Spying in Silicon Valley

Politico Magazine published a fascinating—and scary—story titled “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies.” Russians and Chinese are exploiting the peculiarities of America’s premier tech hub to infiltrate the networks of venture capitalists and tech titans.

[F]oreign spies have been showing up uninvited, to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a very long time. According to former U.S. intelligence officials, that’s true today more than ever. In fact, they warn—especially because of increasing Russian and Chinese aggressiveness, and the local concentration of world-leading science and technology firms—there’s a full-on epidemic of espionage on the West Coast right now. And even more worrisome, many of its targets are unprepared to deal with the growing threat.

Read the full story here.

Russian cyberattacks on energy infrastructure focus of bipartisan Senate letter

Congress is slowly but surely ratcheting up pressure on the White House to take action to protect against Russian cyber threats to the energy grid. NBC News reports:

A bipartisan duo of U.S. senators is urging President Donald Trump to pay more attention to the threat posed by Russia against critical infrastructure like the nation’s electric grid, and to provide an analysis of the risk and a plan of action within 90 days.

In a letter to the White House Wednesday, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham write that they are “concerned about Russia’s capabilities with respect to cyberattacks on our energy infrastructure.”

Read the full story

Mysterious hedge fund money flowing into Florida

Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, elects a new governor this year. Term-limited Republican incumbent Rick Scott is leaving office, and a crowded race involving 5 major Democrats and 2 Republicans is entering the primary election homestretch.

On the Democratic side, in particular, there’s a bevy of cash flowing in from out of state. This is despite the fact that three of the candidates are independently wealthy (to the tune of many millions, even billions of dollars). Who’s getting this money—and more importantly, where is it all coming from?

We found this piece in the Washington Examiner to be eye-opening. It says that 3 hedge fund moguls—Tom Steyer, George Soros, and the lesser known Simons family—have poured in cash to support the progressive favorite, Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, in the hopes of securing favorable policies on climate change and other environmental issues near and dear to them.

But is there more to the story?

Billionaires like Steyer, Soros and Simons are notoriously cagey about the sources of their fabulous wealth, and can cavort with some strange bedfellows along the way. Phillip Levine, another Democrat in the race, has accepted big money from a Russian-linked oligarch. President Trump, meanwhile, has given a full-throated endorsement of Republican Ron DeSantis. With so much at stake, can we be sure there isn’t a covert Russian influence operation afoot?

Russia’s interest in Florida is well-documented. Remember when they put the state in the crosshairs of a nuclear attack animation? Or how they set their online troll operation to target Florida energy projects? It’s also well-known that Russia is comfortable playing on all sides of the political spectrum to sow confusion and chaos. This race bears close scrutiny.

WSJ: Russian Hackers Reach U.S. Utility Control Rooms, DHS Officials Say

From the Wall Street Journal today, a story showing Russia’s skill, patience and persistence. This is a serious threat.

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing.

The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

“They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS.

Read the full story

Congress to environmental groups: Why so friendly toward China?

Russia gets all the attention these days when it comes to foreign interference, whether on elections or energy & environmental issues. But China is quietly exerting influence in the U.S. as well, albeit with a different playbook than the Kremlin.

China has been cozying up to certain U.S. environmental groups who carry water for the communist regime while simultaneously criticizing and even suing the U.S. government, say two members of the House Natural Resources Committee.

In a letter to the NRDC, the congressmen said “When engaging on environmental issues concerning China, the NRDC appears to practice self-censorship, issue selection bias, and generally refrains from criticizing Chinese officials… The NRDC has never condemned, or even mentioned, China’s illegal and environmentally destructive island reclamation campaign that has covered over 3,200 acres of coral reefs with runways, ports, and other military facilities.”

Meanwhile, the letter continues, the NRDC takes an “adversarial approach to its advocacy practices” domestically, and notes its frequent lawsuits against the federal government and U.S. military branches in particular.

The cultivation of influential Western organizations like NRDC by the Chinese government is part of their massive multi-pronged perception management campaign, which involves both media manipulation and the funding of think tanks and other nonprofit institutions.

A story today by Kevin Mooney of the Daily Signal blog also shares more on this and another example of Chinese influence via the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Read the full story

 

 

Nord Stream 2 map, by Samuel Bailey (CC by 3.0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nord_Stream#/media/File:Nordstream.png

The One Thing Trump Got Right

President Trump is taking flak from all sides for his weak statements at the Helsinki summit about Russian meddling, as well as his recent comments about NATO.

