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August 2017

‘Unmasking’ Investigation Leading Straight To Obama White House Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power added to House Intelligence Committee’s investigation list. Joseph Klein

A mounting unmasking scandal investigation is leading right to the Obama White House and to a former Obama administration United Nations ambassador. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which is handling the investigation, has blown the lid off of what could well turn out to be one of the most egregious violations of Americans’ 4th Amendment privacy rights in the nation’s history.

In a July 27th letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Rep. Nunes expressed the concern of his committee that government officials may have abused their authority to request the unmasking of U.S. person identities sourced from raw intelligence reports. The raw intelligence, which included the names of some Americans, focused on foreign individuals’ communications of interest to intelligence agencies. Some of those communications may have been with Americans caught up in the intelligence surveillance.

Rep. Nunes said in his letter that “Obama-era officials sought the identities of Trump transition officials within intelligence reports.” One official, the letter said, “whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama administration” (emphasis in the original). Rep. Nunes added that in the absence of individual, fact-based justifications for such unmasking, “the Committee is left with the impression that these officials may have used this information for improper purposes, including the possibility of leaking. More pointedly, some of the requests for unminimized U.S. person information were followed by anonymous leaks of those names to the media.”

During the final days of the Obama presidency, Obama administration officials widely disseminated information across government agencies regarding intelligence purportedly linking Trump officials to Russian contacts. Some of that information has been leaked to the press, most notably leaked transcripts of retired General and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Rep. Nunes’ July 27th letter did not provide any specific names of Obama-era officials who allegedly made the unmasking requests, including unmasking of the identities of Trump transition officials. However, in a letter sent Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee to the National Security Agency (NSA), former Obama White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was specifically named as a person of interest.

Circa’s Sara Carter has reported that Rhodes’ name was added “to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA.” The intelligence committee, Sara Carter wrote, is “requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017.”

Rhodes was the Obama-era official who boasted about creating “an echo chamber” in the press to sell the Obama administration’s disastrous Iran nuclear deal. Rhodes was subsequently reported to be part of “a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn’s credibility,” according to multiple sources cited by the Washington Free Beacon. Their purpose was to preserve Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which Flynn strongly opposed. They did not want to risk Flynn’s disclosure of “secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration,” according to the Washington Free Beacon report.

Thus, Rhodes had both motive and opportunity to abuse his authority to request the unmasking of the identities of Americans while still serving as deputy national security adviser during the waning days of the Obama administration, particularly if they involved the identities of Trump campaign and transition officials such as Flynn.

Ben Rhodes’ involvement in the actual leaking of the Flynn transcript has not yet been definitively established. However, in a tweet on March 2, 2017, after the leak occurred, Rhodes revealed how he felt about the public exposure of the Russian contacts: “Flynn, Kushner, Manafort, Page, Sessions all meet with Russians pre-inauguration. Why? And why go to such lengths to conceal these contacts?”

An Immigration System That Puts America First Trump’s common-sense reforms will make U.S. immigration policy sane again. Matthew Vadum

President Trump’s newly-unveiled immigration reforms represent an earth-shattering, fundamental change in U.S. immigration policy that is desperately needed after the never-ending waves of poorly educated, hard-to-assimilate immigrants from unenlightened corners of the earth unleashed by Democrats in the Sixties.

“Our question as a government is, to whom is our duty [owed]?” said White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller. “Our duty is to U.S. citizens and U.S. workers to promote rising wages for them.”

The proposal is “a major historic change to U.S. immigration policy,” he said.

“The effect of this, switching to a skills-based system and ending unfettered chain migration, would be, over time, you would cut net migration in half, which polling shows is supported overwhelmingly by the American people in very large numbers.”

“This is what President Trump campaigned on,” Miller said. “He talked about it throughout the campaign, throughout the transition, and since coming into office.”

Miller added: “It’s been my experience in the legislative process that there’s two kinds of proposals. There’s proposals that can only succeed in the dark of night and proposals that can only succeed in the light of day. This is the latter of those two.”

“The more that we as a country have a national conversation about what kind of immigration system we want and to whom we want to give green cards,” Miller said, “the more unstoppable the momentum for something like this becomes.”

The Trump administration’s long overdue revamping of America’s antiquated immigration laws, reverses the systemic discrimination against well-rounded would-be immigrants who speak English. Trump wants the immigration system to emphasize merit and employability, as opposed to familial relationships.

