Even after Robert Mueller’s testimony fell apart and no real evidence of Russian meddling has been provided, Russiagate lives on. Director of the National Security Agency and head of US Cyber Command, General Paul Nakasone announced the formation of a new task force to combat supposed Russian interference in the upcoming 2020 elections. The Russia Small Group will be using techniques learned from fighting ISIS in cyberspace.
Cyber Command created Task Force Ares in 2016 to fight ISIS in cyberspace. It consisted of hackers from all branches of the military, working with intelligence officials to launch cyber-attacks. Ares didn’t just combat ISIS influence and propaganda on social media, they also hacked into ISIS servers and took down networks.
Nakasone told NPR in an interview last week, “A lot of that thinking came from what we were doing in 2016. It’s powerful to bring a number of different elements of a team together and be able to form something very rapidly to address a threat.”
“How do you impact your adversary? Do you take down their infrastructure? Do you work with a partner in a foreign nation to expose malware? When we talk about persistent engagement, it’s all of that plus this idea of enabling interagency partners,” Nakasone said.
If the Russia Small Group brings this fight to the Russian government, they could be starting a cyber-war that doesn’t exist yet. No evidence has directly linked the Russian government to the Internet Research Agency’s social media campaign or the so-called “election meddling” in 2016.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian election interference makes the claim that the Russian government “directed extensive activity…against US election infrastructure.” The “extensive activity” was just scanning of servers, in only one case anything was actually penetrated. But the heavily redacted report does not provide evidence linking the scanning to the Russian government and even says, “The Committee has seen no evidence that any votes were changed or that any voting machines were manipulated.”
The report lists 21 states and theorizes all 50 states were targeted, based on an assumption by the Department of Homeland Security. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told The Washington Post that the type of scanning discussed in the report “happens hundreds, if not thousands, of times per day.” Oregon’s Chief Information Security Officer told the Post that the state blocks, “upwards of 14 million attempts to access our network every day.”