Explore this cool visual breakdown of the Mueller report

The online news website Axios has published a handy visual search tool for exploring the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The Axios team coded each passage in the 448-page report, calling out the major people, organizations, events, places and topics for easy browsing.

They categorized over 2,500 pieces of text — all you have to do is select a topic of interest from the dropdown. The matching passages then appear highlighted for you.

Pay particular attention to the passages involving Russia’s “Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)” and “Internet Research Agency,” which have been central to the Kremlin’s political and economic meddling in the United States and across the West.

Check out the visualization here

Russians hacking GPS again

The Russian government has deliberately set false GPS signals affecting thousands of ships and airplanes moving through the Black Sea near Ukraine. This is according to the Centre for Advanced Defense, a security think tank, which reports that Russia has hacked the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) on a mass scale.

The C4AD study found that 1,311 civilian ships were affected by the false GNSS signals across nearly 10,000 incidents.

Analysis by the cyber security monitoring service Digital Shadows noted that:

The geographical placement of the spoofing incidents closely aligns with places where Vladimir Putin was making overseas and domestic visits, suggesting that Russian forces had developed mobile GNSS jamming units to provide protection for the Russian president. The incidents also align with the locations of Russian military and government resources.

Read the full story on Business Insider.

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.

Read more…

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.

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.

Read more

U.S. military disrupted Russia’s IRA on Election Day

In an encouraging development that the U.S. is toughening its response to Russian provocation, the U.S. Cyber Command blocked the operations of Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency during the 2018 midterm elections.

“They basically took the IRA offline,” one official told the Washington Post.

The Internet blockage extended took place on Election Day 2018 and for a day or so afterward, to guard against any disinformation campaign that would call into question the integrity of the results.

Russia’s recent interference and sabotage operations have targeted not just elections but a host of U.S. commercial interests — from agriculture to cargo shipping — and taking particular aim at the fast-growing U.S. energy sector which directly threatens the backbone of Russia’s economy.

U.S. response to Russia’s provocations has been relatively tame, with private social media firms being slow to suspend accounts or step up disinformation detection efforts, and President Trump downplaying the Kremlin’s role in any election meddling. Last fall, one sign of a more aggressive posture emerged when the New York Times revealed that Cyber Command had been “direct messaging” IRA trolls and hackers to send a warning that they were known and being watched. Other not-yet-public responses by U.S. intelligence and military agencies may be underway.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a businessman and restaurateur known as “Putin’s chef” and the alleged financier behind IRA, was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last year along with other IRA-connected individuals and entities.

Amid the wider Mueller probe, however, public attention on the scope and severity of Russia’s interference in the U.S. has been intermittent at best. It’s time Congress and the Trump Administration step up actions to punish Russia for its past disinformation operations and deter future ones.

Russia is undermining confidence in GPS

Russia appears to be behind a spate of disruptions to GPS — the Global Positioning System that enables satellite-driven pinpoint navigation across the globe.

From electronic warfare efforts in Syria to signal jamming in Ukraine to the spoofing of signals in the Baltic, Black Sea, and elsewhere, Russia has been busy trying to undermine the GPS system and intimidate U.S. allies to question their reliance on the Western technology.

Analysts at the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation summarized some of the likely reasons behind the GPS attacks, such as the Kremlin’s desire to frustrate Western military operations, defend against drone incursions, adopt homegrown alternatives to GPS, and intimidate neighbors.

Read the full story

U.S. Releases National Intelligence Strategy

The U.S. faces an “ever more diverse and interconnected” set of national-security threats, including adversaries who are trying to benefit from the weakening of Western democratic ideals, according to the findings of the latest U.S. National Intelligence Strategy.

While many of the stated strategic goals in the 36-page report remains similar to years past, the document released Tuesday outlines how the U.S. intelligence community must address evolving threats “particularly in the realm of space, cyberspace, computing, and other emerging, disruptive technologies.”

“Despite growing awareness of cyber threats and improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come.”

Russia, China, North Korea and Iran were not surprisingly called out as serious threats to U.S. national security.

Read CNN’s summary here.

Facebook IDs Russia-Linked Misinformation Campaign

The New York Times reported today that Facebook identified two disinformation campaigns originating from Russia — including one tied to an agency controlled by the Kremlin — that were targeted at users in Europe and Central Asia. Facebook said it had deleted nearly 500 pages and accounts that had posted the misleading messages.

The activity revealed by Facebook, which has been under pressure to more aggressively counter the spread of misinformation and manipulation, shows how Kremlin-linked groups continue to use the social network to spread misleading materials around the world.

Notable in this instance was the involvement of Sputnik, the Russian national news network aka propaganda organ. Along with RT (formerly Russia Today), Sputnik has played a big role in pushing the official Kremlin position to mass audiences across the world. Sputnik stories sometimes appear prominently in Google search results on topics where Russia is actively seeking to push disinformation, including their conflict with Ukraine, fracking, and election interference.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

The Untold Story of How Russia is Attacking the U.S. Economy

With the avalanche of Russia-related news this week—the Flynn sentencing hearing, the release of two Senate-commissioned reports on Russian social media meddling, the President’s surprise pull-out of U.S. troops from Syria, the undoing of sanctions on oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s companies, and more—it’s easy to get caught up in the latest developments and lose sight of what the Kremlin and its allies are achieving here. 

