At a glance.
- Finding and flagging disinformation and operational deception.
- Chinese media outlet sees the Colonial Pipeline hack as deserved blowback for US cyber aggression.
- Russia's SVR says the US (or maybe the UK) was really behind the SolarWinds compromise.
- Inauthenticity gets its prank call style on.
Attempting to find and flag misinformation during combat.
The Record reports that two Israeli airstrikes against targets in Gaza were intended to hit Hamas cyber operations centers. A strike on May 14th is said to have hit what Israeli Air Force sources called “a cyber-equipment storage site in the northern Gaza Strip belonging to Hamas military intelligence.” The Record adds that the site was apparently also serving as a data center. The building also housed civilian media offices, NPR and others reported at the time, among them offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, who say they were unaware of the Hamas presence, and that while media personnel narrowly escaped being killed in the strike, others in the area did become casualties.
Yesterday’s strike targeted what the Israeli Air Force described as a “hideout apartment [that] was used by the terror operatives for offensive cyber activity against Israeli targets.”
The latest round in the conflict between Israel and Hamas (Hamas fighters have fired large numbers of free rockets into Israel) has been marked by significant tactical and operational misdirection. Much of the known disinformation and psychological operations have come from the Israeli side. One successful effort involved the Israeli Defense Forces' ability to convince international news media that a ground invasion of Gaza was in progress. It wasn't, and the IDF didn't plan to invade, but it wanted Hamas to think so and used various media outlets to spread the operational misdirection. The New York Times reported that this effort was successful,
CyberScoop reports that Facebook has established a task force of Hebrew and Arabic speaking monitors to identify and moderate disinformation. The work will be labor-intensive, and Facebook hasn't said how long this targeted moderation effort will continue.
Blowback? (Probably not.)
The Global Times, a Chinese government-aligned media outlet founded in 2009 to counter "the designed provocation that is common in Western media's China reportage," frames the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline as blowback for American aggression in cyberspace. "With its unique advantages in cyberspace, the US government has long pursued an offensive cyber security strategy and has always focused on the development of offensive cyber weapons," an opinion essay says, and goes on to note that the Americans have thereby bitten off more than they can chew. "The US has seriously overestimated its ability to control offensive cyber weapons and underestimated the difficulty of cyber defense. The US has focused on intensifying conflicts with countries like China and Russia and seriously underestimated the power of non-state actors. The US has overestimated the benefits derived from its offensive strategy and underestimated the damage and costs brought about by the chaotic cyberspace."
SolarWinds was a Five Eyes operation (says the SVR).
The Global Times' contention that the Colonial Pipeline incident was more-or-less an act of justifiable retaliation is implausible, but less so than Russian claims that the SolarWinds compromise was probably the work of American or British intelligence services, or perhaps both.
Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia's SVR, told the BBC this week that, not only was Russia not behind the SolarWinds compromise, but that in fact the American intelligence services were, probably. And the British services, too, because this is the kind of thing the anglophone powers would do; it fits their known tactics, techniques, and procedures, he said. Mr. Naryshkin is "flattered" by the accusation that the SVR did it, but such charges are not only false, but "pathetic." "These claims are like a bad detective novel," Reuters quotes him as saying.
Both the US Intelligence Community and Britain's GCHQ have attributed the SolarWinds compromise to Russia, and specifically to the SVR foreign intelligence service.
Rear Admiral (lower half) I.P. Freely was unavailable for comment.
Last week we discussed the open letter by Flag Officers 4 America that contained some overwrought political commentary, and suggested that perhaps this showed, again, that inauthenticity might be a better touchstone of disinformation than content itself.
It turns out that there apparently was some inauthenticity in the letter, but that the authors and not-so-much the audience were the victims. One of the signatories was not an actual retired admiral, and the name the hand inside this particular sock puppet gave should have tipped off the Flag Officers 4 America that something was amiss. That name? "Jack Meehoff." Say it aloud and say it proud. Get it? It wouldn't have fooled Moe Szyslak, but then Mr. Szyslak isn't accustomed to the support of a staff.
Here's a thought. Assign retired flag and general officers a mouthy E-4 as an aide-de-keeping-it-real. (The "E" in "E-4" stands for "enlisted," a grade most civilians would associate with the rank of corporal.) It would be a good use of public funds. The assignment should be a short tour, no longer than eighteen months, to keep Corporal Wiseguy honest.
And the other Anglophone powers might as well anticipate the same problem. The other Four Eyes could consider assigning an equivalent OR-4, that is, "OR" for "other ranks." It would be money well spent.