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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/10/21

A Cyber-Culprit Other Than Russia?

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From Antiwar

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin
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Buffeted on all sides, from the unceremonious (literally) departure from Afghanistan to various cyber crimes blamed on Russia, President Biden is being challenged by the likes of the New York Times's David Sanger to show he has cojones (free translation from Spanish -- manliness). ( See: Biden Weighs a Response to Ransomware Attacks.

Will Biden let himself be shamed into taking "some kind of visible action" against Russia; something much stronger than just another "verbal warning"? What could possibly go wrong?

The answer? A whole lot can go wrong. Even the Times article, while taunting Biden to show he's a man, includes a trace of responsible maturity (yes, you must read down to paragraph 21, but it's there) by including this caution: "...although the U.S. may possess what Mr. Biden calls 'significant cybercapability,'" using it offensively runs serious risk.

The Times warns that the US "is also more vulnerable to cyberattacks than most nations because it is so digitized, and most of its critical infrastructure is owned by businesses that have not adequately invested in their digital defense. Thus, any escalation risks blowback." In addition, the Times typically plays down the many key uncertainties regarding the perpetrators of the cyber crimes.

The "Red Line" Gambit

Two critical assumptions underly the Times's approach that: (1) the Russian government is the default-actor -- the responsible party perpetrating, or allowing, the recent flurry of cyber attacks; and (2) ipso facto, those attacks cross an assumed "red line" laid down by Biden in warning Putin at the June 16 summit.

Joe Biden is not the first president to be mousetrapped into setting a flammable "red line'' that comes back to bite him. Perhaps Biden can recall how President Obama almost fell for it.

On August 20, 2012 NBC's Chuck Todd primed that mousetrap with some cheese by asking Obama about Syrian chemical weapons. Obama answered:

"I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement ...We have been very clear to the Assad regime...that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."

Sure enough, there was a sarin chemical attack near Damascus on August 21, 2013 at a time when President Bashar al-Assad's army had been advancing steadily taking territory back from the rebels. The last thing Assad seemed likely to do was mount a chemical attack and trip the mousetrap for Obama. That made no sense and, to its credit, US intelligence refused to blame Assad. Nevertheless, on August 30, 2013, then-Secretary of State John Kerry shook the rafters at the State Department, blaming Assad no fewer than 35 times, and bellowing for a US attack on Syria.

According to Jeffrey Goldberg, who later conducted a series of interviews with Obama for a lengthy article in The Atlantic, the President boasted about his decision, on the same day Kerry spoke, to resist pressure for military action from many of his advisers and instead step outside what he called "the Washington playbook."

Having "Caved In" on Afghanistan

Goldberg explained that having already caved in under hardline pressure to double down on sending more troops to Afghanistan for a feckless "counterinsurgency" operation in 2009, Obama was not in the mood for "seeking new dragons to slay" merely to preserve his "credibility."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
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