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If the US hacks Russia for revenge, that could lead to cyberwar

By       Message Trevor Timm     Permalink
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From The Guardian

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What's the CIA's brilliant plan for stopping Russian cyber-attacks on the US and their alleged interference with the US election? Apparently, some in the agency want to escalate tensions between the two superpowers even more and possibly do the same thing right back to them.

NBC News reported late last week that the CIA is working up blueprints for an "unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia," and it sounds a lot like they're planning on leaking documents on Vladimir Putin, just as the Russians are accused of doing to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

NBC reported that former intelligence officials said "the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin" and another former official said the US "should ... expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates."

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Hacking foreign governments -- including political parties -- is a US pastime, as even the former ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden openly admitted this week. "A foreign intelligence service getting the internal emails of a major political party in a major foreign adversary? Game on. That's what we do," Hayden said. He added: "By the way, I would not want to be in an American court of law and be forced to deny that I never did anything like that as director of the NSA." (Hayden probably doesn't want to find himself in an American court for a lot of reasons, but that's another story.)

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It's the leaking of documents that is relatively new. The US, of course, has a long history of interfering in foreign elections as well, as Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor detailed last week. That's not to excuse Russia's alleged actions, but everyone feigning shock and horror over this needs to take a deep breath because we are rapidly spiraling towards not just a digital cold war, but perhaps something far worse.

The question a lot of people were asking when this NBC News story came out is: why was it leaked? There's a couple of possibilities beyond the usual "the CIA can't keep a secret" -- which they obviously can when they want to. To me, the most likely scenario is this could be the CIA's attempt to back President Obama into a corner by putting public pressure on him to approve such an escalation in cyberwarfare.

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