CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia

Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election
Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

CIA Headquarters
CIA Headquarters

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.

Sean Kanuck
Sean Kanuck

Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.

“If you publicly accuse someone,” he said, “and don’t follow it up with a responsive action, that may weaken the credible threat of your response capability.”

President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed.

Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.

“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”

A second former officer, who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, said he was asked several times in recent years to work on covert action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin is almost beyond embarrassing, he said, and anything the U.S. can do against, for example, Russian bank accounts, the Russian can do in response.

“Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?” he asked.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell expressed skepticism that the U.S. would go so far as to attack Russian networks.

“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”

The Obama administration is debating just that question, officials say — whether to respond to Russia via cyber means, or with traditional measures such as sanctions.

The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, documents indicate. According to officials, the team has a staff of hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions, they say.

The covert action plan is designed to protect the U.S. election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote, officials say. Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line, officials say.

While the National Security Agency is the center for American digital spying, the CIA is the lead agency for covert action and has its own cyber capabilities. It sometimes brings in the NSA and the Pentagon to help, officials say.

Retired Gen. Mike Hayden
Retired Gen. Mike Hayden

, who ran the CIA after leading the NSA, wrote this year: “We even had our own cyber force, the Information Operations Center (IOC), that former CIA director George Tenet launched and which had grown steadily under the next spy chief, Porter Goss, and me. The CIA didn’t try to replicate or try to compete with NSA… the IOC was a lot like Marine Corps aviation while NSA was an awful lot like America’s Air Force.”

“I would quote a Russian proverb,” said Adm. Stavridis, “which is, ‘Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed. When you hit steel withdraw.’ I think unless we stand up to this kind of cyber attack from Russia, we’ll only see more and more of it in the future.”

As U.S. Watches Mexico, Traffickers Slip In From Canada

US - Canada border marker
US – Canada border marker

While the Southern border with Mexico, about 2,000 miles, attracts much more attention, the 5,500-mile Northern border with Canada offers more opportunity for illegal crossing. In many places, there are few signs of where one nation ends and another begins. Some homes, farms and businesses even sit astride the two countries; in other areas, a small white obelisk is the only marker of a border. In the past year, agents made 3,000 apprehensions along the Northern border, compared with 100 times that many along the Southwestern border with Mexico. They also seized 700 pounds of marijuana and cocaine in the North compared with 1.6 million pounds along the heavily gated Southern border.

us-states-bordering-canadaBut the authorities acknowledge that they cannot say with certainty how much criminal activity occurs as a result of Northern border crossings because their means of detection are so limited.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp
Senator Heidi Heitkamp

“The problem is that we don’t know what the threats and risk are because so much attention is given to the Southwest border,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota.

This area is a haven for smugglers and cross-border criminal organizations. Each year, Border Patrol agents catch hundreds of drug smugglers and human traffickers who use the sparsely populated and heavily wooded areas along the Vermont-Canada border to bypass the agents, cameras, sensors and other electronic devices that the Department of Homeland Security has installed to make up for the lack of personnel.

The expanse and remoteness of much of the Northern border, which includes Alaska, make the task of law enforcement daunting, said Norman M. Lague, who leads the border patrol station in Champlain, N.Y., one of the eight stations in the Swanton region that oversee border security operations in Vermont, upstate New York and New Hampshire. “We do the best that we can with the resources we have,” he said.

The border with Canada, the largest between two countries in the world, has hardly warranted a mention in a presidential campaign dominated by Donald J. Trump’s call to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. But officials and law enforcement officers say that makes the region more vulnerable in many ways to exploitation by criminal enterprises and possible terrorists.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has increased the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the Northern border to more than 2,000, from about 340, in addition to adding ground sensors, drones and other detection devices. Nearly 18,000 agents patrol the Southwestern border with Mexico.

Ms. Heitkamp has sponsored legislation, along with several other senators from border states, including Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, and Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, that would require the Department of Homeland Security to assess the national security risks posed by the terrorist and criminal organizations operating on the Canadian border.
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Kelly Ayotte
Senator Kelly Ayotte

During a hearing last year before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, several law enforcement officials raised concerns about terrorists’ making their way to the United States through the sparsely populated areas along the border. In 2007, people from the Government Accountability Office managed to cross from Canada into the United States carrying a duffel bag with contents that looked like radioactive material, and they never encountered a law enforcement officer.

“No one is arguing that the Northern border is the same as what’s happening down on the Southwestern border, but we can’t forget about this area,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If we take our eye off of that, they will go where the weakest link is.”

