President Barack Obama has vowed that the U.S. will respond to Russian hacking undertaken during the U.S. presidential campaign. Yet the public may never hear about it.
During his presidency, Obama favored a policy of deterrence when it came to responding to cyber attacks, in what U.S. officials call “naming and shaming.” He’s indicted Iranian and Chinese hackers and signed an executive order allowing the Treasury Department to impose financial sanctions on hackers. He could take similar steps against Russia, which has repeatedly denied accusations of hacking.
Another possible route, though, is an offensive cyber operation. Obama said Dec. 16 that he would respond in a “thoughtful, methodical way,” and some of it “we do publicly. Some of it, we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will.” Several former military and intelligence officials explained how an offensive response might play out.
Intelligence Agencies vs Pentagon Response
One key step would be deciding which part of the vast U.S. national security apparatus the administration taps for the job. The administration could turn to the Pentagon or the intelligence community to draft “proportional” responses to a breach, said Ted Johnson, a retired U.S. Navy commander and cyber fellow at the New America Foundation. That would ensure the U.S. plays by the norms of international conflict and reduces the risk of escalation.
“Your response to someone’s action against you should be proportional. So, if you get punched in the mouth you don’t blow up their home, because that’s not proportional,” Johnson said.
In making that decision, the president could choose a covert action by intelligence agencies, under a law called Title 50, or a military response, under the law known as Title 10.
Spy Agency Options
If a covert action by the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency is sought, it would come after gathering as much data as possible on the specific “entities and individuals” involved in the U.S. attack, according to Terry Roberts, founder and president of cybersecurity firm WhiteHawk Inc. and former deputy director of U.S. Naval Intelligence.
That could involve wiping out hard drives connected to Russia’s intelligence community, exposing Russian hacking tools on the web or revealing where the hackers operate in the so-called dark web. Or if the specific hackers involved use bitcoin currency, the U.S. could delete their online financial cache, Roberts said. This could be done without attribution, so it’s not obvious the U.S. was behind the action.
“If I want to just quietly take out their capability and send a very sneaky message and not an overt message, I would probably do a covert action,” said Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center.
Another possibility, according to another former NSA official, includes “deny, disrupt, degrade” attacks, where agency hackers could take down websites or networks, or break into non-government institutions and leak information. That could also include hacking into companies that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin or leaders supporting him, or leaking information about Russia’s role in another country, deflecting the focus from the U.S.
If the president chooses an offensive military option, that would fall to U.S. Cyber Command, a relatively new agency headed by Admiral Michael Rogers, who also leads the NSA. This path requires the object of the action be a military target. Possible options here could include a cyber-strike against the systems of the FSB or GRU, Russian intelligence agencies, or launching a ransomware attack against them or manipulating their data.
Using the military could send a strong message and eventually the operation could be made public. Rogers, for instance, has said he expects to declassify some of the offensive tactics being used against Islamic State. But it also raises the idea of overt warfare.
If the U.S. response is a military action, there could be questions around who oversees the operation. “Right now, the Russian geography falls within the European Command area of responsibility,” so the defense secretary or the president will have to determine who heads it up, Johnson, the former Navy commander said. “That is not a question that will be easily resolved.”
Is there precedent for making an offensive cyber attack public?
“The only publicly declared offensive cyber operation that the United States is conducting is against” Islamic State, though few details of that are known, according to Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a former senior cyber policy adviser at the Defense Department. “I suspect that’s why the administration, if they’re going to choose to go with an offensive cyber response, they’re probably going to be fairly quiet about it,” Sulmeyer said.
Case in point: North Korea. The isolated regime’s internet was disrupted for about 10 hours on Dec. 21 and 22, 2014, days after the Obama administration accused Kim Jong Un’s government of hacking Sony’s computer systems. Although the U.S. didn’t claim responsibility, the administration had vowed to retaliate against North Korea.
The Argument For Going Public
While policymakers face a challenge deciding whether to make a response public, not disclosing the attack raises the specter that the U.S. isn’t actually responding, according to Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former NSA lawyer.
