We Are at Cyber War! So What, Exactly Do We Do About It?

As more information is released about the hack on the DNC servers – and I don’t mean the dribbling out of emails with people’s personal identifying information (PII) at Wikileaks – it is becoming much, much clearer that the attacks were broader and deeper than originally estimated. As has been reported, the FBI is investigating the attack as an act of cyber espionage. Specifically, that the hack is a Russian Intelligence cyber operation and US government officials have begun to speculate that it was done to impact the upcoming Presidential election in a manner preferred by the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. This has also been suggested by Clinton campaign officials. CNN has reported this morning that the DNC was warned by US government officials of the weakness of their system during a time period when similar attacks were being made against the White House and other US government systems. Russia seems to be intensifying its attacks against US cyber systems similar to state sponsored active measures used to achieve political effects:

“The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign,” David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an opinion expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may just be an opening salvo.

It is important to note that despite the compelling, but circumstantial case that Josh Marshall has laid out at TPM, that Putin’s preference for a Trump Administration may be solely rooted in the simple fact that Trump has long espoused views about American involvement in the global system that overlap with Putin’s understanding of Russia’s interests and his strategy for achieving them. In 1987 Trump spent about a $100,000 to pay for ads in several major newspapers attacking the Reagan Administration for allowing our allies and partners – NATO and non-NATO – for taking advantage of us and not treating us fairly. You can see a copy of the ad below:

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Trump’s anti-NATO and anti other alliance position is not something that he just adopted last Fall or because one of his advisors with ties to Russia suggested it. Rather it is a very long standing position of his and I’m not sure anyone knows how he came by it. Given two candidates for President of the United States, one who has expressed a willingness to be somewhat more hawkish than the current President in US-Russian relations and the other who has, for at least 30 years, held the position that the US is being taken advantage of by its NATO allies, as well by its non-NATO allies  and partners, it would make sense that Putin would prefer the latter to the former as the next President of the United States. In the most basic terms: Trump has long held views that Putin shares, Putin is smart enough to know this, therefore Putin using his resources to independently try to assist Trump would make perfect sense. Given what we know of both men’s long standing preferences on US involvement with NATO and other alliances there is no need to go looking for dots to connect here on the affinity of one for the other on this issue.

What this leaves us with is a very important concern: what does the US do now to protect the integrity of its electoral system and election infrastructure. Dave Aitel, the CEO of Immunity Inc., in a very thought provoking guest editorial at Ars Technica, makes the argument that the Russian Intel hack on the DNC is very clearly an act of cyber war. And that it raises critical questions about the ability to safeguard the integrity of the upcoming election. Here’s an excerpt, but you should really click across and read the whole thing:

The US government has a decision to make here. If it does not come out strongly against this action by the Russian intelligence services now, then when will it? How is our election system not to be considered “critical infrastructure” that foreign governments are forbidden to interfere with, unless they wish to trigger a serious confrontation with the US? If hacking a presidential campaign and dumping its strategy on the Web is not interference and disruption of a critical institution, then what is? Should we wait until foreign operatives interfere with the primary process? Is the red line only to be drawn around hacking actual voting machines and changing the results?

Bottom line: the US must have an escalatory policy in place for this type of foreign interference. If we do not respond strongly to Russia’s actions in this election cycle, then we risk weakening our country’s deterrence and opening the door to future attacks, which may be even more disruptive to this country’s most fundamental democratic process—that of electing new leaders. Likewise, we should reach an agreement with other nations that we will not interfere with the nuts and bolts of their electoral processes, either. It’s either that, or we need to invest in robust cyber-protections for all presidential candidates at the federal level, stretching our already understaffed Secret Service.

People in the policy area often consider “cyberwar” actions limited to things that causes physical harm or casualties, or things that can replace a 500 pound bomb. But if you cannot manage your people, or protect the American economy, or elect a new President, you have lost a war.

Aitel’s editorial raises the important question: what do we do about this? We know that our electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hacking. Given that we decentralize our elections to the state and local level, we have 50 states and 3,144 counties that use different electoral systems, processes, and machines. This makes US elections highly vulnerable because there isn’t just one system that needs patching or one process that needs to be reviewed in regard to its security protocols be they cyber, personnel, or material. Florida and Utah have already seen cyber attacks on elections, elections processes/systems, or governmental processes/systems in those states.

