Posts

And Now A Word From The Home Office: Russia Announces The US Position On Future US Sanctions Against Russia

The defenestration of Ambassador Haley continues…

From Tass:

MOSCOW, April 18. /TASS/. The United States has notified Russia through its Embassy in Washington that it will not impose fresh sanctions against Russia for the time being, a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry informed TASS on Wednesday.

“I can confirm that the US has notified the Russian embassy that there will be no new sanctions for some time,” he said.

The Washington Post’s Carole Leonnig confirmed this last night:

But it leaves an important question: who was informed first the Russian ambassador in DC or Ambassador Haley?

The US’s position on Russian sanctions has now been officially announced and confirmed by Russia through a Russian state news media outlet.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Stay clammy!

Open thread.



Follow The Trail Of Dead Russian Bodies!

Buzzfeed has the details on the service that retired MI6 senior intelligence officer Christopher Steele continues to provide. Right now an aide is trying to secure Senator Grassley’s twitter feed, another is trying to find a fainting couch for Senator Graham, and a third is hiding Congressman Gaetz car keys…

The FBI possesses a secret report asserting that Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was beaten to death by hired thugs in Washington, DC — directly contradicting the US government’s official finding that Mikhail Lesin died by accident.

The report, according to four sources who have read all or parts of it, was written by the former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who also wrote the famous dossier alleging that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Donald Trump. The bureau received his report while it was helping the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department investigate the Russian media baron’s death, the sources said.

FBI spokesperson Andrew Ames declined to confirm or deny the existence of the report and would not comment for this story. Steele’s business partner, Chris Burrows, declined to comment on behalf of Steele and their company, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The BuzzFeed News series also revealed new details about Lesin — including that he died on the eve of a scheduled meeting with US Justice Department officials. They had planned to interview Lesin about the inner workings of RT, the Kremlin-funded network that he founded.

Now BuzzFeed News has established:

  • Steele’s report says that Lesin was bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for an oligarch close to Putin, the four sources said.
  • The thugs had been instructed to beat Lesin, not kill him, but they went too far, the sources said Steele wrote.
  • Three of the sources said that the report described the killers as Russian state security agents moonlighting for the oligarch.
  • The Steele report is not the FBI’s only source for this account of Lesin’s death: Three other people, acting independently from Steele, said they also told the FBI that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for the same oligarch named by Steele.

Much more at the link.

If Steele’s report, as well as the FBI’s other sources regarding Lesin’s death, are borne out, we will have a confirmed case of Russian wetwork on US soil. Specifically intended to prevent a potential confidential informant of providing significant counterintelligence information pertaining to Russia’s active measures to the FBI. That the death was unintentional because the Russian agents who administered the beating were bad at their jobs is actually inconsequential. While the result may provide Putin with some mild embarrassment that the Russian government will deny any involvement in, the deterrent effect is this the same: turn on Putin and you and/or your loved ones will be killed.

It is also going to cause a significant problem for whoever was involved in trying to cover it up. From the same Buzzfeed article:

But Steele’s report — the existence of which has never before been made public — adds to a mounting body of evidence that casts doubt on the official finding on Lesin’s death. “What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed News last year. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”

In December, DC police released 58 pages of its case file on Lesin’s death. While many parts are blacked out, what was released says nothing about the blunt force injuries that killed Lesin — or even about him falling down, which is how he is supposed to have died.

Steele’s report on Lesin’s murder, and the Buzzfeed reporting about it, raise significant questions:

  1. Is the existing coroner’s report the product of shoddy forensic work or was a decision made to cover this up to lower the temperature between the US and Russia?
  2. If it was covered up to lower the temperature between the US and Russia, what, if any, more covert responses were taken?
  3. Who decided to create the cover story? And what was their real purpose in doing so?

Until we get answers to those questions, the revelations about this additional Steele report are interesting, but still only provide us with a partial understanding of the events surrounding Lesin’s murder, his autopsy, the investigation into his death, and the official accounting of those events.

Updated at 1:45 PM EDT

I just want to take a moment and add this portion of Buzzfeed’s reporting:

For his report to the FBI about Lesin, Steele gathered intelligence from high-level sources in Moscow, according to the two sources who read the whole report.

All four of the people who read Steele’s report said it pins Lesin’s murder on a professional relationship gone lethally awry. According to the report, they said, Lesin fell out with a powerful oligarch close to Putin. Wanting to intimidate Lesin, the oligarch then contracted with Russian state security agents to beat up Lesin, the report states, according to three of the sources. The goal was not to kill Lesin, all four sources said Steele wrote, but Lesin died from the attack.

