There’s no keeping up with this stuff anymore. Or, if there is, it’s wildly worse than a weary world may have thought it had reason to expect. If Obama were trying to detonate a huge global-trust bomb, he couldn’t be approaching it more effectively.
On Tuesday, LU published a headline from Politico in our Web Crawler, featuring an announcement from White House spokesman Josh Earnest that the Obama administration was contemplating a “proportional” response to Russia’s hacking of U.S. computer systems. Russian hacking attacks have, of course, targeted Democratic Party IT systems, among other things, and most notably are thought to be behind the WikiLeaks data trove being dumped to the public on a near-daily basis now.
At the time, I noted — yes, it was I in that case — that Earnest’s remark was one of the dumbest announcements ever made.
It hasn’t taken long for a dumber one yet to emerge. “U.S. intelligence officials,” we are told, have informed NBC News that the CIA is putting together a cyber-strike on Russia. Apparently, the information was conveyed exactly that baldly and explicitly. You can verify for yourself (just do a search) that the authors of the report are journalists employed by NBC. See the video below as well. This isn’t a hoax.
Here, for what it’s worth, is what the NBC report says:
The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.
The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”
Did Chuck Todd really have to ask such a silly question? If course the public will know. Heck, the administration’s crack “leaks” team will probably draw a map to the door of the chief hacker.
The report goes on:
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.
“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.
I guess there may be some Millennials out there who need to have it explained to them that this, if it’s an honest statement of intent, is surreally imbecilic. The question with notifying Russia in advance that you’re going to cyber-attack Russian systems isn’t whether you’ll lose surprise. It’s whether you’ll lose deniability, and preserve some measure of doubt as to where Russia needs to retaliate if this previewed attack actually comes off.
As an aside, I have a mental image of the “U.S. intelligence officials” who are constantly leaking such stuff to the media in the Obama administration, and it’s a sad one. Telling the media things like this goes so severely against the grain of the intelligence community mindset that I can only picture a small bullpen of them, staggering through their days in a safehouse somewhere in a drunken stupor, languishing on the couch in front of a Dr. Strangelove DVD running over and over again, until they’re slapped awake to go “leak” some prepared copy to friendly media contacts.
To recap (see the NBC News report), we’ve told the Russians (a) that we’re planning a cyber-attack on them, and (b) exactly where to look for it. We’ve publicly outed our intention, so anything that happens — or anything the Russians merely claim happens — can be laid at our door.
And by the way, the attack is to be focused on documentation from the finance sector, including Russian oligarchs’ overseas banking connections, so as to embarrass Putin and his cronies.
Nothing explosive about that. Nothing that could jeopardize the foundation of fiduciary trust underlying all of legitimate global banking.
Remember, we’re not talking here about pursuing forensic leads to achieve an objective we might have under U.S. law. We have capabilities to probe the banking system for that purpose — and constitutional and other legal protections for the rights of banks, investors, and account-holders, so that their information isn’t accessed or exposed by the U.S. government without just cause and due process. If the federal government needs to investigate foreign financial dealings to enforce our law where we have an interest, or protect our citizens, that’s one thing.
But the Obama administration is sending the CIA out to hack foreign financial information, in order to achieve a political effect. And telling the target about it in advance.
Obama doesn’t even have to actually do this. Just talking about it is immensely destabilizing.
This is either insane, or dastardly. I’m leaning toward insane. But the effect may be dastardly anyway. At this incredible juncture in history, I wouldn’t presume to make the adjective call on your behalf. You do you.