“The idea of telling Russia, ‘we know it’s you and we might do something about it,’ the idea that that is sufficient in this case, I just don’t think that’s the case,” Hennessey said. “I think the White House has indicated that they recognize this is an area in which at least a partially visible and really quite consequential response is required.”
Former officials and analysts say the process for cyber offensive operations isn’t streamlined and can get bogged down by policy discussions. That could be hindering the U.S. from carrying out such campaigns.
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For instance, if Cyber Command presents an option to the president, the National Security Council and a joint task force made up of the intelligence community, including the State Department, “have to determine the collateral effects,” according to Stasio. They consider the impact of the action, such as relations with the other country and civilian casualties. It’s a similar approval process as for a tactical strike.
“There’s generally not a whole lot of agreement in these meetings,” Stasio said.
Despite all this, Obama could have already ordered an offensive operation. Or he may choose to pursue a non-cyber response, or decide to do nothing beyond the public statements he’s made. It all depends on what message the U.S. wants to send. Regardless, U.S. allies and adversaries will closely watch the response.
“We’re in new territory in the digital age, we’re seeing things that we haven’t dealt with before,” Roberts, the former naval intelligence officer said. “Our policies and statutes are woefully behind in keeping up with these new dynamics.”
“Protecting nuclear facilities is paramount in all circumstances,” said General Farzad Esmaili, commander of Iran’s air defenses. “Today, Iran’s sky is one of the most secure in the region.”
He added that “continued opposition and hype on the S-300 or the Fordo site are examples of the viciousness of the enemy.”
The Fordo site, hidden into a mountain near the city of Qom, is one of Iran’s numerous nuclear enrichment plants.
Within 24 hours after transferring the missiles, Iran’s military detected a U.S. drone entering Iranian airspace on Monday and issued a warning for it to leave. The drone immediately retreated from its course according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
“Iran’s army air defense detected and warned an American drone in the eastern airspace of the country. It was coming from Afghanistan. The drone left the area,” the report says.
Iran continues to stand strong in its defense of the Persian Gulf, declaring last Thursday that “if any foreign vessel enters our waters, we warn them, and if it’s an invasion, we confront.” Subsequently, the Iranian navy successfully intercepted a U.S. destroyer, followed by a verbal warning from U.S. officials.
The FBI has issued an alert to law enforcement agencies in Wyoming and Colorado, advising them to watch out for Middle Eastern men who have been approaching US military families.
The alert says the men are meeting military families at their homes in both states – specifically in Greeley, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“On numerous occasions, family members of military personnel were confronted by Middle Eastern males in front of their homes. The males have attempted to obtain personal information about the military members and family members through intimidations,” the alert says, as quoted by CBS Denver. “Those family members reported feeling scared.”
In one incident a wife of a military member was approached in front of her home by two Middle Eastern males in May. The men stated that she was the wife of a US interrogator. When the woman denied the claims, the men laughed before driving away in a dark-colored, four-door sedan with two other Middle Eastern males.
“The woman had observed the vehicle in the neighborhood on previous occasions,” the alert reads.
Similar incidents were reported in Wyoming throughout June 2015.
The men have not been identified, and the FBI is unsure whether the various incidents involve the same people. The agency has urged individuals to report “concerning additional incidents.”
While it is unknown whether the men are affiliated with a particular group, Islamic State has previously threatened to strike military members in their own homes.
In March, a group calling itself the ‘Islamic State Hacking Division’ posted a list of addresses allegedly belonging to approximately 100 military members. The group called for their beheadings, saying it released the data “so that our brothers residing in America can deal with you.”
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is now in default for the first time in history after it only paid $628,000 of a $58 million debt payment it owed over the weekend.
According to the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico (GDB), the commonwealth simply did not have the cash to make the bond payment owed to the Public Finance Corporation (PFC). Puerto Rico is currently some $72 billion in debt.
