Happy New Year

Thank you to everyone who engaged or shared our posts last year. We are committed to continuing our fight against foreign interference in 2019.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Thank you for supporting CAFI. And thank you to the many men and women who serve and protect our country every day.

Russian Election Disinformation Playbook: Tehran Edition

We already know that the Russians and Chinese are up to no good regarding our elections, and now Iran is in on the act. That’s the word from Wired magazine, which reports that it’s been a successful change in strategy from the earlier approach taken by Iran.

Instead of focusing on domestic Iranian politics, the new network focused on U.S. and British politics. It was a more successful tactic, if you judge success by followers. The old network had about 200,000; the new one had more than 1 million. Facebook shut down 82 associated accounts from the new network in October.

The article’s findings are in line with a joint U.S. government statement from the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security from Oct. 19 laying out exactly what’s going on regarding foreign interference in the midterms.

The statement fingers Russia, China and Iran as culprits, explaining their tactics and pointing out that as of that date, there was no “evidence of a compromise or disruption of infrastructure that would enable adversaries to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt our ability to tally votes in the midterm elections.” There were a few attempts to access the networks of state and local governments, which “often include online voter registration databases,” but they were all thwarted.

It’s worth your time to read it because it’s straight from the source, and there’s no better way to judge a situation for yourself than to review primary sources. That’s because everything is open to interpretation and news is no different.

While our mission at CAFI is to educate the public about foreign interference with our democracy, we have a sideline in cutting through click-bait and getting to the facts. For the second time this month, we’ve spotted a story that’s taking the long road to the actual news.

This piece entitled “Google says it’s seeing very little hacking against the US midterms — but there’s a catch” backs into the news.

Allow us to translate: Russian disinformation and propaganda operations are in full swing, but Google – like the government – hasn’t seen any evidence of actual hacking of election systems yet, according to Google’s director of threat analysis, Shane Huntley.

The article quotes Huntley’s observation about the success of our enemies, made during a speech on Oct. 22. It takes on poignance in light of the recent domestic attacks:

Speculating on why they’re seeing fewer direct hacking attempts than 2016, Huntley said: “If the goal at that time was to create a world where there was less faith in the democratic institutions, that we were a divided country, that there was hyper-partisanism, and it was like driving a wedge between the different sides of the democracy, one might say there’s not a lot of hacking that needs to happen at this current point to actually engender that—because we’re already here.”



Russia & Hacking the Midterms: What’s really going on?

An article from The Daily Beast purports that there are no signs yet of Russian hacking or interference  in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections – which is good news, if it’s true.

Like all news, let’s take it with a grain of salt. The thrust of the article’s argument is that Russia did such a good job messing with 2016’s polls that it doesn’t have to lift a finger now.

That’s a comforting thought but not one suffused with true understanding of how state intelligence actors operate. Russia’s work advancing its interests is never done, same as it is with the United States or any other nation-state.

Influence operations are marathons and not sprints, and their means and methods vary widely, as this handy but incomplete list of Russian spying operations around the world can attest.

So even if Russia’s operations around the 2016 election achieved their goals, it’s not like Moscow said “OK, we’re good now.” More than likely, they’re shifting to other modes of operation that aren’t as well-known since surprise and stealth are the fundamental elements of covert action.

After all, a thief whose best hauls came from breaking in through unlocked windows doesn’t stop once the people in the neighborhood start locking them. He just breaks the glass instead.

Be listening for that sound.

Read the full story here


U.S. Experts: Greatest threat is massive cyberattack

Former CIA Directors Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta both warn that the U.S. faces a huge threat from a major cyberattack, one that could knock out the electric grid and cripple financial networks.

An Axios report this weekend quotes Petraeus saying, “What worries me most is a cyber equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction falling into the hands of extremists who would, needless to say, be very difficult to deter, given their willingness to blow themselves up on the battlefield to take us with them.”

Other current and former intelligence and homeland security officials concur, including DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Michael Chertoff, Lisa Monaco and Frances Townsend.

Russia is not the only foreign power to have demonstrated the capability and interest in waging a cyberattack on the U.S.—China, North Korea and potentially even non-state actors can wreak havoc too. But Russia all eyes are on Russia due to recent provocations aimed at energy companies and news reports that they’ve successfully penetrated critical U.S. electricity infrastructure.

A well-executed cyberattack could knock out the electrical grid and shut off power to a huge swath of the country, or compromise vital government or financial data and leave us unsure what is real. The sheer number of internet-connected devices, from cars to pacemakers, means the risks are growing by the day.

Read the full story


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.