Drug smuggling is a continuing issue because the lack of security and natural barriers makes the point of entry from Canada much easier for the smugglers than the Southern border.

While marijuana is the main drug, officials say they are starting to see an increase in drugs like fentanyl, which contributes to the national opioid and prescription drug abuse crisis.

In January, Border Patrol agents arrested Cedrik Bourgault-Morin, 22, a Canadian from Quebec, after he was detected by night vision cameras and ground sensors along a railroad track near the border in the village of North Troy, Vt., pulling a sleigh with a 182-pound duffel bag. Agents said Mr. Bourgault-Morin, who was wearing white camouflage, was trying to hide the bag in the snow when he was caught.

Agents found 300 vacuum-sealed bags of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, in the duffel bag. According to court records, the pills had a street value of $1.6 million. Mr. Bourgault-Morin was sentenced to one year in prison in August.

In addition to drugs, the smuggling of people is another challenge for law enforcement.

Bradley S. Curtis, the acting division chief for the Border Patrol Swanton Division, said agents had caught hundreds of people from dozens of countries trying to enter the United States through the dense forests and open fields.

“We’ve seen people from all over the world: Chinese, Haitians, Eastern Europeans, Brazilians, you name it,” Mr. Curtis said.

Law enforcement also faces another singular challenge in the North: Native American reservations where they have no legal authority to enter, making them attractive to drug smugglers.

Another issue is that officials here admit they do not actually know how many people and how much drugs get through. Officials acknowledge that many more people than they apprehend could be crossing the border illegally.

For example, cameras along the border recently showed four men dressed in camouflage outfits who appeared to have weapons crossing the border. Agents never caught them. Another camera image showed a group of about half a dozen people walking through the woods at night across the border. Agents said they had no information on the group.

“These guys make me nervous,” Mr. Curtis said. “My technology can show me when someone makes an entry, but it can’t tell me who they are, and we can’t always get there in time to catch them.”

Head of DHS to America: Brace for More Terror Attacks

Dept of Homeland Security seal 1Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson informed Americans that the country is likely to suffer more domestic terror attacks, warning that the department cannot make all threats “a priority” and that the likelihood of an extremist “attack is still there,” despite the department’s best efforts.

Johnson, speaking at the Atlantic magazine ideas forum, admitted that DHS sees a range of threats on the homeland, but “can’t say everything is a priority.” He was unable to provide any firm figure quantifying the number of attacks that could be faced in the upcoming months.

DHS does its best to assess the threat landscape, but “you have to prioritize,” Johnson said. “You can’t say it’s all a priority.”

The likelihood that America will face more terror attacks from homegrown violent extremists, also known as HVEs, “is still there and we need to address it,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s remarks come on the heels of multiple deadly terror attacks across America that have been committed by Muslim extremists affiliated with the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

The DHS leader said he has no good way to determine how many terror attacks could be coming down the pike. The threat of a mass shooting, dirty bomb attack, biological attack, terrorism in the air, or even the poisoning of America’s food supply are all real threats—and not all can be given top priority by the agency.

“If you’re asking how many San Bernardino or Orlando type attacks will we have in the year 2017, no national security, homeland security, or law enforcement expert is in a position to quantify it,” he said. “We haven’t ended the scourge, the threat of homegrown violent extremists.”

“People ask me, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ That is thing number one, the prospect of another home-born violent extremist acquiring a weapon or tool of mass violence and carrying out an attack somewhere here in the homeland,” Johnson said.

“You cannot eliminate all risk, whether it’s a terrorist attack, or mass shooting, or gang violence,” he said.

Johnson also cited the media for its coverage of only “bad news” stories that gives DHS a bad rap.

“If there’s a successful national political convention from a political standpoint,” or other high profile event, “it’s the result of a lot of hard work and dedication,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t always get reported. Bad news is front page news, but the good news in homeland security is often no news.”

He went on to cite “cyber security” as “priority number one” as rogue nations such as Russia, Iran, and China step up efforts to penetrate secure U.S. government networks.

At Least 858 Immigrants “Mistakenly” Granted Citizenship

Seal of the Dept of Homeland SecurityHundreds of illegal immigrants from terrorist hotbeds who were supposed to have been deported were instead granted citizenship because Homeland Security didn’t have fingerprints on file to check their identity, the department’s inspector general said in a stunning new report Monday.

At least two of those approved are now being investigated by the FBI for links to terrorism, investigators said.