Like the best Le Carré or Charles McCarry novels, recent news has been so full of interwoven characters and events that it’s nearly impossible to keep it all straight on first read. But revisit it we should, because far from some invented hardboiled espionage thriller, these plot twists are real and we are living in the story.

Russia is engaged in an extensive, multi-faceted, prolonged attack on U.S. institutions and civil society, including our electoral system, our energy infrastructure, our public discourse, and other facets of our economy.

Not only are Vladimir Putin and his government working to undermine American interests, they are going after our allies too: from the U.K. and France to Ukraine, the rest of Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and beyond.  

From a 30,000 foot view—which can be deadly over Russian air space—the current Russian campaign is part of their zero-sum view of the world that has existed since at least the start of the Cold War. The West must be diminished so that Russia can rise again. By attacking the pillars of the West, steadily, secretly when possible, Russia can sow chaos and geopolitical turmoil, and use that instability to widen its sphere of influence.

Democracy, personal liberty, a free press, and the rule of law are all anathema to Putin and his oligarch cronies. Those niceties get in the way of the kleptocracy that Putin has taken great care to create and protect over the past two decades. But to feed their corrupt machine, they need economic wins. And per their zero-sum mentality, this means delivering economic losses to their adversaries.  

So while 2016 election “meddling” remains a centerpiece of cable news, the Mueller investigation and several Congressional inquiries, we encourage everyone to follow the money and dig deeper into Russia’s ongoing interference in the U.S. economy. 

Every day, vital American industries from telecom to energy to agriculture face threats and direct sabotage from Russia and other foreign adversaries—costing American businesses potentially billions of dollars, and robbing American workers of their jobs and financial security.

Alongside its election interference in the U.S. this decade, Russia has:

  • Sought to slow construction of energy pipelines
  • Cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccines
  • Questioned the safety of U.S. agricultural products
  • Sabotaged the Net Neutrality debate
  • Hacked email accounts and computer networks—including critical electricity and telecommunications infrastructure
  • Stoked dissent and division among our government leaders and the general public.

These attacks on our economic security are similar in nature to ones Russia has carried out against Ukraine and other allies. The playbook is effective and it’s being repeated here, threatening not just our exercise of commerce but our national security as well.

Congress and the Administration must address not just electoral meddling, as it has been, but the totality of Russian interference and the damage it is causing to the U.S. economy.  

Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report that addressed the lost economic benefits and job opportunities from recent anti-energy efforts in the U.S., such as New York State’s ban on hydraulic fracturing. The study found over $90 Billion in lost economic activity, 730,000 job opportunities missed, and another $20 Billion in unrealized tax revenue due to delays or cancellations of energy pipelines, power plants and terminals. 

NOW CONSIDER THIS: A portion of this sizable economic damage can be attributed to Russian active measures. It’s not just homespun activism, litigation and legislative battles blocking these domestic projects. There is foreign interference too.

Russia has a clear motive to stifle U.S. domestic energy development wherever and however it can; its own economy is overwhelmingly dependent on exporting oil and gas. Russia also has a track record of  butting into other countries’ matters around things such as fracking. And it has the wherewithal to finance and carry out influence operations abroad, as we saw most recently in the Mueller indictments of the IRA.

We don’t know yet how much to blame directly or indirectly on the Kremlin —more research is needed, along with more cooperation from social media companies to share evidence of Russian activities—but it could ultimately add up to a substantial percentage of the figures cited by the Chamber.  

What’s more: this new study only looked at 15 specific projects and the New York fracking ban. There are numerous other major projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline and Sabal Trail Pipeline to name just two, that weren’t even included in the Chamber study but saw undeniable Russian interference per a 2018 Congressional report (pdf). So the dollar figure could be higher still. 

Do not naively dismiss Russia’s social media meddling as minimal in impact. For starters, as the pair of recent Senate Intelligence Committee reports demonstrated, we are still learning the full extent of the Kremlin’s online operations in 2016. They were “much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed.” And likely there are still more stones unturned.

Not only that, after-the-fact analyses of public debates can underestimate the effect that a well-placed, well-timed message can have on people “in the moment.” We must at least consider that the onslaught of troll and bot messages could have helped sway or cement someone’s opinion on a pipeline project or fracking referendum or, for that matter, other contentious issues like the safety of vaccines.    

And, the scale of the Russian social posts, while once pooh-poohed in some corners, has indeed been shown to be large: IRA posts on Facebook and Instagram were shared by 30+ million people, according to the new reports by New Knowledge and the Oxford University Computational Propaganda Research Project

Lost jobs, lost business income, lost tax revenue… these are real economic consequences that have lasting impact. To say nothing of the family and societal turmoil that comes from economic insecurity. 

From Kremlin-linked social media posts and television coverage that stirred up negative public sentiment to influence campaigns geared at policymakers to secret funneling of money to protest groups, Russia has been pursuing its own anti-Western agenda with aplomb.

It’s time that Congress and the Administration get serious about exposing the full scale of Russian interference… and stopping it.