The sources could not recall what, if anything, the report said about whether Putin knew of or sanctioned the attack.

Three other individuals, including a business associate of Lesin and two intelligence officials, told BuzzFeed News that they had independently given the FBI similar information: that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by thugs operating on orders from the same oligarch Steele named.

I specifically want to highlight that three of Steele’s four high level sources indicate that the oligarch that Lesin crossed contracted with “Russian state security agents to beat up Lesin”. Given that the report indicates that the oligarch that Lesin had gotten crosswise with is close to Putin, and given how we know Putin runs Russia, it would be hard to believe that “Russian state security agents” that were contracted to do the op were doing so without Putin at least knowing about the operation, if not approving it.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



Just A Quick Note On The Russia Investigation

Jane Mayer has produced an excellent piece of long form reporting on Christoper Steele and the investigation into Russia’s active measures and cyberwarfare campaign to both influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections and to continue to influence US politics (h/t: Paul Campos at LGM). I just want to highlight what I think are two of the most important points, if not the two most important points, in Mayer’s article, which Campos also highlighted, with some commentary.

First:

Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted.

I cannot emphasize how important this is. While this has been reported and/or alluded to in other reporting, what Mayer is unequivocally stating is that the head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA hand carried the signals intelligence (SIGINT) of communications between the Trump campaign and/or Trump organization with the Russians. Moscow in this sentence means Russian government, not just people living and/or working in Moscow. This is important because it means that counterintelligence task force that Director Comey set up, and that Special Counsel Mueller inherited, has had the actual communications captured by British intelligence. Thanks to our British allies, from the start of his investigation, Special Counsel Mueller and his team have known exactly who from the Trump campaign and/or businesses were in touch with Russian officials and what they said to each other. So when you see reporting on Mueller’s investigation or what he is seeking in subpoenas, just keep in mind that the Special Counsel has known a lot about the who, the what, and the when since he started. What he and his team have been doing is fleshing this out. Mapping the overall network. Determining the directions of influence. And, of course, following the money.

The second important part of Mayer’s reporting I want to highlight is:

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

The question here is who was the American conduit of interference? The contemporary reporting at the time was that Kellyanne Conway played the leading role in dissuading the President from nominating Governor Romney as Secretary of State.

President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager again strongly suggested on Sunday that his supporters would not back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for secretary of state.

Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, told CNN’s Dana Bash that while she hoped Romney would be a gracious secretary of state if selected, his aggressive criticism of Trump during the 2016 Republican primary did not sit well with the president-elect’s supporters.

“It’s just breathtaking in scope and intensity the type of messages I have received from all over the country,” Conway said. “The number of people who feel betrayed to think that Governor Romney would get the most prominent Cabinet post, after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump — there was the Never Trump movement, and then there was Mitt Romney.”

Just who was Kellyanne Conway receiving messages from about a potential Romney nomination to be Secretary of State? And is she still receiving them? Or, if it wasn’t Conway, or only just Conway, which other staffer, friend, or family member close to the President is taking direction from the Kremlin? I’m sure Special Counsel Mueller and his team are diligently trying to answer these questions.

Stay Frosty!

Open thread.



Imagine That?

Whoever could have guessed that this might be a problem?

Washington (CNN)Former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates told a federal court Thursday afternoon that he and his wife believe it’s “not prudent” for them to take their four children on a trip to Boston, after feeling threatened by an online commenter who invoked the Russian mafia.

A Boston Globe report on Gates’ scheduled trip, planned for next week and approved by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, “generated comments on the internet, some of which were of a threatening character,” Gates’ attorney said in a court filing.
One Globe reader posted two comments referencing possible violence against Gates in response to an online Boston Globe story published February 26 and titled “Following guilty plea in Mueller probe, Rick Gates plans to visit Boston.” The comments suggested Russians living in Boston could be angry with Gates, if Mueller targeted them in his probe.
The Globe late Thursday blocked the two comments.

Stay frosty and don’t drink any tea you don’t personally prepare for yourself!

Open thread.



Exactly What Is Special Counselor Mueller Investigating?

This morning Cheryl did a post laying out what James Rosen thinks are the four tracks of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation:

THERE ARE FOUR important tracks to follow in the Trump-Russia story. First, we must determine whether there is credible evidence for the underlying premise that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win. Second, we must figure out whether Trump or people around him worked with the Russians to try to win the election. Next, we must scrutinize the evidence to understand whether Trump and his associates have sought to obstruct justice by impeding a federal investigation into whether Trump and Russia colluded. A fourth track concerns whether Republican leaders are now engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice through their intense and ongoing efforts to discredit Mueller’s probe.