But in most cases, Homeland Security and federal prosecutors have let the illegal immigrants-turned-citizens get away with their potential fraud. Charges were brought in just two of the more than 800 cases identified.

One of the persons granted citizenship through the error-riddled process is now a law enforcement officer, and three others worked in security-sensitive fields — including two who worked in sensitive areas at airports.

“USCIS granted U.S. citizenship to at least 858 individuals ordered deported or removed under another identity when, during the naturalization process, their digital fingerprint records were not in the DHS digital fingerprint repository,” the inspector general said.

The 858 cases involved people from so-called “special interest” countries, or from neighboring countries with major immigration fraud problems. Special interest countries are those places the government has identified as posing national security problems to the U.S.

Investigators late last year identified another 953 cases that also seemed suspicious.

The problem, according to the audit, is tens of thousands of illegal immigrants and criminal aliens whose files are so old that their fingerprints are still on paper cards.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that approves applications, wasn’t checking those paper-based files, so it didn’t know the aliens were ineligible or had been ordered kicked out of the country already.

The inspector general said some fingerprints have been digitized, but it identified 148,000 aliens who have been ordered deported but whose fingerprints are not in the IDENT system the department uses for its fingerprint checks.

Homeland Security leaders, in their official response to the report, admitted they’d bungled.

“As a result, USCIS was not made aware of information that may have affected the applicants’ ability to naturalize,” Jim H. Crumpacker, the Homeland Security’s liaison for investigations, said in a memo to the inspector general.

He said they’re they’re working to get more fingerprints uploaded, and hope to issue a contract by the end of the fiscal year to tackle the problem.

And the department has promised to go back and take another look at the hundreds of people it approved, to see if they can be prosecuted. That review is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 31.

This problem has been going on for years. According to an AP report, “The government has known about the information gap and its impact on naturalization decisions since at least 2008 when a Customs and Border Protection official identified 206 immigrants who used a different name or other biographical information to gain citizenship or other immigration benefits, though few cases have been investigated.”

What has really been done about it? Nothing. Are we really to expect something new?

USPS Joins Other Non-Military Government Agencies in Soliciting for Ammunition

USPS 1The U.S. Postal Service joins the long list of non-military federal agencies purchasing large amounts of ammunition.  The USPS is currently seeking companies that can provide “assorted small arms ammunition” in the near future.

On Jan. 31, the USPS Supplies and Services Purchasing Office posted a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website asking contractors to register with USPS as potential ammunition suppliers for a variety of cartridges.

“The United States Postal Service intends to solicit proposals for assorted small arms ammunition,” the notice reads, which also mentioned a deadline of Feb. 10.

The Post Office published the notice just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced his proposal to remove a federal gun ban that prevents lawful concealed carry holders from carrying handguns inside post offices across the country.

Ironically the Postal Service isn’t the first non-law enforcement agency seeking firearms and ammunition.

Govt Agencies Buying Ammo and Guns

Since 2001, the U.S. Dept. of Education has been building a massive arsenal through purchases orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The Education Dept. has spent over $80,000 so far on Glock pistols and over $17,000 on Remington shotguns.

Back in July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also purchased 72,000 rounds of .40 Smith & Wesson, following a 2012 purchase for 46,000 rounds of .40 S&W jacketed hollow point by the National Weather Service.

NOAA spokesperson Scott Smullen responded to concerns over the weather service purchase by stating that it was meant for the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement for its bi-annual “target qualifications and training.”

That seems excessive considering that JHP ammunition is typically several times more expensive than practice rounds, which can usually be found in equivalent power loadings and thus offer similar recoil characteristics as duty rounds.

Including mass purchases by the Dept. of Homeland Security, non-military federal agencies combined have purchased an estimated amount of over two billion rounds of ammunition in the past two years.

Additionally, the U.S. Army bought almost 600,000 Soviet AK-47 magazines last fall, enough to hold nearly 18,000,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammo which is not standard-issue for either the U.S. military or even NATO.

It would take a Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world, two trips to haul that many magazines.

A month prior, the army purchased nearly 3,000,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammo, a huge amount but still only 1/6th of what the magazines purchased can hold in total.

The Feds have also spent millions on riot control measures in addition to the ammo acquisitions.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security spent over $58 million on hiring security details for just two Social Security offices in Maryland.

DHS also spent $80 million on armed guards to protect government buildings in New York and sought even more guards for federal facilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While the government gears up for civil unrest and stockpiles ammo without limit, private gun owners on the other hand are finding ammunition shelves empty at gun stores across America, including shortages of once-common cartridges such as .22 Long Rifle.