One of the real concerns going forward, apart from embarrassing email chains with PII being posted on Wikileaks, is not just that Russian Intelligence can get in and look around and take information out of these systems in the US, but what happens if they decide to mess with what’s there? Voter registration information, voter donation information, electoral results, and more are all stored electronically. The next attack may not be interested in embarrassing staffers and causing a few days of reporting about what they wrote. Rather it might seek to remove voters from the rolls or change the reported results of an election in specific locations before they can be reported. And since our system is decentralized, securing all of it is going to be difficult and expensive.

I’m not a cyber expert. I have taught a course on cyber crime and cyber terrorism and supervised graduate research on these issues, but the technical side of this is not my bailiwick. That said the US, as Aitel identifies, has to respond. And here we are back to where I’m familiar: ends, ways, and means. The end state – the objective to be achieved – is deterrence against these attacks. This deterrence must take two different forms. The first is to get the best possible safeguards in place to protect the numerous and varied systems and processes in place at the Federal, state, and county level in the US. The second is to respond to Russia’s cyber attack in such a way that they get the point that they’ve gone to far and any future attempts will be dealt with quickly and harshly, but without causing an escalation of the cyber warfare or, even worse, moving the skirmish from the cyber domain into the actual Land, Sea, and Air domains. Again, I have no idea how this should be done, let alone what is even possible, but the objective has to fall within these two reinforcing dimensions of defensive and offensive deterrence. Ways and means are a bit tougher to estimate as so much of what is done in this arena is just not known even to the vast majority of people with clearances. We all joke about the NSA being unwilling to send us backups of our hard drives and/or complain that they’re probably listening to our calls, but this is what we have the NSA for! And several other agencies and departments of the US government and counterparts at the state level. The subject matter experts and technical specialists in these departments and agencies must be tasked to develop the ways and means to achieve these ends. Even if its just randomly turning the lights on and off wherever Putin is trying to sleep at any given time or making the meow mix theme song play on a repeating loop every time he turns on the TV, radio, or his iPod until he gets the message that the US can reach out and touch him in the cyber domain as well whenever it wants to.

The other thing that has to happen is that the news media needs to stay on top of this as an important, ongoing event to be investigated and reported on within this year’s election. Americans need to be kept fully informed that for once the often used, but seldom accurate, assertion that someone is tampering with a US election is actually true this time. Americans have been primed for decades to worry about voter fraud and vote tampering because of partisan efforts to use the almost non-existent threat of voter fraud, and the news media’s obsession with scandal, for partisan ends. Staying on top of this story, a story that is about electoral manipulation for a foreign power’s advantage, is right in the news media’s sweet spot.

It was interesting to watch Chris Matthews last night make a parallel comparison to the actual Watergate break in. He explained to his panelists that that was a physical break in on the DNC and this was a virtual break in. When Michael Steele correctly indicated that Watergate was really about the corruption of the President/Presidency, Matthews responded that this is about the corruption of electing a President. A lot of journalists, both reporters and commentators, came up during Watergate and view the news media’s reporting as a clear sign of how to do proper journalism. Many who came up after Watergate do as well – almost too much given the chasing of every possible shiny object as a potential scandal to be reported on creating the next Woodward, Bernstein, and Hersch and giving us “gate” affixed to everything. This story seems to be developing legs and the longer the news media stays on it, the better it will actually be for Americans and the upcoming election. It will keep the pressure on to secure our electoral systems and processes. And it could, if handled correctly, lead to long needed reforms to better secure these systems in the future in order to ensure that every eligible voter that wants to vote and does so, has that vote accurately counted and faithfully restored.








Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is Not Dead!