The new immigration system puts the interests of America first, so naturally, the Left is fighting it. It has been axiomatic in the Trump era that the better the president’s proposals are, the more fiercely the Left opposes them. Take President Trump’s intensifying crackdown on the transnational crime gang MS-13. No matter how horrifying and brutal the group’s crimes against innocent Americans may be, the Left denounces the law-and-order push as racist button-pushing that won’t accomplish anything good. Left-wingers promote so-called sanctuary cities which are magnets for illegal aliens and the crime that accompanies them. They don’t care about the damage such policies do to American society. It is enough that Trump is taking aim at these havens of seditious lawlessness for leftists to defend sanctuary cities.

Trump advisor Miller coherently and forcefully laid out the rationale for the proposed immigration law changes on Wednesday in a much-watched press conference in which he did battle with the insufferably arrogant left-wing journalist Jim Acosta of CNN. Acosta accused the Trump administration of racism, even white-supremacism, because the proposed “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act” (RAISE Act) will make would-be immigrants in the Third World compete against better skilled workers who speak English.

Miller correctly referred to the plan as “the largest proposed reform to our immigration policy in half a century.” (Lyman Stone has a useful summary of the RAISE Act at the Federalist.)

“The most important question when it comes to the U.S. immigration system is who gets a green card,” he said. “A green card is the golden ticket of U.S. immigration.”

McMaster’s NSC Coup Against Trump Purges Critics of Islam and Obama The National Security Council is becoming a national security threat. Daniel Greenfield

Derek Harvey was a man who saw things coming. He had warned of Al Qaeda when most chose to ignore it. He had seen the Sunni insurgency rising when most chose to deny it.

The former Army colonel had made his reputation by learning the lay of the land. In Iraq that meant sleeping on mud floors and digging into documents to figure out where the threat was coming from.

It was hard to imagine anyone better qualified to serve as President Trump’s top Middle East adviser at the National Security Council than a man who had been on the ground in Iraq and who had seen it all.

Just like in Iraq, Harvey began digging at the NSC. He came up with a list of Obama holdovers who were leaking to the press. McMaster, the new head of the NSC, refused to fire any of them.

McMaster had a different list of people he wanted to fire. It was easy to make the list. Harvey was on it.

All you had to do was name Islamic terrorism as the problem and oppose the Iran Deal. If you came in with Flynn, you would be out. If you were loyal to Trump, your days were numbered.

And if you warned about Obama holdovers undermining the new administration, you were a target.

One of McMaster’s first acts at the NSC was to ban any mention of “Obama holdovers.” Not only did the McMaster coup purge Harvey, who had assembled the holdover list, but his biggest target was Ezra Watnick-Cohen, who had exposed the eavesdropping on Trump officials by Obama personnel.

Ezra Watnick-Cohen had provided proof of the Obama surveillance to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. McMaster, however, was desperately working to fire him and replace him with Linda Weissgold. McMaster’s choice to replace Watnick-Cohen was the woman who helped draft the Benghazi talking points which blamed the Islamic terrorist attack on a video protest.

After protests by Bannon and Kushner, President Trump overruled McMaster. Watnick-Cohen stayed. For a while. Now Ezra Watnick-Cohen has been fired anyway.

According to the media, Watnick-Cohen was guilty of “anti-Muslim fervor” and “hardline views.” And there’s no room for anyone telling the truth about Islamic terrorism at McMaster’s NSC.

McMaster had even demanded that President Trump refrain from telling the truth about Islamic terrorism.

Another of his targets was Rich Higgins, who had written a memo warning of the role of the left in undermining counterterrorism. Higgins had served as a director for strategic planning at the NSC. He had warned in plain language about the threat of Islamic terrorism, of Sharia law, of the Hijrah colonization by Islamic migrants, of the Muslim Brotherhood, and of its alliance with the left as strategic threats.

Higgins had stood by Trump during the Khizr Khan attacks. And he had written a memo warning that “the left is aligned with Islamist organizations at local, national, and international levels” and that “they operate in social media, television, the 24-hour news cycle in all media and are entrenched at the upper levels of the bureaucracies.”

Like Harvey and Ezra Watnick-Cohen, Higgins had warned of an enemy within. And paid the price.

A Leak That Really Hurts The Washington Post’s publication of transcripts detailing President Trump’s calls with foreign leaders sets a dangerous precedent. By Elliot Kaufman

This morning, the Washington Post published leaked transcripts of President Trump’s January phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. At the time of the calls, many of their key details were leaked to the Post, which reported on them extensively. So why release the full transcripts now?

One reason is that they show Trump saying all sorts of embarrassing things. He calls New Hampshire a “drug-infested den.” He acknowledges that his promise to get Mexico to pay for a border wall has left him cornered, and he describes the wall as, in actuality, “the least important thing that we are talking about.” It is worth noting that Trump did not threaten to send troops to Mexico, as had been previously reported. But he did tell President Enrique Pena Nieto that America was “willing to help” Mexico fight the “pretty tough hombres” who run its powerful drug cartels.

