Without any investigating, a sense of insecurity is heightened as details of the sophisticated cyber-attack carried out for months against several U.S. federal agencies has been revealed.
This operation -which could also be a counterintelligence one- has called into question the proceedings of a strategic unit within the government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose methods of concealing information have become one of the darkest issues in this country.
There is not enough talk about it in the press and it will not be because of a lack of information.
In 2018, President Trump signed a bill to replace the National Programs and Protection Directorate with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), under DHS. Christopher Krebs, who had been Director of Information Security Policy at Microsoft, was appointed to head the agency.
Last March, a group of hackers -presumably working for Russia- managed to penetrate the computer systems of the government and numerous public and private companies, putting the country’s security at risk. This attack, considered the largest in history, may have compromised highly sensitive documentation from the Departments of Energy, State, Defense, National Security, Treasury and Commerce.
Despite the fact that 2020 is a crucial year, due to the celebration of the elections, the sophisticated cyberattack remained hidden for almost nine months by the then director of CISA, Christopher Krebs, until last Thursday when a joint statement from the intelligence community warned about the widespread hacking against federal targets.
Krebs’ attempt to cover up this attack, which curiously was also underestimated by the intelligence agencies for months, has attracted the attention of the American public, especially because it coincides with a moment of maximum political confusion in the country.
Christopher Krebs had described last November the 2020 elections as “the most secure in the history of the United States,” despite the insistent allegations by Donald Trump about the participation of officials of the highest political and security level in the orchestration of large-scale electoral fraud with the support of the governments of China, Iran and Russia.
“There is no evidence that any of the voting systems have eliminated or lost votes, changed votes or been manipulated in any way.” These claims by Krebs were the final trigger for the U.S. President to remove the CISA director from office.
Last week, in a joint statement, CISA, the FBI and the Director of U.S. National Intelligence indicated that the sophisticated cyber-attack is still underway as the government tries to verify the extent of the damage: “This is an evolving situation, and we continue to work to calibrate this campaign that affected networks within the federal government.”
The scandal thus acquires maximum gravity and its relevance goes far beyond the carousel of concealment that the pro-Democratic Party press has been practicing on the implications of this enormous cybernetic campaign against the U.S. government and its interests.
Why is the media trying to disassociate the news about the hacking from Krebs’ management at CISA?
In fact, the nation’s former top cyber security official received enormous media coverage after he questioned President Trump’s election fraud allegations. However, his name appears less often now that his former agency is under scrutiny for the cyber attack that took place during Krebs’ time as head of operations, with responsibility for securing federal networks and protecting the integrity of sensitive infrastructure.
Interestingly, CNN covered the information about the cyber attack without mentioning Krebs; even last Tuesday, the news network published an opinion piece in which the former director of CISA addressed electoral integrity and cyber security in general, without mentioning the extent of this massive theft of federal data that the government suffered for months under his supervision.
This was not the only U.S. media outlet to tiptoe around this issue. Thomas Bossert, a former national security advisor, in an article published by The New York Times, called CISA’s response to the attack “woefully inadequate and woefully too late,” without mentioning Krebs at any point.
The CISA is in urgent need of explanations for actions by intelligence agencies under Krebs’ supervision that seem clearly irregular. The former security official has much to clarify about these pirates: who they work for, who they represent and report to, what objectives they are seeking and, above all, why such a major spying campaign was not detected by the intelligence services for months.
For decades, foreign hackers have been trying to steal American secrets. It is not idle to recall that, in 1990, Russia carried out Operation Moonlight Maze, with which it stole strategic information from the U.S. government, including NASA and the Pentagon. In early 2016, a group of Russian hackers was accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections, after trying to access the email accounts of the state Democratic parties in California and Indiana, as well as influential research centers in Washington and New York.
The New Cold War
Is the U.S. prepared to respond to these types of attacks? After more than 30 years of experience, why do the intelligence services take so long to detect and combat their perpetrators? Why is this type of external interference repeated lately when elections are taking place?
The profile of the cyber-attack, which has compromised confidential information of important official bodies, is beginning to be drawn in thick strokes and, while waiting for more transparent details, one can sense an action of such scope and sophistication that has surprised even veteran security experts with the vulnerability shown by the country’s technological infrastructure.
The enormous dimension of this plan and its complexity places American society and the intelligence community at all levels involved, before a greater challenge, and requires everyone to rise to the occasion to address it with maximum efficiency and coordination. There are two levels that coexist before this challenge with the same commitment: the police and the political.
As the investigation progresses, security experts warn that the operation is part of a campaign with enormous technological potential, not detected early enough, which could have begun long ago.
Cyberspionage draws a new war scenario in which factions of diverse ideological sign have substituted the role assumed in the past by the traditional armies. And their strategic objectives are not only limited to attacking defense targets and vital infrastructures such as nuclear arsenals, transportation and communication centers, but also to influence public opinion in the invaded societies through manipulation of databases and vote counting centers.
Its only objective is to put constitutional legality in check by favoring populist and extremist sectors. America’s enemies are interested in a defenseless and fragmented nation.
The same endorsement that the press and the democratic institutions gave to Robert Mueller to find out about an alleged complicity between Moscow and Donald Trump’s campaign team in the 2016 elections -which in the end was denied-, should now be given to those who firmly believe that behind this cybernetic war there are several foreign powers and obscure interests of tacticism and political opportunism with great potential to erode the faith of the citizenry in the rule of law.
The lack of scruples in the exercise of power is seriously endangering national security and the institutional, political, economic and diplomatic balances of Western democracies. And the worst thing is that, in this war of cyber security, sometimes the enemy is in the house.