Earlier today someone managed to alter an Islamic State news release turning it into an announcement that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had been killed in an air strike. This is not the first time that al Baghdadi has been alleged to have been killed, and like the previous instances it is also incorrect. He is still alive. According to the Independent the story was picked up by Iraqi media, then spread from there to Turkish, Russian, Indian, and ultimately western news media. It is important to note/keep in mind that the Iraqi news media will report gossip as factual events, which doesn’t make them all that different from American news media now that I think about it…



D-Day: The 72nd Anniversary

Today is the 72nd Anniversary of D-Day. On 6 June 1944 over 160,000 Allied troops landed on the Normandy coastline to kick off the Land component of Operation Overlord. Alwyn Collison has been tweeting the events of WW II as they occurred – sort of a today in WW II retroactive live tweeting – and you can see the D-Day as it happened tweets here. The US Army’s D-Day site, includes multi-media (where I got the video below), a list of Medal of Honor awardees, the US and Allied Divisions involved, and a discussion of the Normandy coast, the beaches chosen for the landing, and how the Airborne assault and beach landings occurred.

 



Open Thread: As It Was Once Known, Decoration Day

After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”…

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice….



Memorial Day: Final Honors

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Many Balloon Juice readers have served or have known and/or been related to those who have. And, unfortunately, some Balloon Juice readers know those who never made it back from the wars they’ve served in. In honor of those who served, here are two videos of Soldiers of the Old Guard (the 3rd Infantry Regiment – the Oldest US Army Infantry Regiment) providing two different types of 21 Gun Salutes: a brief explanation and demonstration of Final Honors and a 21 Gun Salute by the Presidential Salute Battery from Memorial Day 2013. The final video is of Staff Sergeant (SSG) Drew Fremder of the The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” Buglers playing taps at Arlington National Cemetery.

And finally the words of President Lincoln:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 








Lest We Forget: “The Disaster of Richard Nixon”

There are pundits already lathering themselves up about how this is the most seriously dangerous inflection point in all of American history — which is, thankfully, untrue. It’s probably not even the most dangerous time in living memory, among other reasons because things have changed in response to earlier crises. In the New York Review of Books, Robert G. Kaiser reviews a new batch of Nixon studies:

Thanks to his gross abuses of presidential power symbolized by the Watergate scandal and to his own decision to record the details of his presidency on tape, Nixon seems destined to remain an object of fascination, amazement, scorn, and disgust for as long as historians pay attention to the American presidency. When the subject matter is their foreign policy, Nixon’s sidekick, Henry A. Kissinger, will be right there beside him…

Vietnam was the defining issue of Nixon’s presidency, as he knew it would be. Months before he became president, Nixon assured H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, his closest aide, that “I’m not going to end up like LBJ, Bob, holed up in the White House, afraid to show my face on the street. I’m going to stop that war. Fast.” Antiwar protesters had driven Lyndon Johnson into early retirement, which allowed Nixon to become president. Nixon played to the country’s war weariness in his 1968 campaign, implying that he had a plan to end the war.

But he had no plan. Ironically, even before he took office Nixon personally sabotaged an opportunity he might have had to avoid Johnson’s fate. The books under review suggest that this is one of the stories that will continue to stain Nixon’s reputation.

In late October 1968, when Johnson’s negotiators in Paris finally reached an agreement with North Vietnam to end American bombing and begin negotiations on a political settlement, Nixon took an enormous personal risk to derail the peace talks before they could begin. At the time, polls showed that Hubert H. Humphrey, Nixon’s Democratic opponent and Johnson’s vice-president, was rising fast—so fast that Nixon feared he might lose the presidency because of the peace deal. So he performed a dirty trick that foreshadowed many more to come.
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Your Own Private Air Force

Here’s an amazing piece at the Intercept by Jeremy Scahill and Matthew Cole (obv. no relation) about Erik Prince’s push to create his own air force and the horrifying implications that would come with that:

The story of how Prince secretly plotted to transform the two aircraft for his arsenal of mercenary services is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people who have worked with Prince over the years, including current and former business partners, as well as internal documents, memos, and emails. Over a two-year period, Prince exploited front companies and cutouts, hidden corporate ownership, a meeting with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s weapons supplier, and at least one civil war in an effort to manufacture and ultimately sell his customized armed counterinsurgency aircraft. If he succeeded, Prince would possess two prototypes that would lay the foundation for a low-cost, high-powered air force capable of generating healthy profits while fulfilling his dream of privatized warfare.

As they say, read the whole thing.

I can’t think of anyone I would trust less with this capability. And why isn’t this guy in jail yet?