Cheryl provided appropriate caveats regarding Risen, his past reporting, and the editorial bias of The Intercept where he is now employed. Quite simply Risen is wrong. He is wrong because he fundamentally misunderstands what is actually going on with the Special Counsel’s oversight of a dual track counterintelligence and criminal investigation. There are actually five parts to what Special Counsel Mueller and his team are investigating. They are:

1) Russian interference in the election. This includes the hacking and phishing, the troll farms and the bots.  The Russian deployed human and signals and electronic intelligence. Basically the active measures and cyberwarfare campaign to influence the American electorate in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected president and to ensure that Donald Trump was elected president. And, perhaps, suppressing enough of the vote by various means to ensure that the Democrats couldn’t flip the Senate and/or the House.

2) What, if any, connections exist between the Trump campaign, including surrogates, as well as other campaigns such as Jill Stein’s, and any other Americans and/or American organizations with the Russians to influence the American electorate in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected president and to ensure that Donald Trump was elected president. And, perhaps, suppressing enough of the vote by various means to ensure that the Democrats couldn’t flip the Senate and/or the House.

3) Whether the President and/or others conspired to and/or actually tried to cover up the second item above in order to frustrate both the counterintelligence and criminal investigations.

4) The financial crimes investigation into the President’s, his children’s, his son in law’s, his son in law’s family’s, and many of the President’s associate’s (Felix Sater and Michael Cohen for instance) businesses that have been uncovered as a result of the counterintelligence and criminal investigations.

5) Any other criminality that is subsequently discovered as a result of the investigation.

These five investigatory parts are divided between the counterintelligence and criminal tracks to the investigation. And in the case of much of the counterintelligence portions, the fine line that Special Counsel Mueller and his team are walking is how to build criminal cases out of the counterintelligence investigation. Basically, they have to come up with appropriate evidence that can be used for a criminal prosecution that does not compromise American, allied, and partner nation sources and methods. What Special Counsel Mueller knows as a result of having full access to and oversight of the counterintelligence investigation versus what he thinks he can prove in a court of law are things we all have to wait to find out.

Finally, it is amazing just how well this has held up.

Open thread!



Release the Memo: 24 Hours Later

Late yesterday evening I addressed the quickly developing disinformation campaign being called release the memo after the hashtag of the same name. I specifically wrote:

Apparently Congressman Nunes, or folks working for/with him on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, have produced a four page memo alleging significant abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the Obama Administration, specifically the Department of Justice and the FBI, against Republicans. The memo is supposedly classified. This has led to the creation of a release the memo hashtag (click at your own risk of sanity). This would seem to explain Sean Hannity’s opening tease on Fox News tonight.

And:

It is hard to get decent info at this point, but if I’m following all this correctly the memo being referred to is the result of Congressman Nunes’ monomania regarding lawful unmasking by the Obama Administration in 2015 and 2016 and the attempt to create a controversy and scandal over FISA violations as reported by the chronically wrong and easily duped John Solomon at The Hill, as well as his equally odious, one sided, and misleading reporting on the text messages between two FBI officials during the campaign.

 

Twenty-four hours later we have more clarity on exactly how the alleged memo was created and the purpose to which it is being put. Hamilton68, funded by the German Marshall Fund to track Russian active measures on social media, has been tracking the release the memo hashtag.

Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider has further details.

Russia-linked Twitter bots have jumped on the bandwagon.

#ReleaseTheMemo is the top-trending hashtag among Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations, according to Hamilton 68, a website launched last year that says it tracks Russian propaganda in near-real time.

The frequency with which the accounts have been promoting the hashtag has spiked by 233,000% over the past 48 hours, according to the site. The accounts’ references to the “memo,” meanwhile, have increased by 68,000%.

The most-shared domain among the accounts has been WikiLeaks, and the most-shared URL has been a link to WikiLeaks’ “submit” page.

WikiLeaks said on Thursday that it would reward anyone with access to the “FISA abuse memo” who chooses to submit it to the site. The Russia-linked accounts have evidently been sharing the “submit” page to push the memo’s release.

Bret Schafer, a communications coordinator at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy who tracks the Hamilton 68 accounts, said he “certainly can’t remember” the last time the researchers had seen a topic “promoted to this level” by the Russia-linked bots and trolls.

