On June 13, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified to the Senate Intelligence committee about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Sessions was greeted by an unexpected change in focus from Senator John McCain after nervously taking hours of questions about his knowledge of the plot. “Quietly, the Kremlin has been trying to map the United States telecommunications infrastructure,” McCain announced, as he described a series of alarming moves, including Russian spies observing the implementation of a fiber optic network in Kansas and Russia’s creation of “a cyber weapon that can disrupt the United States power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.”
When McCain asked if Sessions had a plan to counter Russia’s attacks, Sessions reluctantly admitted that he “had not given it enough thought.”
In any normal year, McCain’s inquiries about acknowledged and documented, dangerous threats to U.S. infrastructure would have dominated the news. His concerns were apparently justifiable: in recent years, Ukraine’s power grid has been repeatedly hacked in what cybersecurity experts have declared was a test run for the United States. Russian hackers have also hacked many centers of U.S. power, including the state of Vermont, the State Department, the White House, and everyone with a Yahoo email address in 2014, the Department of Defense in 2015, and, of course, the Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, state and local voter databases, and personal email accounts of various US officials in 2016.
But while the role of hacks in the 2016 election is the subject of several continuing probes, all of which have been confirmed by Republican U.S. intelligence officials (despite Traitor Trump’s continuing pooh-poohing) the hacks of other U.S. institutions and infrastructures have been largely ignored by the Traitor Trump Crime Family administration, even as the hacking became more brazenly aggressive throughout 2017. In June, shortly after McCain’s testimony, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released an urgent joint report stating that U.S. nuclear power stations and other energy facilities had been hacked. In July, Bloomberg and the Washington Post confirmed that the hackers worked for the Russian government.
While U.S. government officials stressed that the national grid had not been compromised (yet), to the extent that they could control the grid, intelligence officers warned that infrastructure attacks by a hostile state can also function as a form of political influence. The 2016 election hacks have been described as leverage in personal terms: kompromat stolen from hacked emails used to blackmail individuals into submission or to humiliate officials as part of a propaganda campaign. Less examined is the form of advanced leverage McCain raised at the Sessions hearing: the possibility of vital infrastructure, like the power grid, being crippled, potentially causing massive financial and humanitarian catastrophes while the president continues to ignore the dangers to the country he pledged to protect. In this case, an entire government could certainly be held hostage to another government’s whim out of fear of triggering a cataclysmic attack such as this.
As 2017 wore on, Russia continued to hack infrastructure around the world , again crippling government and corporate offices across Ukraine, along with energy sectors in the United Kingdom and government officials in France, and ending the year targeting NATO countries through unprecedented focus on underwater North Atlantic cables that provide internet service to the U.S. and Europe. Disrupting these cables, British naval officials emphasized, would “immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”
Later In September, security firm Symantec said it had notified more than 100 energy companies in the U.S., Turkey, Switzerland, Afghanistan, and elsewhere about Dragonfly 2.0—a set of incursions into industrial and energy-related companies suspected to originate in Russia. Using targeted phishing emails and compromised websites designed to capture users’ credentials, the hackers gained access in some cases not just to front-office networks but to “operational machines.” As a Symantec security analyst told news outlets, “We’re talking about machines that are controlling elements that are plugged into the power grid.” A month later, the Dept. of Homeland Security and FBI warned critical infrastructure providers in nuclear, energy, and other key sectors about the ongoing attacks, noting that “threat actors are actively pursuing their ultimate objectives over a long-term campaign.”