But amid the memorable missteps, there’s one important thing that Trump nailed. And it shouldn’t get lost in the aftermath of the summit.

Trump publicly criticized the proposed 800-mile gas pipeline that would increase the supply of Russian gas to Europe. Called Nord Stream 2, the pipeline would bypass existing pipeline in Ukraine that generates significant revenue for our Eastern European ally and perennial Russian foe.

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said on camera. Russia, it should be noted, has been known to cut off access to natural gas during winter months as a bullying tactic. Whatever his reasons for fixating on the Nord Stream 2 issue, Trump is right that a new pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany will greatly increase Putin’s leverage over Germany and most of Europe.

Europe’s own gas resources are predicted to disappear over the next 2 decades. At the same time, the U.S. has become a global leader in energy production and is positioned to boost exports of gas to places like Western Europe—no doubt a reason for Russia’s efforts to stifle U.S. energy growth through propaganda and more.

While Trump sees Europe as a potential market for U.S. supplied energy via LNG exports, he and the West will face a daunting adversary, as Russia’s economy is hugely dependent on being able to monetize its massive gas reserves. And we all know Putin will stop at nothing to win.

 

GOP: Rubio’s bill is the way for Congress to deter Russian meddling

The Miami Herald reports today:

Conservatives are lining up behind Marco Rubio’s plan to automatically sanction Russia for any future election meddling a day after President Donald Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew widespread derision from the entire political spectrum.

Trump supporters like Fox News host Laura Ingraham, moderates like Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell have all expressed support for Rubio’s bill, signaling that Congress could pass substantive legislation that would swiftly punish Moscow if U.S. intelligence determines that the Kremlin tries to meddle in future U.S. elections.

Read the full story

Sen. McCain: Montenegro shows “Putin’s violent ambitions”

USA Today reposted a letter from Sen. John McCain today, written one year ago, that makes clear Russia’s longterm “offensive against Western democracy” can get a lot more serious… and violent.

Montenegro doesn’t make much news, but it’s trending today as President Trump called its people “very aggressive” and suggested he might not want to defend the NATO member against foreign aggression.

Thus it’s timely to review how Russia attempted to meddle in Montenegro’s elections last year—and to  stage a coup to prevent the U.S. ally from joining NATO.

But perhaps the most disturbing indication of Putin’s violent ambitions is what happened in October 2016 in the small Balkan country of Montenegro, when Russian intelligence operatives plotted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Montenegro and murder its prime minister….

According to the indictments, two members of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, took over a plot to destabilize Montenegro sometime in 2016.

Read the full account of the attempted plot here. It’s Hollywood-worthy.

Then ask yourself, What is Putin’s Russia truly capable of doing to interfere in the U.S.?

Russian interference in America’s energy sector (The Herald-News)

Amid lots of deserved attention to the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki this week, it’s useful to be reminded of the non-election meddling that Russia has been engaged in — and what Russia’s clear motives there are. A Herald-News (Illinois) contributor notes:

America’s shale gas revolution may have another benefit: It could supplant much of Russia’s natural gas production. If the U.S. were to topple Russia as a gas kingpin, that would be a good thing – since it could weaken Vladimir Putin’s troubling hold over Europe’s energy supplies.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, observed, there “appears to be a concerted effort by foreign entities to funnel millions of dollars through various nonprofit entities to influence the U.S. energy market.”

Read more…

Russians Sought To Exploit Americans’ Trust In Local News

NPR’s Tim Mak takes a look at Russia’s campaign to prop up authentic-looking local news sites in the U.S.:

Russia’s information attack against the United States during the 2016 election cycle sought to take advantage of the greater trust that Americans tend to place in local news.

The information operatives who worked out of the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg did not stop at posing as American social media users or spreading false information from purported news sources, according to new details.

They also created a number of Twitter accounts that posed as sources for Americans’ hometown headlines.

A few of the accounts mentioned in the story: @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post.

CAFI’s own research on Russian propaganda uncovered a trove of Kremlin-linked local news organizations that put out “real” news (vs. made-up stories) with an emphasis on story angles that fit Russia’s goals. More on that in an upcoming post.