American soldiers may not be in direct conflict with Russian troops or proxies in Ukraine, but the US military is actively engaged in providing offensive and defensive cyber support to defeat the Russian invasion of that country, says General Paul Nakasone, commander of US Cyber Command.
In an exclusive interview, General Paul Nakasone also explained how separate “hunt forward” operations were allowing the United States to search out foreign hackers and identify their tools before they were used against America.
Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, the general, who is also director of the National Security Agency (NSA), told Sky News that he is concerned “every single day” about the risk of a Russian cyber attack targeting the US and said that the hunt forward activities were an effective way of protecting both America as well as allies.
General Nakasone confirmed for the first time that the US was conducting offensive hacking operations in support of Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion.
He told Sky News: “We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations.”
To be clear, I really don’t care what US Cyber Command is up to regarding Russia. In fact, if some of our guys are behind the mysterious series of fires and explosions in Russia (see BREAKING. Mysterious Fire Rips Through Secret Russian Bureau Responsible for Designing Missiles, Bad Luck Strikes Russia as Three Major Fires in Two Days Damage Defense and Private Industry, and Unexplained Fires Engulf Russian Tank Farms; Oil Pipeline to Germany May Be at Risk), I’d be happy to buy them a beer. If I knew they did it. Which I shouldn’t.
From the earliest days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our Intelligence Community has sought to interject itself into that war as a major player in its own right and engage in self-puffery. As we were waiting to see if an invasion of Ukraine would happen or if Russian President Vladimir Putin was playing the role of the “Grand old Duke of York,” the Intelligence Community repeatedly announced the Russian invasion to be imminent. The claim was that these announcements kept Putin off balance because he could see that we were viewing his decision-making. I think the reality was much more banal. Rather than keeping Putin off-balance, I think the intelligence community set up a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition where if Putin didn’t invade, they could claim the credit. If he did, they could claim to have accurately predicted it.
Since the war kicked off, the intelligence community has interjected itself into that conflict on several occasions and with no purpose beyond reading about itself in the headlines. It claimed credit for helping Ukraine shoot down two Russian transport planes, something, by the way, that didn’t happen except on Twitter (Did the Intelligence Community Just Take Credit for an Event That Never Happened?). When the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva was sunk, the intelligence community claimed credit for providing Ukraine with the intelligence that made the attack possible; see Russian Frigate Reported on Fire as the Intelligence Community Tries to Convince Us They Know What They Are Doing. When Russian generals started meeting untimely ends, the IC was back in action, claiming responsibility, see Intelligence Community Claims Responsibility for Killing Russian Generals Because It Didn’t Happen Unless You Know They Did It.
Now the xes/xirs of Cyber Command want a piece of the action, or so it seems.
I don’t know who thought Nakasone telling the world via a British news outlet while in a nation bordering Russia that we are engaged in cyber-warfare against Russia was a good idea. It’s not. It is really a stupid idea. It is a lot better for everyone, even if we actually are engaged in offensive cyber operations targeted at Russia, if we don’t advertise the fact. It is much better if we have plausible deniability and the Russians at least have to consider that they might be dealing with Ukrainian cyberattacks.