Don’t Tell POTUS. US Military Burrows into Russian Grid

June 15, 2019

One of the best arguments for transitioning to renewable, distributed energy, is the national security factor.
A grid that is more dispersed and diverse, that looks more like the internet, will be inherently more resilient to disruption in the age of terrorism, cyber-hacking, and extreme weather.

And the Russians. As a new piece in the New York Times shows, we are in an era where the balance of terror includes having a finger on a nation’s lightswitch.

In the article below, very telling paragraph near the end:

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.

In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

The administration declined to describe specific actions it was taking under the new authorities, which were granted separately by the White House and Congress last year to United States Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military’s offensive and defensive operations in the online world.

But in a public appearance on Tuesday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was now taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort “to say to Russia, or anybody else that’s engaged in cyberoperations against us, ‘You will pay a price.’”

Power grids have been a low-intensity battleground for years.

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.

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.

But the action inside the Russian electric grid appears to have been conducted under little-noticed new legal authorities, slipped into the military authorization bill passed by Congress last summer. The measure approved the routine conduct of “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace, to “deter, safeguard or defend against attacks or malicious cyberactivities against the United States.”

Under the law, those actions can now be authorized by the defense secretary without special presidential approval.

“It has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year,” one senior intelligence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity but declining to discuss any specific classified programs. “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”

The critical question — impossible to know without access to the classified details of the operation — is how deep into the Russian grid the United States has bored. Only then will it be clear whether it would be possible to plunge Russia into darkness or cripple its military — a question that may not be answerable until the code is activated.

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.

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

Because the new law defines the actions in cyberspace as akin to traditional military activity on the ground, in the air or at sea, no such briefing would be necessary, they added.

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8 Responses to “Don’t Tell POTUS. US Military Burrows into Russian Grid”

  1. Jean Swan Says:

    Thanks

  2. doldrom Says:

    So what does this say about the power outages across Venezuela?
    How will the general public ever discover who is the aggressor in such setups?
    Americans also used the grid weapon in Aleppo and Baghdad (specialized munitions to destroy power substations), shutting down the water utilities for months, with untold numbers of civilian casualties as a result.
    Is targeting civilians a war crime or terrorism?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Don’t underestimate the power of basic management incompetence to take down a grid. For example, in the US, many utility components have had their digital controllers connected to the Internet to make access easier, and a large number of them were found to still have the factory-default password needed to set their configurations. Often, in a facility there are only a few people who actually understand how things work, and the rest are operating idiomatically. When the experts and old-timers leave (for whatever reason), the remaining clueless managers and newbies spend their days fighting fires and performing triage.

      With hyper-inflation and regular rioting, over four million people have already left Venezuela to find work (and food) elsewhere. There are more than enough non-sabotage and non-conspiratorial reasons for their grid to fail. (Hell, their configuration may be too broken to even hack into.)

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    As with biological species, investment practices, and the Internet, diversity provides resilience.

    • jfon Says:

      Not necessarily. I’d rather have a car fleet that were all Toyotas, than one that was half Skodas and half Trabants. All-renewable power proposals all have to rely on high percentages of power coming over long distances from intermittent producers. The Argentine grid failure’s cause is not known yet, but they get much of their power from hydro in Paraguay and wind in Uruguay. A more localised grid is less prone to continental scale outages.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        I seek diverse, distributed power sources. Large centralized power sources tend to create large maintenance/failure outages and tend to have transmission networks dominated by single-path routes. Distributed smaller power sources, like the design of the Internet, could support multiply-connected-graph topology power distribution, routing around failed connections. I especially favor small local power supplies in areas where there are weak national governments, where local self-interest is tied to the protection and maintenance of the power source.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        As for the goofy analogy of Toyotas vs. Skodas+Trabants, be aware that monoculture technology is vulnerable to shared design defects, as with fleet recalls or hackability. (In reality, car brands don’t necessarily share the same design or production, such that some models are actually made by third parties or skunkworks and are used to fill out the range of product offerings.)

        • jfon Says:

          Technology usually starts with multiple solutions to a problem, and then settles around one. For most of last century, all road vehicles were internal combustion piston engines. A few oddballs, like the Stanley Steamer, the Mazda rotary, turbines, or the early electrics, withered and died. Same with aircraft – flying wings, canards, gyrocopters, Flying Fleas – we’ve ended up with practically all GA aircraft tractor propellor, tricycle undercarriage, standard empennage at the back; and airliners all going towards twin engines on the swept back wings, similar cruising speeds and altitudes, similar layouts. Tesla Motors experimented with gull wing doors, but has gone back to tried and true. Solar is nearly all silicon PV, not thermal or cadmium telluride, grid scale wind power is essentially all three blade, tubular tower, pointing into wind. The same thing happens in nature – oddball species can evolve on islands or isolated continents, but when the Eurasian species arrive, you can say goodbye to your Dodos, your terror birds, your thylacines. Competition drives out diversity.


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