e., when we think it useful to move, not because some clock chimes or because some concept of surprise crops up in a bureaucrat’s mind (and that includes bureaucrats wearing flag rank).  What’s useful to our national interest is the primary criterion.

    Eric Hines

    • #13
  14. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Scenario:

    The US threatens a cyber-strike on Russia, which draws a pre-emptive cyber-strike by Russia, subsequently creating chaos in our election.

    What happens if our elections are interrupted, or if a disruption creates a disputed result?

    Who benefits from such a scenario?

    Seems so fantastical as to be unbelievable, but this is 2016.

    back to my cave…

     

    • #14
  15. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Team Obama does not care about the Russians.  Our greatest threat is global warming.

    This is a stupid press release if you actually intend to attack Russia, cyber or otherwise.

    Team Obama is just tossing dirt in the air to distract the conversation again.  They are keeping the conversation distracted to anything but Hillary.   Think about cyber war, or think about Putin, or think about Russia, or think about anything.  Just don’t pause long enough to think about Hillary.

    Threats are now fashionable because they seem to work for D.J. Trump.   But their side knows that Hillary is such a shrieky, screechy shrew that they do not dare let her utter any threats.  So to give the illusion of strength, Team Obama leaks a threat to friendly Leftist mass media.

    Team Obama is liars.   They are worse liars than the Russians.

    • #15
  16. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Eric Hines: alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.

    At this point, all the Russians have to do is probe the vote counting apparati so clumsily that they are caught and it’ll make hanging chads look like bipartisan harmony. Whoever wins will have no legitimacy.

    Eric Hines:It’s like the Democrats just don’t give a rat’s patootie about security of any sort.

    Many influential Democrats agree with Putin that the fall of the USSR was a catastrophe; it left the USA as the sole superpower and we’ve been up to no good ever since. The Dems been working hard to downgrade that superpower status ever since.

     

    • #16
  17. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    Eric,

    Would you comment on my secret sneak attack on the Sun? I plan on landing at night and catch them sleeping.

    • #17
  18. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Front Seat Cat: I am wondering if it isn’t deliberate to distract from the election, and the WikiLeaks contents? Where is the proof that the DNC was hacked by them? No one has been able to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I wonder if they are so desperate that they would risk something this serious? It just can’t be. Something is seriously wrong here.

    Bingo. The Democrats are skilled at political warfare, only their enemy is not Russia or Putin. It’s Trump.  The White House’s role is to reinforce the DNC talking point that the only thing that matters about Wikileaks devastating revelations is the unsubstantiated claim the Russians did the hacking.  It’s the moral equivalent of an ad hominem non sequitur.  And it’s pretty much all you’ll hear about from MSM.

    Do you think that if the revelation of Russian culpability was beneficial to Trump there would have been an announcement about it by the Obama administration’s intelligence operatives?  If you do, please drop your Ricochet membership immediately—your bringing the average IQ down a full 10 points all on your own.

    Distraction is always the name of the game with Democrats . . . because it works, especially since the Democrat Media Complex is only too happy to slavishly comply with their assigned mission.

    • #18
  19. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    In my years of teaching one lesson I learned pretty quickly was that the guys who threatened the loudest were the ones least likely to carry through on their threats. Obama reminds me of many of the kids I worked with over the years, all mouth, no action.

    • #19
  20. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Eric Hines:A broad reach of the Intel community thinks it was the Russians, and in matters related to intel, there’ll almost never be confirmation beyond a shadow of a doubt. The community could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe them.

    The larger problem for me, though, is the ease and frequency with which they (whomever “they” might be) hack the Democrats’ electronic communications. It’s like the Democrats just don’t give a rat’s patootie about security of any sort.

    Your only source for this “broad reach” nonsense is the Obama administration, as repeated by the Democrat Media Complex. The fact you are “inclined” to believe it is precisely why it was the chosen ‘theme’ of the Democrat counter-narrative. Everyone is inclined to blame the Russians. This is conventional political warfare tradecraft—messaging needs to be plausible in the target audience’s mind.