“On a normal day, our top hashtag is typically used around 400 times in a 48-hour period by the network we track,” he said in an email on Friday.

“As of right now, #ReleaseTheMemo has been used over 3,000 times (and five other related hashtags are in the top 10),” he said. “In total, they’ve easily shared more than 4,500 hashtags on the topic in the past two days, and our top URL is Assange’s offer to pay for a copy of the memo. That certainly seems to be a sign of a coordinated effort by the bots and trolls.”

Congressman Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence – and the only member of that committee to actually successfully prosecute an espionage case – had this to say:

a profoundly misleading set of talking points drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI and its handling of the investigation. Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most of Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI. This may help carry White House water, but it is a deep disservice to our law enforcement professionals.”

Where does this leave our beleaguered hero Congressman Nunes, the chairman of the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence? According to GOP strategist Rick Wilson he’s right in the thick of things.

Also, OpSec people, OpSec!!!!!

Wilson’s anonymous source has now been verified by subsequent reporting.

One thing about that document: Republican staffers wrote it.

Even the most plugged-in news consumer could be forgiven for thinking the classified memo is an executive branch document that exposes wrongdoing within the Justice Department and the FBI. It isn’t.

The document, which alleges abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act during the FBI’s quiet counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the final months of the 2016 election, was actually compiled by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee. That committee voted along partisan lines this week to allow any member of Congress to take a peek at the document themselves. Republican members soon flocked to a secure room to read the memo written by their allies — and then ran to tell the press about it.

If the memo does eventually go public, it won’t end well for Republicans, Susan Hennessey, the executive editor of the legal commentary site Lawfare, argued Friday. “After causing completely unnecessary chaos today, this memo will be released in some redacted [form] in a few weeks and prove to be an utter embarrassment to Nunes personally, the [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] majority, and frankly to US House of Representatives,” Hennessey predict

What I estimated last night was correct.

Since these (the Simpson transcripts just released by HPSCI) basically shoot everything Congressman Nunes, Congressman Gaetz, Congressman DeSantis, Congressman Jordan, and several other GOP members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Oversight, Justice, or other committees have been saying about the Special Counsel and his investigation and the FBI’s role in the counterintelligence investigation pertaining to the President that was begun in July 2016, they needed to do something to change the narrative. Enter the four page classified memo supposedly alleging that the Obama Administration, the DOJ, the FBI, and other parts of the US Intel Community were all conspiring against Republicans and conservatives in general and the President, his businesses, and his campaign in specific. Leaked to Fox News and teed up for Sean Hannity’s diatribe for an audience of one this evening. Given what happened the last time that Congressman Nunes tried to get creative in screening fire for the President, I fully expect that if this memo is ever declassified it won’t survive first contact with the actual subject matter experts the news media brings in to consult on it. Except, of course, for Fox News, talk radio, the alt-right news media (Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, etc) and social media crowd, Wikileaks, RT, and Sputnik. They’ll all, amazingly, have the exact same talking points. As will the White House, the President on twitter, and the aforementioned GOP members of Congress. This amount of coincidence takes a lot of work!

This is a desperate play to try to change the subject, to try to divert the news media’s attention, and it appears to have been fed to one of the specific Fox News personalities that we know are tailoring their programming directly to and for the President. Anyone want to estimate the over/under that Congressman Nunes actually either gave Hannity the memo he cobbled together or just read it to him, despite the fact that it was classified because it cherry picks material from classified DOJ, FBI, and US Intelligence Community information? Finally, releasing a partisan staff product memo isn’t going to answer any actual questions.

The only way to put the issue to bed would be to declassify and release the FISA warrant application. That is not going to happen. And you’ll notice that Congressman Nunes, nor his exceedingly shrill partners in crime – Congressman Gaetz, Congressman DeSantis, Congressman King (IA), Congressman Meadows,  Congressman Jordan, Congressman Zeldin, Sean Hannity, Wikileakes, etc – are actually calling for that to happen. All they want is Congressman Nunes cherry picked material disseminated to create maximum outrage and diversion. Which is, apparently, what Russian state media, Russian intelligence funded trolls, Russian controlled bots, Russia’s fellow travelers on the alt-right, the Fox News personalities who are programming their shows to speak to an audience of one (the President), and these members of Congress all want. This is a strange convergence of interests. And this is why they are all using the exact same talking points, messaging, and language. A lot of work went into creating this coincidence.

Updated at 9:26 PM EST

Here’s an example of the clear eyed, quality thinking that has gone into releasing the memo:

Genius!