This could all have been reported in a regular article. Publishing full transcripts of phone calls including the comments of foreign leaders, however, is bad for the country. They should not have been leaked — that is the first, most egregious problem — and they should not have been published. Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council during President Obama’s second term, wrote on Twitter that, “I would’ve lost my mind if transcripts of Obama’s calls to foreign leaders leaked.” And he would have been well within his rights to do so.

Presidents need to be able to converse openly, honestly, and bluntly with foreign leaders. They sometimes need to reveal things that they cannot say publicly. This allows them to develop both personal and working relationships. Though it can be unpleasant to contemplate, politicians need this kind of flexibility to move past public pronouncements and get down to their nations’ real interests.

Neither Trump nor his foreign counterparts can have such flexibility in their mutual dealings if they fear that their remarks will be leaked to the press and then to the public.

For example, the Post’s transcript shows that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia told President Trump that he thinks the Germans made a huge mistake in letting in so many refugees. Turnbull even linked that decision to the Brexit vote in Britain. He’ll now have to answer for that comment at home and whenever he next meets with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Similarly, the Post quotes President Peña Nieto musing about “creative ways” to pay for Trump’s border wall. In public, Nieto’s position is far more intransigent, but it is a good thing that he was able to level with our president and explain the constraints of his own political situation. In the future, Turnbull, Nieto, and every other foreign leader will think twice before opening up.

There is also another risk. Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, speculated on Twitter that President Trump may now “refuse notetakers at other major phone calls/meetings.” This would not be unreasonable of him. After all, he can only tolerate so many leaks that damage his ability to do his job before he says enough is enough.

Why Doesn’t Trump Just Unmask the Unmasking? Trump has the authority to decide what intelligence information, and intelligence abuses, can be declassified and made public. By Andrew C. McCarthy

Is “unmasking” the Republican version of “collusion”: dramatic huffing and puffing in lieu of something truly worth huffing and puffing about?

I wonder. I’ve watched the story closely but I haven’t written about it for a while because I can’t get past a nagging question: Why must we speculate about whether the Obama administration abusively exploited its foreign-intelligence-collection powers in order to spy on Donald Trump’s political campaign? After all, Trump is president now. If he was victimized, he’s in a position to tell us all about it.

The president is in charge of the executive branch, including its intelligence agencies. He has the authority to decide what intelligence information, and intelligence abuses, can be declassified and made public.

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he bashed the Bush administration’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques for high-value terrorist detainees. His campaign promised that there would be a public accounting. When he became president, Obama promptly ordered the declassification and public dissemination of government memos outlining the techniques.

Like many Obama critics, I disagreed with the merits of this decision. But there was no denying the president’s authority to reveal the information. He had objected to what he argued were abusive practices by the intelligence agencies under the guise of national security. As president, he was in a position to expose evidence of the practices, both to back up his allegations and to push for policy changes.

So, why hasn’t Trump taken a page out of this book? Why are we still guessing whether political spying occurred when the alleged victim is now in a position to tell us one way or the other?

New reporting on the subject by Circa’s Sara A. Carter injects confusion while adding to the unnecessary suspense. Its headline breathlessly proclaims, “Former Obama aide Ben Rhodes is now a person of interest in the unmasking investigation.” Not to pick on Ms. Carter, but . . . no he’s not.

There is no unmasking “investigation” in the commonly understood sense of a law-enforcement probe to determine if criminal laws were broken. The inquiry into unmasking — i.e., the exposure in intelligence reporting of the identities of Americans incidentally picked up in foreign-intelligence collections — is an exercise in congressional oversight. Its principal purpose is to determine whether there should be legislative changes in the laws that govern intelligence-gathering (e.g., Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is up for reauthorization soon).

The DOJ Takes on Campus Discrimination

The Justice Department plans to invest more resources in investigating a complaint of racial discrimination at American universities. Naturally, so-called liberals are dismayed.

One of the results of the increasing diversity of the United States is that questions involving race and ethnicity no longer amount to whites vs. blacks or whites vs. everybody else — there are more players at the table. But don’t tell that to the editors of the New York Times, who immediately tried to present the question as the Trump administration working to stir up white racial resentment. The Times reported that the DOJ would target “affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants,” even as it concedes three paragraphs later that relevant policy document “does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions.”

The Times talks a good game about diversity, but one wonders whether any of the Asian editors on its staff were given the opportunity to consider that sentence.

