Finnish cybersecurity analyst, Petri Krohn, believes that the purported Russian meddling in the US vote is a hoax.
Sputnik: According to a WP report, military cyber officials are developing information warfare tactics that could be deployed against senior Russian officials and oligarchs if Moscow tries to interfere in the 2020 US elections through the hacking of election systems or sowing widespread discord. In your view, how likely is it that this process will actually be carried out by military cyber officials?
Petri Krohn: The WaPo article makes it clear that the United States is in a de facto war with Russia. Americans understand that they need to keep the conflict at a low intensity, otherwise the war could quickly escalate, even to a nuclear war. The cyber operations discussed are acts of war. Another act of war is the American sanctions on the Swiss companies building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They are illegal under peacetime international law and violate every trade agreement the US has ever signed. But if the US is at war, then naturally it is free to take whatever steps it wishes against Russia.
Sputnik: The Mueller report was not successful. Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 has not been proven. How logical is it to move on to the next step, namely, to develop information war tactics and impose sanctions against Russian officials, if the first so-called Russian intervention was not even proven?
Petri Krohn: Russian interference in the US election is a hoax. America purports to be an open society. By Karl Popper’s definition, an open society is open to alternative points of view. It cannot be influenced by a foreign power because any fact or alternative point of view has already been thoroughly analysed and integrated into the national discourse. During the Cold War America had many organs and printing houses distributing Soviet and Communist points of view. Americans accepted this because they believed that no disinformation could challenge their free press. Democracy relied on a strong centre. Extremist views could not challenge it.
The West is entering an era of totalitarian media control. Any information, true or false, that challenges the official narrative is labelled “Russian disinformation”. People expressing dissenting views are labelled Russian trolls. All this is a part of a war on dissent.
Sputnik: How true is the pretext of military cyber officials for such moves?
Petri Krohn: Wars do not need a pretext. They may need legal fiction. Russian election interference is a perfect example of such legal fiction.
RFE/RL recently published a video claiming how easy it is for an “authoritarian regime” to interfere in the elections of Western “democracies” by hacking voting machines. I cannot understand why they target such propaganda to the American audience. All it can do is undermine the confidence of Americans in American elections. If a foreign power really wanted to destroy American democracy, is this not exactly what they would do?
Sputnik: In your view, what might these information warfare tactics look like? What will they be?
Petri Krohn: Cyber attribution is difficult, if not impossible. Attackers try to leave fake fingerprints that point elsewhere. I believe the following attacks were perpetrated by Americans, based mainly on the intended aims of the attacks. US cyber-attacks against Russia are likely to be similar.
- In March 2019 the Venezuelan 10,235 megawatt Guri Dam hydroelectric power station was sabotaged by something similar to the Israeli-American Stuxnet virus. The gates of the dam were opened causing a power surge that kicked the power plant off the grid and most of Venezuela was left without electricity. In both cases, the malware targeted control systems delivered by European companies.
- In Brazil, the Car Wash scandal led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The Brazilian Workers Party may be corrupt, but it is unlikely to be any more corrupt than any other Brazilian party. They may have been targeted by the selective leaking of compromising information collected by the NSA’s global surveillance network.
- The Panama Papers may have been hacked instead of leaked. They were selectively published to target Putin and enemies of the United States.
- Russian defectors inserted false data into the database of the Russian anti-doping authorities and told WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency where to look for it.
- The Washington Post quotes Bobby Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, saying "When the Russians put implants into an electric grid…” This is yet another piece of disinformation. In reality, the “PAS tool PHP web kit” is of Ukrainian origin, written by a student at the Poltava National Technical University in Ukraine. It was not found in the grid of a Vermont power utility but on the laptop of one employee. In June 2019, The New York Times bragged how United States Cyber Command had done exactly this kind of attacks on Russia’s electric power grid, ostensibly “in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin.”
Sputnik: The intelligence community last month issued a classified update — a “national intelligence estimate” — asserting that Russia’s main goal in the 2020 elections is still to sow discord. What is the purpose of these unfounded allegations about the future, considering that the previous ones were not proven?
Petri Krohn: The article in the Washington Post is in itself a cyberwar operation targeted at the American people. Reporting in Western mainstream media on geopolitical topics usually contains four types of disinformation. Some of the content is outright lies and fabrications. I would categorise “national intelligence estimate” in this class. Some of them are factoids, small lies that have repeated so often that the audience has come to believe in them. The claim that Russia hacked the Vermont power grid falls into this category. A large portion is half-truths. Facts, when they are printed form the fourth layer of disinformation. What is reported is not based on what is true or important, but on a predetermined narrative. Facts are collected that support this narrative. The result is a mosaic. Individual pieces may be true but the picture itself is a falsehood.
The Washington Post is generally viewed as the mouthpiece of the CIA. They have no objection to printing CIA talking points without any confirmation or without any way for anyone to independently verify what is claimed.
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