The Justice Department charged six Russian intelligence officers for a variety of cyberattacks across the globe that targeted France’s presidential election, the 2018 Winter Olympics and U.S. businesses, according to indictments made public on Monday. “All told, the attacks caused billions of dollars in losses and disrupted a broad cross-section of life, including health care in Pennsylvania, a power grid serving hundreds of thousands of customers in Ukraine and a French election that saw the late-stage disclosure of hacked emails,” AP reported.
The hackers’ work included NotPetya malware that hit every major shipping firm and caused losses of up to $300 million for the leading company, Denmark’s Maersk.
According to the British government, whose foreign ministry put out its own statement on the hackers Monday, “The GRU’s cyber unit attempted to disguise itself as North Korean and Chinese hackers when it targeted the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games.”
One of the accused Russians included 29-year-old Anatoliy Kovalev, who “was also indicted as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the alleged conspiracy to hack American election systems” in 2016, the Washington Post reported.
“This indictment lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries, thus providing a cold reminder of why its proposal is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers in a press conference announcing the charges.
Big picture: “The Five Eyes intelligence communities, I would suspect, must have stunning visibility into Russian military intelligence operations if today's disclosures are considered dispensable,” tweeted Thomas Rid of the School of Advanced International Studies.
Genius move: Half of Russia’s six indicted hackers registered their cars to their military address in Moscow, Aric Toler of Bellingcat flagged on Twitter Monday afternoon. And this kind of dubious tradecraft has happened before, as Toler explains with examples, here.
By the way: Remember those sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats, mostly in Cuba but also possibly in China? It happened in Russia, too; but — like the played-down attacks in China — President Trump was trying to build good relations with Russia, so top U.S. officials like Mike Pompeo effectively looked the other way, the New York Times reported Monday.
At least 44 Americans were affected in Cuba and 14 in China, the Times reports. But several senior CIA officials reported symptoms during visits to Russia, too; those had not been made public until Monday.
To be continued... “The National Academies of Sciences has a detailed report” on these injuries, “including on potential causes, that was sent to [the] State Dept in Aug[ust],” the Times’ Ana Swanson tweeted this morning. That report “hasn’t been released, and some lawmakers fear [the] State [Department] is trying to bury it until after the election. When that gets out, we may know a lot more.” Full story, here.
From Defense One
Intelligence Experts Suspicious of DNI Ratcliffe On Laptop Story // Patrick Tucker: The chief of the U.S. intelligence community appeared to pre-judge the conclusions of an active FBI investigation.
US Charges Six Russians with Major Cyberattacks // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: U.S. officials said a new indictment describing a four-year global conspiracy belies the country’s recent offer to reset relations in cyberspace.
Extremists Don’t Belong in the Military // James L. Jones, The Atlantic: The factors that divide Americans today pose a greater threat to the country than any foreign adversary does.
To Reboot Arms Control, Start with Small Steps // Alexandra Bell, Andrey Baklitskiy, and Tong Zhao: Stop accusing. Set aside questions of structure. Start talking.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day 19 years ago, U.S. special operators arrived at OBJ Gecko, on the edge of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar City, with orders to kill or capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar (he was not there). The compound would later become a special operations base for the U.S. and its allies known as Firebase Maholic, which was frankly more like a mansion that included a cafeteria with a wide, specially-made fireplace, a two-tiered fountain and a swimming pool. Your D Brief-er staged there several times between missions 10 years ago, and may never forget it. Read more about the anticlimactic 2001 mission starting on page 95 of the Army’s retelling, here. Or see an Associated Press video tour of Maholic from 2007, here.
The U.S. and Russia are reportedly close to a New START deal. A senior Trump administration official told the Wall Street Journal that Russian negotiators had agreed to freeze the production of nuclear warheads in exchange for extending the New START treaty for one year.
“We are very, very close to a deal,” the official said. “Now that the Russians have agreed to a warhead freeze, I do not see why we cannot work out the remaining issues in the coming days.” Those issues include “verification of the warhead freeze and the definition of a warhead, the U.S. official said.”