Stay frosty (or warm if you’re where it’s cold)!

Open thread!



Penetration At All Levels: US Senate Edition

This is what happens when you decide to play political games for power and profit rather than provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare! That this is being disclosed now means that the penetration has occurred, Senators, their staffs, and/or their campaigns are already compromised, and the enemy – Russia – wants everyone to know in order to increase the confusion and distrust and further aggravate the social, political, economic, religious, and ethnic/racial tensions and divisions in the US. Are Senators Grassley’s and Graham’s recent actions the result of being compromised or attempts to seek partisan advantage? And what about the House of Representatives? There is no way the Russians have hacked the Senate, but not the House.

From The Associated Press:

PARIS (AP) — The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday.

The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite.

“They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.”

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

Hacquebord said he based his report on the discovery of a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system. He then cross-referenced digital fingerprints associated with those sites to ones used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear, which his Tokyo-based firm dubs “Pawn Storm.”

Trend Micro previously drew international attention when it used an identical technique to uncover a set of decoy websites apparently set up to harvest emails from the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in April 2017. The sites’ discovery was followed two months later by a still-unexplained publication of private emails from several Macron staffers in the final days of the race.

Hacquebord said the rogue Senate sites — which were set up in June and September of 2017 — matched their French counterparts.

“That is exactly the way they attacked the Macron campaign in France,” he said.

Business Insider also has coverage:

The US Senate was targeted last year by the same hacking group that broke into the Democratic National Committee servers during the 2016 presidential election, according to the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.

The research firm found that phishing sites were set up by Pawn Storm, also known as Fancy Bear or APT28, mimicking the Senate’s internal email system in an attempt to gain users’ login credentials.

“By looking at the digital fingerprints of these phishing sites and comparing them with a large data set that spans almost five years, we can uniquely relate them to a couple of Pawn Storm incidents in 2016 and 2017,” the researchers wrote.

The  June 2017 phishing attempts would not have been the first time the Russia-linked hackers tried to infiltrate the US Senate.  In its extensive analysis of Fancy Bear’s targets during the presidential election, the Associated Press found that Senate staffers Robert Zarate, Josh Holmes, and Jason Thielman were targeted between 2015-2016.

Fancy Bear had a “digital hit list” throughout that period that targeted a wide range of Russia’s perceived enemies, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, and half of the feminist protest punk rock group Pussy Riot.

Trend Micro said that the Senate’s Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), which is bascially its internal email system, “is not reachable on the open internet.” But phishing of users’ credentials on a server “that is behind a firewall still makes sense.”

“In case an actor already has a foothold in an organization after compromising one user account, credential phishing could help him get closer to high profile users of interest,” the researchers wrote.

Hacquebord said he doesn’t think it’s correct to say that the methods Pawn Storm used were not advanced.

“They have to know who they want to target, and the timing is important,” Hacquebord said. “The techniques may not be advanced but the social engineering is. They’ve been using these same tactics for quite some time, and it’s been quite effective. They are also very persistent.”

He added that Pawn Storm was using zero-days, or software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers before the developer discovers and patches it.

“These zero days are expensive on the black market,” Hacquebord said. “This is not the stuff of amateurs.”

In case you think compromising members of the Senate, their staffs, and their campaigns is very bad, it gets worse.

On June 13, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified to the Senate Intelligence committee about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After fielding hours of questions about his knowledge of the plot, Sessions was greeted by an abrupt change in topic from Senator John McCain. “Quietly, the Kremlin has been trying to map the United States telecommunications infrastructure,” McCain announced, and described a series of alarming moves, including Russian spies monitoring the fiber optic network in Kansas and Russia’s creation of “a cyber weapon that can disrupt the United States power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.”

When McCain asked if Sessions had a strategy to counter Russia’s attacks, Sessions admitted they did not.

But while the role of hacks in the election is the subject of several ongoing probes, the hacks of other U.S. institutions and infrastructures have been largely ignored by the Trump administration, even as the hacking became more aggressive throughout 2017. In June, shortly after McCain’s testimony, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released an urgent joint report stating that U.S. nuclear power stations and other energy facilities had been hacked. In July, Bloomberg and the Washington Postconfirmed that the hackers worked for the Russian government.