“Due to the lack of appropriated funds for this fiscal year the entirety of the PFC payment was not made today (the first business day after the Saturday deadline),” GDB President Melba Acosta-Febo said in a statement.
“This was a decision that reflects the serious concerns about the Commonwealth’s liquidity in combination with the balance of obligations to our creditors and the equally important obligations to the people of Puerto Rico to ensure the essential services they deserve are maintained.”
As a result of the tiny payment, the credit rating agency Moody’s said that Puerto Rico has defaulted on its debts.
“Moody’s views this event as a default,” Emily Raimes, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a statement toCNBC. “Debt service on these bonds is subject to appropriation, and the lack of appropriation means there is not a legal requirement to pay the debt, nor any legal recourse for bondholders.”
Raimes added that it does not believe the island has enough cash to make all the payments it needs do, and that similar news is on the way.
“This event is consistent with our belief that Puerto Rico does not have the resources to make all of its forthcoming debt payments,” she said. “This is a first in what we believe will be broad defaults on commonwealth debt.”
According to CNN, Puerto Rico owed a monthly debt payment of $483 million. The vast majority of that was actually paid except for the $58 million owed to PFC, something the outlet described as a strategic decision since that debt is owned by credit unions and Puerto Ricans – mainly retirees – who don’t have much of a chance to battle the move in the courts.
The next step in the process could involve Puerto Rico and the PFC getting together to negotiate some kind of restructuring plan. It’s possible that such a plan will push the island’s government to back austerity by raising taxes and lowering spending.
In June, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the commonwealth cannot pay its debt and warned that a “death spiral” could occur if restructuring wasn’t possible.
“There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math,” Garcia said at the time. “My administration is doing everything not to default … But we have to make the economy grow. If not, we will be in a death spiral.”
The White House has already ruled out providing the commonwealth with a bailout, and since the island is not a municipality of a state, it does not qualify for bankruptcy. The Obama administration said it would ask Congress to look into the possibility of allowing Puerto Rico to do so, but it’s unclear how lawmakers will act in response to the situation.
“There’s no one in the administration or in DC that’s contemplating a federal bailout of Puerto Rico,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in June. “But we do remain committed to working with Puerto Rico and their leaders as they address the serious challenges.”
Puerto Rico’s problems run the gamut from a heavily damaging, decade-long recession and high unemployment to government mismanagement and excess spending. Between 2010 and 2013, some 48,000 people left Puerto Rico to find jobs in the US mainland every year.
One resident, 26-year-old Omar Rodriguez, just recently left with his family and moved to Austin, Texas, where both he and his wife obtained jobs.
“I wouldn’t imagine having the same quality of life in Puerto Rico at the moment and that saddens me,” Rodriguez said to CNN. “Saying goodbye to my parents …it was a bit unbearable.”
How do you tell a fine, authentic cognac from some knockoff in a fake bottle? Right now that requires a keen eye and an interest in cognac, but in the near future it might only require a smartphone with an NFC chip. Premiumalcohol maker Rémy Martin has started production of a new “connected” bottle with an NFC tag to guarantee freshness and authenticity. Truly this is the future.
For the unaware, cognac is a liquor produced from distilled wine. Most makers age cognac for about six years, though some less expensive versions are aged for much less time and infused with caramel coloring to fake the proper look. Rémy Martin prides itself on aging all its cognac for at least 10 years and as long as 37 years. You’re looking at over $100 for a regular bottle of Rémy Martin, and probably much more for the connected bottle.
The tag will be hidden inside the cap, but why the cap? Firstly, it’s easy to get your smartphone pressed up against it to read the tag, and second it allows the bottle to know whether or not it has been opened. When the seal is broken, a circuit is tripped that causes the NFC tag to label the bottle as “opened.” Thus, if you scan a “Rémy Martin CLUB” connected bottle, it will tell you if someone has previously opened it.