FBI Changes “Primary Mission” from “Law Enforcement” to “National Security”

fbi-primary-mission

The Bureau has made a wise change since, if their primary mission is  “law enforcement,” then people might expect them to adhere to the law they  enforce on others.

Foreign  Policy’s blog, The Cable, reports:

The FBI’s creeping advance into the world of  counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency  has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact  sheets. Instead of declaring “law enforcement” as its “primary function,” as it  has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists “national security” as its chief  mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after  September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law  enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade  in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers. 

“What happened in the last year that changed?”  asked Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer.

McClanahan noticed the change last month while  reviewing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the agency. The FBI  fact sheet accompanies every FOIA response and highlights a variety of facts  about the agency. After noticing the change, McClanahan reviewed his records and  saw that the revised fact sheets began going out this summer. “I think they’re  trying to rebrand,” he said. “So many good things happen to your agency when  you tie it to national security.”

That last sentence is probably true and shows the problem might not be so  much with the FBI by itself, but with the entire mood and mindset of the  government, including Congress. “National Security” is the buzzword that adds  more money to your budgets.

Of course, one reason to keep the old buzzword is to make people think they did  not pass through an internal government regime change on 9/11/2001. That  realization might make people anxious. So another way to look at this change is  that the FBI realized there was no point in keeping up appearances with the  population. So after a certain amount of news slips out into the media, the PR  people at the FBI might have decided to stop pretending.

After all, when people are dedicated to law enforcement, one might get the  idea that they value obeying the law rather than, say using official government  phones for sexting and engaging in other  unethical behavior. We might think they would not work  with drug traffickers who murder a border patrol agent with a gun supplied  through a BATF program. You might think that they would search out people who  committed no crime and recruit them, posing  as terrorists, to carry  out terrorist attacks against Americans. People might expect the FBI to  not kill an unarmed witness in their custody.

Making “national security” the primary mission really frees up the FBI.

Article originally printed at Political Outcast (http://politicaloutcast.com/2014/01/fbi-changes-primary-mission-law-enforcement-national-security/)

By Mark Horne, 6 Jan 2014

Homeland Security to Push National ID

Dept of Homeland Security seal 1The Department of Homeland Security will begin the phased implementation of a national identity card beginning this month .

Your ID may still look like a state-issued driver’s license, but the federal government will require all state IDs to be fully compliant with DHS standards under the REAL ID Act by May 2017.

Some of those standards may seem like a good idea at first blush. For instance, to obtain a compliant ID, a person will supposedly be required to submit a valid birth certificate or proof of citizenship or legal permanent residence.

Considering the porous nature of the U.S. border, this sounds like it may help with the illegal alien problem.

Also, the IDs will have new security features to prevent counterfeiting, they will contain your personal information on both a magnetic strip and a bar code, and the IDs will only be issued in state facilities where all the employees have undergone security and criminal background checks.

This will cause obvious problems in states such as California, where one of the worst-kept secrets is that if you know the right person at the DMV, you can get an ID regardless of validating documents, stories of buying IDs at flea markets are plentiful, and there is a brisk trade in birth certificates and baptism records.

But the DHS push for verified IDs may actually add to the pressure on Congress to pass amnesty for illegals, rather than lead to enforcement of our immigration laws. The Democratic Party is desperate to inflate its voter base with the millions of illegal immigrants in this country, and it won’t stand for law enforcement officials getting in the way of securing power well into the future.

Another feature of the national ID cards is that they will be compliant with the standards of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

On its surface, compliance with the WHTI will allow you to travel throughout North, Central and South America, including the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The WHTI will be phased in first for air travel, then for ground and sea travel.

Both the WHTI and the national ID are the results of laws passed by Congress in 2004 and 2005 in response to recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The big catch to having a WHTI-compliant national ID, though, is that not only is it yet another route for tracking you and putting your personal information in the government’s spying apparatus, but any person who doesn’t have their ID won’t be able to travel anywhere legally.

The TSA will prevent you from air travel, with trains and boats soon to follow. Of course, driving anyplace without a license is a good way to get tossed in the slammer already, and hidden in the DHS’s security protocols are plans for establishing freeway checkpoints and roadblocks where you will be asked for your papers.

Should any state not comply with the federal regulations, its entire population will be barred from travel until it gets in line.

The day of the free-wheeling American will soon be over. All for your convenience and safety, of course.