We are in an Undeclared War, Whether We Like it or Not

We are in an Undeclared War, Whether We Like it or Not
Rick Olson
October 28, 2019, edited November 1, 2019

A book review of “The Shadow War”, by Jim Sciutto (2019)

We are in an undeclared war with Russia and China, and to a lesser extent with North Korea and Iran. Sciutto calls it “the shadow war” or “hybrid war” because it is being waged by the combatants with tactics just below what would elicit a military response and sometimes in a combined cyber-attack along with a physical invasion.
  • Russia mounted a major cyber-attack on Estonia, a U.S. ally and member of NATO, in 2007. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that , if such an armed attack occurs, each of them . . . will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North American area.” The U.S., through NATO, has increased its forces in Poland and based more aircraft in Estonia as a deterrent.
  • Russia invaded the country of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Russia demonstrated the capability of a coordinated attack through Internet fake news and propaganda, shutting down the Ukraine electrical system, and invading with “little Green Men” (Russian troops with their name badges and insignia removed). The U.S. response was tepid. Policy makers must have asked themselves, “Are these countries strategic enough for us to go to war with Russia?” and answered “No”. Economic sanctions have been imposed.
  • China hacked into the U.S. Office of Personnel Management which exposed the personal information of millions of government employees who held, or once held, security clearances.

    “An example of a successful spear-phishing expedition was the Chinese attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel and Management (OPM). Sadly for the U.S. government, OPM manages the security clearance process for federal employees. As a result, it’s thought highly likely that every file associated with the OPM-managed security clearance process since 2000 was exposed.

    That’s data on roughly 22.1 million people who work in America’s security community, and it includes 1.1 million sets of fingerprints, as well as the detailed financial and health records of all these employees and their spouses. It is the greatest espionage surveillance coup of all time.

    With the data from this intrusion, China now knows the names of almost everyone in America who has a security clearance. That means two things: First, it makes it much more difficult for the United States to stage covert operations when the identity of many of its spies is already known to the Chinese. Second, it means that the Chinese now have information about those who work in our intelligence and law-enforcement communities that they can use to extort cooperation from them upon threat of public disclosure.” “The Surveillance State: Big Data, Freedom, and You”, a course Guidebook for the Great Courses, by Paul Rosenzweig, page 84-85 (2016).
  • China has hacked into virtually every major corporation as well as government units in the U.S.

    “In Unit 61398 alone [one of the two arms of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army], several hundred operators worked for more than 5 years, penetrated more than 140 known corporate and government systems, and stole more than 6.5 terabytes of data, according to FireEye. Nearly 90 percent of the victims were in English-speaking countries, and nearly 98 percent of the attacks were based on systems using a simplified Chinese language input. The Chinese government denied everything.

    The FBI warned U.S. health-care companies specifically that malicious threat actors were targeting them in an attempt to steal intellectual property and personally identifiable information. However, FireEye revealed that a Chinese hacker group also had systematically stolen data and information of the U.S. medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.” Ibid, page 86.
  • North Korea hacked into Sony Pictures, stealing the emails of senior management, salary information, and released copies of films and distributed them across the internet, apparently in retaliation for the upcoming release by Sony of the film “The Interview” which painted an unflattering, comical portrait of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
  • Iran attempted to interfere with U.S. elections in 2013.
  • Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer systems.
  • Russia engaged in extensive attacks on the U.S. election system in 2016. Russian interference in the 2016 election was “sweeping and systemic. Major attack avenues included a social media “information warfare” campaign that “favored” candidate Trump and the hacking of Clinton campaign-related databases and release of stolen materials through Russian-created entities and Wikileaks. Russia also targeted databases in many states related to administering elections gaining access to information for millions of registered voters. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Election Vol. I, 1-51 (2019).
  • China created “unsinkable battleships” by building islands and militarizing them in the South China Sea in international waters with ownership contested by multiple countries. Chinese aircraft harass U.S. warships as the U.S. Navy maintains a presence to enforce these being international waters open to commerce.
  • China and Russia launched satellite capturing and killing satellites capable of rendering the U.S. virtually defenseless, as GPS and other Internet connected utilities, transportation, communication and other systems are disabled.
  • China and Russia build their navies, both surface vessels and submarines, rapidly closing the gap with U.S. capabilities.
  • "In March 2018 America’s Department of Homeland Security published evidence showing that Russian government hackers had “gained remote access into energy-sector networks”, including nuclear facilities. Symantec, a cybersecurity company, noted that some of those Russians might now have “the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems”. Later that year America indicted Russian military officers for penetrating Westinghouse Electric, an American company whose power-plant designs are used for half the world’s currently operating plant." A cyber-attack on an Indian nuclear plant raises worrying questions. the Economist, accessed the day it was published, November 1, 2019.
  • In each of the cases cited, the offense required a “proportionate response” aimed at punishing the offender or deterring the offender from future acts without escalating the tensions and engagement. E.g., earlier this year America was reported to be placing potentially destructive malware inside Russia’s power grid, in part as a deterrent against future Russian cyber-attacks. Ibid. The combatants have become skilled at probing the edges of what the U.S. will tolerate, knowing it will take a lot for the U.S. public to want to go to war. Little by little, they have become more adventurous.

Whether we like it or not, we are at war. What does the future hold? How should the U.S. prepare and push back?


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