The company will also have a dedicated app that handles the identification of the bottles, but presumably it’s Android only, as the iPhone’s NFC chip is locked down right now. When you scan bottles, you’ll get points which can earn you rewards and prizes, but if you’re buying pricey booze, I don’t know that saving up loyalty points is high on your to-do list. The smart bottles will launch first in China this fall. Timing for other regions is still undecided.
If NATO threatens Russia’s territories Moscow will respond to the threat accordingly, said President Vladimir Putin. This comes after he announced Russia’s strategic forces will be getting over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015.
“If someone threatens our territories, it means that we will have to aim our armed forces accordingly at the territories from where the threat is coming. How else could it be? It is NATO that approaching our borders, it’s not like we are moving anywhere,” Putin said speaking at a joint media conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in Moscow on Tuesday.
He said at the moment he sees no threat in the alliance’s activities, since the missile defense system wide deployment is a bigger threat.
“I’d refrain from whipping up emotions. Of course, we will analyze everything but so far I see nothing that might prompt us to [take responsive measures],” he said. “What worries us more is the anti-missile defense system that is being deployed – that is a significant thing of strategic importance.”
The comments come after The New York Times ran a piece Saturday, which said the Pentagon could store “battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries.”
Day later, Poland and Lithuania revealed on-going talks with Washington to host US military equipment warehouses. This prompted a harsh reaction from Moscow; Russia warned that it has no binding obligations limiting its armed forces in its Western region.
“Russia will have no other choice but to boost its military potential along its western borders,” General Yury Yakubov, a senior Defense Ministry official told Interfax Monday. He added that a military buildup would affect tactical groupings in the Belarus and Kaliningrad region.
On Tuesday morning Putin stated that in 2015 Russia’s strategic forces will be getting over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
In response to all these statements, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of “saber-rattling.”
“This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. It’s destabilizing and it’s dangerous. This is something which we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces,” Stoltenberg said during a news briefing in Brussels on Tuesday.
He added that NATO is making sure it “provides the terms of protection of all allies against the enemy.”
NATO forces are currently holding military exercises in Poland codenamed Noble Jump. Their aim, according to Stoltenberg’s interview to the Polish Press Agency, is to show that the Alliance can quickly deploy its forces to any of the member countries.
The drills involve about 2,000 soldiers and some 500 pieces of hardware, including tanks, jets and helicopters. The scenario is based on a hypothetical conflict with several countries taking part. It is the first official exercise of the NATO ‘Spearhead’ force established in Europe to counter what Alliance commanders have repeatedly dubbed ‘Russian aggression’.
Washington also made a statement following Vladimir Putin’s announcement about additional ICBMs.
“It does concern me,” State Secretary John Kerry said, answering a reporter’s question at a briefing. “Nobody should hear that kind of announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about what the implications are.”
‘US, EU fails to put enough pressure on Kiev to implement Minsk deal’
Putin made the fresh statements at a media press conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in Moscow on Tuesday evening. Besides NATO, the two leaders talked much about the on-going crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s role in its resolution.
Putin said Moscow considers the Minsk ceasefire agreement to be ‘fair and balanced’ and criticized the US and EU for failing to make enough effort to pressure Kiev.
“We consider [the Minsk] agreements to be fair and balanced and we are exerting the possible pressure on one of the sides of the conflict – on the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk republics,” Putin said The eastern Ukrainian republics are ready to hold talks on all points of the Minsk agreement, he said.
Putin noted that “none of the points of the [Minsk deal] are sole responsibility of Donbass, primarily it’s the responsibility of Kiev authorities.”
He also criticized the EU and the US leaders for failing to exercise “enough pressure on Kiev authorities” in the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. There is “no alternative” to the Minsk deal and “as hard as it may be we should follow this path,” he said.
The sides of the conflict “should sit down for direct talks” as there is “no other way,” he added.
Niinisto, in his turn, said that Moscow and Helsinki were actively participating in the OSCE work and pledged that the work would continue.
“At present, everybody should exert maximum efforts to restore peace in Ukraine and remove the current strains that are present in Russia’s relations with the West,” he said.
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