State spox: “We appreciate the Russian Federation’s willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control. The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same,” Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson, said in a Tuesday statement.
Russia: yes. The WSJ reported that Russia’s Foreign Ministry concurs — just days after Vladimir Putin appeared to reject the idea.
Background: Arms control advocates have been watching ever more nervously as the February expiration of the last remaining nuclear-arms pact drew closer, while the Trump administration evinced little interest in using the treaty’s provision for an easy five-year extension. Instead, officials floated various proposals that fell flat, including a three-way nuclear-arms deal with China that observers said lacked any appeal to Beijing.
WSJ, today: “The purpose of the deal would be to buy time for a future treaty that would take the place of New START and which the Trump administration says should include China.” A bit more, here.
Extra reading: Find Defense One’s earlier coverage and commentary about New START, here.
How much do you think a new nuclear missile will cost the U.S.? The answer is $95.8 billion, which is a $10 billion increase from a decade ago, according to the Pentagon, which gave Bob Burns of the Associated Press the latest estimates.
Why this matters: The missiles “are intended as part of a near-total replacement of the American nuclear force over the next few decades at a total cost of more than $1.2 trillion,” Burns writes. More here; and more still (behind a paywall) from Bloomberg reporting in early October, here.
Happening today: Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks about America’s “allies and partnerships” in an event with the Atlantic Council’s CEO Frederick Kempe at 1 p.m. ET. Registration and livestream link, here.
About those allies: Some see themselves as collateral damage amid an explosion in U.S. sanctions. “The Trump administration has transformed economic sanctions, one of the government’s most effective foreign policy tools, in ways that have alienated close allies,” the New York Times reported Monday. The latest example concerns U.S. sanctions against the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and a colleague, for their investigation of "potential war crimes committed by American troops and intelligence officials in Afghanistan — although the case largely focuses on whether Afghan forces and the Taliban carried out any crimes," the Times writes.
U.S. sanctions have grown since 2001 — but especially during the Trump era, according to a count from the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Using that data, the Times reports POTUS43 “approved over 1,800” sanctions during his first term, and POTUS44 authorized just over 2,000 in his first four years. By contrast, President Trump has so far “imposed over 3,700 sanctions on foreign governments, central banks, authoritarian governments and malign actors.” But his biggest targets — Iran, Syria and Venezuela, e.g. — do not seem to have been greatly affected, unless you count how Iran has moved economically closer to China in recent years.
America’s allies in Europe, meanwhile, “have created a financial mechanism that would allow goods to be traded between Iranian and foreign companies without using the dollar.” Read on, here.
The U.S. wants to use Indonesia to refuel spy planes — but Jakarta’s president said no, Reuters reports. The deal would have involved access for America’s P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes, and it would have almost certainly played into U.S. efforts to monitor regional activity from China’s military (e.g., the U.S. already uses bases in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia).
One strange thing about the request: Indonesia “has never allowed foreign militaries to operate there,” Reuters writes. And that is “an indication of how little folks in the U.S. government understand Indonesia,” Greg Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters. “There’s a clear ceiling to what you can do, and when it comes to Indonesia that ceiling is putting boots on the ground.” More here.
Bill McRaven, retired admiral and former U.S. SOCOM commander, says “Biden Will Make America Lead Again,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s headline for his new op-ed, published Monday.
What would Biden do for U.S. intelligence? Some of his close aides spoke to Politico, here.
BTW: Facebook has suspended Rudy Giuliani’s Russian agent Andrii Derkach for U.S. election interference — or, as the social media company described it, for “election-focused influence operations.” More behind the The Daily Beast paywall, here.
The Michigan National Guard says a few of its deployed soldiers are in trouble after posting a “message to liberals and Democrats” video on TikTok last month, Military Times reported over the weekend.
Lastly today: Get a slightly better grasp on how young Americans are radicalized into white supremacy via a new Psychology Today review of a forthcoming book entitled, “Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right,” from Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor of education and sociology at American University.
One consideration: The U.S. “is far behind West European countries in understanding, let alone building capacity to combat far-right extremism,” writes Cornell’s Glenn Altschuler in his review of Miller-Idriss’s new book. Read on, here.
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