    You wonder why Democrats are lackadaisical about security?  Why should they worry much?  Did their Secretary of State pay any meaningful price for violating every precept, rule, and law about security while America’s top diplomat and fourth in line for Government continuity? No. Will their comrades in the DMC cover for them? Yes. Democrats respond to their environment and prioritize accordingly.

    • #20
  21. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    KC Mulville:

    • And the idea that this is happening in the last stage of the election, during a stream of Wikileaks releases, makes me wonder if that’s what the Obama Gang is responding to.
    • I mean, you’d hope that any cyberwar threats would be reserved for something existentially serious, but this Administration is so craven that I wouldn’t put it past them.

    Stop wondering! Hope is not a strategy!

    The election is existentially serious to Democrats!  Stop laboring under the silly notion that there’s a National interest that supersedes Party interest in the mind of Democrat leaders. Once you do, what’s going on around you becomes quite clear and easily understood.  Goodness . . . what do you think the essence of “Community Organizer” is?  Being thoughtful about some abstraction called “the Nation”?  PUHLEESE!

    • #21
  22. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Eric Hines: What’s useful to our national interest is the primary criterion.

    For whom and of what?

    Who decides of what that “national interest” consists?

    Do you doubt that Obama views Hillary’s election as a “national interest”?

    • #22
  23. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Eugene Kriegsmann:In my years of teaching one lesson I learned pretty quickly was that the guys who threatened the loudest were the ones least likely to carry through on their threats. Obama reminds me of many of the kids I worked with over the years, all mouth, no action.

    In this case, however, Obama is shouting it so loudly precisely so the Russians get the message that this really isn’t about them.  Sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Putin understands political warfare that’s directed against one’s own citizens.  He won’t be confused: Putin knows Obama’s target is domestic and that he isn’t going to do one damn thing that Russia isn’t already prepared to defeat.  This is political theater you are witnessing.

    • #23
  24. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Jules PA:Scenario:

    The US threatens a cyber-strike on Russia, which draws a pre-emptive cyber-strike by Russia, subsequently creating chaos in our election.

    What happens if our elections are interrupted, or if a disruption creates a disputed result?

    Who benefits from such a scenario?

    Seems so fantastical as to be unbelievable, but this is 2016.

    back to my cave…

    Say China, launches a cyber attack on us, making it look like it originated in Russia.

    Sits back, pops corn, watches the fun….

    • #24
  25. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Lots of angst about Trump’s alleged man crush on Putin. But don’t forget:

    Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Clintons and their shell Foundation had pocketed $145 million from them. Bill Clinton was paid $500K for a speech by a bank linked to the FSB, the secret organization formerly known as the KGB. It was quite a Moscow comeback for Bill from his original trip there that had also been conducted under the auspices of individuals and groups linked to the KGB.

    • #25
  26. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    The Obama Doctrine: Speak loudly and carry a tiny twig.

    • #26
  27. Cal Lawton Member
    Cal Lawton
    @CalLawton

    I don’t mind vodka, I just hope they don’t make me eat any of those fish eggs.

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Great post, Eric. Such useless saber rattling. I saw Gen. Jack Keane interviewed on Fox News over Obama’s once again meeting to discuss what should be done regarding Syria. Sigh. Gen. Keane said he’d been in that kind of meeting in the past (and we all know about Obama’s powerful steps–right). Gen Keane was asked what he thought would come out of the current meetings. He bluntly responded, “Nothing.” Then again, maybe Obama will signal precisely what we’re going to do against Syria, or tell us even more about all the things we’re going to do about Russia. That would be in character. (grumble, grumble)

    • #28
  29. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    HVTs: You wonder why Democrats are lackadaisical about security?

    No, I don’t wonder.  I’m plainly one of those who lower the Ricochet average IQ below your august heights.  But I’m not going to leave Ricochet.

    Eric Hines

    • #29
  30. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Eric Hines:

    HVTs: You wonder why Democrats are lackadaisical about security?

    No, I don’t wonder. I’m plainly one of those who lower the Ricochet average IQ below your august heights. But I’m not going to leave Ricochet.

    Eric Hines

    You are combining responses to completely different posts, divorcing them from their context and making a bizarre connection between them.  That’s very DMC of you, Eric.

    • #30
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