While U.S. government officials stressed that the public was not yet at serious risk, claiming the hackers had not yet gained the ability to control the grid, intelligence officers warned that infrastructure attacks by a hostile state can also operate as a form of political leverage. Most analyses of the 2016 election hacks have framed leverage in personal terms: kompromatstolen from hacked emails used to blackmail individuals into submission or to humiliate officials as part of a propaganda campaign. Less examined is the form of leverage McCain raised at the Sessions hearing: the possibility of vital infrastructure, like the power grid, being crippled, potentially causing massive financial and humanitarian consequences. In this formulation, an entire government could ostensibly be held hostage to another government’s whim out of fear of triggering a cataclysmic attack.

As 2017 wore on, Russia continued to hack infrastructure around the world , again crippling government and corporate offices across Ukraine, along with energy sectors in the United Kingdom and government officialsin France, and ending the year targeting NATO countries through unprecedented focus on underwater North Atlantic cables that provide internet service to the U.S. and Europe. Disrupting these cables, one British naval official said, would “immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”

In September, security firm Symantec said it had notified more than 100 energy companies in the U.S., Turkey, Switzerland, Afghanistan, and elsewhere about Dragonfly 2.0—a set of intrusions into industrial and energy-related companies suspected to originate in Russia. Using targeted phishing emails and compromised websites designed to capture users’ credentials, the hackers gained access in some cases not just to front-office networks but to “operational machines.” As a Symantec security analyst told Fast Company, “We’re talking about machines that are controlling elements that are plugged into the power grid.” A month later, the Dept. of Homeland Security and FBI warned critical infrastructure providers in nuclear, energy, and other key sectors about the ongoing attacks, noting that “threat actors are actively pursuing their ultimate objectives over a long-term campaign.”

And if you think Putin is going to stop, he’s not. He’s going to turn the screws.

When the employees of the famous “troll factory” in St. Petersburg return to their desks after the Russian holidays, they will be writing comments and posts on social media in much more spacious offices. As the city’s leading business daily Delovoy Peterburg reports in an investigative article published just before New Year, the 4,000 square metres of their previous address on 55, Savushkina Street have been replaced by 12,000 square metres in St Petersburg’s Lakhta business district.

The impressive threefold increase of work space is testimony to the success of the “factory”. As Russian RBC Daily’s investigation in April 2017 showed, the trolling activities have now branched out into a conglomerate of at least 16 different online outlets, all of which voice strong support for Kremlin’s policies, while systematically linking to each other’s products. At the same time they carry little or no advertisement.

The owner of the “troll factory”, businessman and billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, has also become known as “Putin’s chef” because of his success in providing catering services for, among other clients, the Kremlin and other branches of the Russian government. Mr Prigozhin has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for providing financial support for Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine. Delovoy Peterburg’s investigation also reveals that the owners of the new premises are contributors to President Putin’s election campaign.

As I wrote 18 months ago: we are at cyberwar. I was one of the first national security professionals to publicly make that argument based on what was available in open source reporting. Eighteen months later we have actually moved to the point were the cyberwar is just one of the fronts in an elaborate, multi-pronged Russian attack and offensive against the US, our EU and NATO allies, and other liberal democratic states and societies. A formal declaration of war and placing the US on a mobilized for war footing in order to appropriately respond is no longer something to joke about. We can either get serious with this threat and respond appropriately through a formal declaration of war, placing the US on a war footing to fight back, and the mobilization of our closest allies by invoking NATO Article 5 or we can watch Putin make bank as he dismantles liberal democracy in the US, Canada, and the EU and then tries to scarf up eastern Europe, the Baltics, and parts of Scandanavia.

This is not a game. It is not a joke. This is not politics as usual or as unusual. This is not about partisan advantage. We have wasted trillions of dollars, thousands of American and allied lives, and hundreds of thousands to millions of lives of host country nationals caught in the crossfire misunderstanding and improperly responding to Islamic extremism and the terrorism it engenders as an existential threat. Right now we have decided to purposefully ignore a real existential threat: Russia’s war against the US, the EU, NATO, and liberal democracy because it might jeopardize Paul Ryan’s desires to gut Social Security, Mitch McConnell’s dreams to gut campaign finance laws and pack the Federal courts, Stephen Miller’s blatant racism, Mike Pence’s fetish for punishing LGBTQ people because they make him feel icky about himself, and the President’s psychological inability to come to terms with the fact that he is only in office because Vladimir Putin felt threatened by Secretary Clinton combined with the desires of a plurality of white racists and misogynists to make one last stand for bigotry and oppression. And because stating that truth is considered to be politically inappropriate. We can either get it together or we can be remembered as a society so stupid we allowed ourselves to be subverted and destroyed without a single shot being fired.

As I asked eighteen months ago: we are at war, what are we going to do about it?