According to several news outlets citing current and former US government officials, the White House is in the planning stages of a massive, unprecedented cyberattack on the Russian government in retaliation for Russian meddling in the US presidential race. The goal of such an attack is to “harass and embarass” the Russian government. The CIA has been directed to gather options and deliver them to the White House, and according to former intelligence officers, agents have already gathered documents which will expose tactics employed by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Joe Biden told the NBC news program “Meet the Press” that the US is “sending a message” and that it will be at the leisure of the US government. Reportedly, the government will seek to weaken internal censorship powers in Russia, and also expose financial dealings of Vladimir Putin in order to compromise his credibility with the Russian people and potentially give his political foes leverage.
While not as destabilizing as, say, the invasion of Baghdad, such a move will leave an obvious American footprint on the Putin administration’s proverbial rear end. Biden explained that the President can’t just make an accusation and then fail to deliver some form of retribution, for it would weaken the “response capability” of US defense.
Former CIA director Michael Morrell doubted the US would set the precedent of an actual, physical attack on Russian internal networks. He also said this operation is not the sort that should be carried out in secret, but rather in plain sight.
The Obama administration is reportedly also considering sanctions against Russia. Retired General Mike Hayden, who worked at both the NSA and the CIA, indicated earlier this year that the CIA is capable of running such an operation. He compared CIA computer operations to Marine Corps aviation and NSA computer operations to the United States Air Force – meaning that the NSA is clearly more capable, but the CIA is not inert. Retired Admiral James Stavridis said:
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.
A Swan Song of Nuclear War?
Cyber networks are vital in today’s society. Following the 2014 Sony hacks, which were blamed on North Korea, much of North Korea’s limited internet access went down. Then, as now, President Obama had promised a “proportional response.”
While the US may be wont to offer cyber attack for cyber attack, Russian insiders have already told the news media that the election of Hillary Clinton in and of itself could lead to nuclear war. The conflict in Syria has been heightening tensions unlike anything between the two powers in decades. Barack Obama seems intent on getting a last strike in on Russia before he goes out of office, but could the ramifications of such a move be unpredictable, even nuclear?
Depending on the success of the planned attacks, the Russians could very well perceive a physical, weaponized response as likewise “proportional.” This is how many wars between large powers begin: an escalation of tensions followed by an escalation of actions.
Let’s hope these fears are just the irrational speculation of a hacked.com reporter and not a coming reality.
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