U.S. Boosts Defenses Against EMP Threat

The dangers of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, are the stuff of nightmares — think widespread blackouts, halting of air travel, crippling of the U.S. economy and potential total social breakdown.

Officials have been warning for years that Russia, China, Iran or North Korea could unleash an EMP attack on the U.S. electric grid; or just as scary, one could be caused by a solar flare.

Recognizing the potential devastating effects an EMP would bring, the White House took action this week via an Executive Order from President Trump to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from EMPs, boost detection capabilities and plan for recovery should one occur.

While unleashing an EMP attack would be an indisputable act of war, and bring a swift response from the U.S., it could be a highly effective first strike. Military leaders in adversarial countries know this, and EMP weapons have become part of their planning doctrines, according to a government report.

“It is the policy of the United States to prepare for the effects of EMPs through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement,” the executive order said.

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Big aluminum maker suffers major cyberattack

Hackers are at it again — seeking to disrupt industrial production and cause economic damage in the West through ransomware cyber attacks.

In the latest case, the giant Norwegian aluminum manufacturer Norsk Hydro was hit with a cyberattack that forced it to shut down some plants and operate others manually. These attacks are a far cry from the “election meddling” that has come to dominate our public perception of foreign interference. Rather, they are causing significant direct and indirect financial harm to the targets.

Aluminum prices rose to a 3-month high when news of the attack became public, while Norsk Hyrdo’s stock fell 3.4%.

It’s not yet clear who the perpetrators of the cyberattack were, or whether they succeeded in extracting a ransom payment from Norsk Hyrdo to “unlock” the hacked systems.

“Other cyber attacks have downed electricity grids and transport systems in recent years, and an attack on Italian oil services firm Saipem late last year destroyed more than 300 of the company’s computers.”

Reuters UK

Global aluminum production is dominated by just a few companies, with the 2 largest in China and Russia, and production problems can quickly escalate into disruptions of the global supply chain.

Read more from Reuters and Bloomberg.

How does money laundering work?

As Paul Manafort heads off to federal prison for 7 1/2 years for an array of crimes — including tax evasion and the laundering of illicit gains from his pro-Russia political consulting work — it’s worth revisiting just what money laundering is.

The ability to move money into and around the U.S. and Europe is an essential component of Russia’s recent interference activities, which include supporting environmental protests against pipelines and trolling public debates on divisive issues. Better that these activities appear to be “organic” than directed and carried out by the Kremlin’s intelligence apparatus.

Not only that, the Russian oligarchs and Putin cronies who operate corrupt enterprises need a way to stash their cash, preferably with the stability that Western banks and institutions provide.

Investigators worldwide are working to identify and stop all the ways that Russian criminals are trying to beat the system — and having some success. But much remains unknown, including how much Russia may be injecting into foundations, associations, and other nonprofits. Already there are indications that Russian money was bankrolling both the NRA (on the right) and environmental nonprofits (on the left). This follows the typical Russian playbook of playing both sides to sow chaos.

Read more from Business Insider on how criminals attempt to disguise the proceeds of illegal activity. It won’t be the last we hear about Russian money laundering!

For Russian trolls, a new playbook for 2020

The Russian Internet accounts that interfered with the 2016 elections — and a range of ongoing U.S. commercial interests — appear to be shifting tactics as they look ahead to 2020.

The trolls are focusing less on creating original content, and more on amplifying already existing content and using hacked devices to create new legitimate-looking accounts. This is according to experts at several cybersecurity and research firms who spoke with Bloomberg News.

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Majority of Americans Consider Russia a ‘Critical Threat’

A new Gallup poll found that Russia is now deemed the chief U.S. enemy globally and that Russia’s military power is viewed as a “critical threat” to vital U.S. interests.

Russia has displaced North Korea as the foreign power viewed to be the greatest enemy of the U.S. Whereas a year ago 51% of Americans surveyed viewed North Korea as the prime threat vs. 19% saying the same of Russia, the pendulum has now swung to a point where 32% view Russia as the chief enemy vs. 14% North Korea.

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

EU Ambassador cites constant fear Russian malign influence

Fear of Russian interference and leverage over Ukraine, Germany and other U.S. allies in Europe is palpable, according to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Gordon Sondland, the senior American diplomat at the EU, spoke of the tension that Russia is creating across the continent, in an interview with Euronews.

Sondland cited the NordStream2 project as one policy area where the U.S. disagrees with some allies — asserting that Europe has other viable energy sources and need not rely on Russian gas, which Russia has been known to curtail supply of in order to exert political pressure.

Read more and see the video.