In reality, as the DOJ itself has now confirmed, the directive involves a complaint filed by a group of 64 Asian-American organizations, a complaint made during the Obama administration, which never got around to resolving it. The DOJ has not received any new policy direction on affirmative action as a general practice, much less as it specifically relates to white students.

It should.

There are questions — legitimate ones — about the ways in which affirmative-action policies in college admissions disadvantage white applicants relative to their black and Hispanic counterparts, questions that are of particular interest when applied to affirmative-action programs that disproportionately benefit wealthy black and Hispanic applicants from abroad rather than the members of struggling domestic minority populations these policies are intended, in theory, to serve.

But the children of white working-class families who pay a racial penalty when competing for college spots against the children of Nigerian college professors and Colombian oil executives are not the only ones with a legitimate complaint. The de facto discrimination against Asian and Asian-American students is spectacular, undeniable, and shameful. They are in effect subjected to the same quota system that the Ivy League once used to keep down its Jewish population — the “bamboo ceiling,” some call it. Asian-American groups pursuing litigation against these policies have demonstrated that students of Asian background on average have to score 140 points above white students to have similar chances of college admission — and 270 points higher than Hispanic students, and 450 points higher than black students. The “Asian penalty” is especially heavy in places such as California’s prestigious state universities.

The DOJ is absolutely in the right to take up this question.

Mueller’s Grand Jury: What It Means And what it doesn’t mean By Andrew C. McCarthy

The most significant conclusion we can draw from news that a grand jury has been impaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that the so-called Russia investigation, officially, is a criminal investigation.

The purpose of a grand jury is to investigate a factual transaction or series of transactions to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. That makes it categorically different from a counterintelligence investigation. The latter, we have noted many times, is an information-gathering exercise geared toward understanding and thwarting the intentions and actions of foreign powers.

There is no need for a grand jury in a counterintelligence probe.

All that said, the fact that there is a criminal investigation does not mean charges are imminent, or indeed that they will ever be filed. There are virtually no limits on the investigative powers of the grand jury. Under our law, a grand jury may conduct a probe simply to satisfy itself that no crimes have been committed. That is to say, there is no evidentiary threshold that must be crossed before a grand jury can begin investigating. Contrast that with, for example, a search warrant or an eavesdropping warrant; those investigative techniques may not be used unless a court has first been satisfied that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

It is frequently observed that grand-jury proceedings are secret. That is not quite accurate. The obligation of secrecy applies to the grand jurors and government personnel who examine witnesses and collect evidence through subpoenas. But subjects of the investigation, witnesses, and their lawyers are under no duty to remain silent – even though it is usually a good idea to do so, since statements can be used as evidence. Of course, there are often government leaks. Putting that inevitability aside, though, it is worth noting who is permitted to speak and who is not. Media coverage of an investigation tends to rely on the people most at liberty to discuss it. That means coverage skews in favor of lawyers for the subjects, who obviously have a motive to minimize the prosecution’s proof.

The principal advantage of the grand jury for prosecutors is the ability to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documentary or other physical evidence. No investigation of any complexity can be advanced without this capacity. When I say “advanced,” I do not mean a progression toward the filing of criminal charges – at least not necessarily. An investigation should be a search for the truth, which means getting to the bottom of what happened, regardless of whether crimes can be proven.

Thus, the fact that we now have a grand jury does not mean a crime has been committed, much less that the filing of charges must be imminent. Still, the impaneling of a grand jury is a highly significant development. Prosecutors do not seek the assistance of the grand jury’s subpoena power, and do not contemplate presenting evidence to a grand jury, unless they see a realistic possibility of filing criminal charges.

The Foreign Press Association’s Unlimited Bias by Bassam Tawil

The truth is that in nearly most Arab and Muslim countries, there is no such thing as a “Foreign Press Association.” That is because Arab and Islamic dictatorships do not allow such organizations to operate in their countries.

The second question that comes to mind in light of the Foreign Press Association’s opposition to Israel’s security measures is: What exactly are the foreign journalists demanding from Israel? That Israeli authorities allow them to run around freely while Palestinian rioters are hurling stones and firebombs at police officers? Are the journalists saying that Israelis have no right to safeguard their own lives?

Outrageously, the FPA is nearly stone-deaf when it comes to wrongdoing by Palestinians. Where is the outcry of the organization when a Palestinian journalist is arrested or assaulted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank or Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Where is the outcry over PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent decision to block more than 20 news websites?

The Foreign Press Association (FPA), an organization representing hundreds of foreign journalists who work for various media outlets in Israel, is upset. What seems to be the problem? In their view, recent Israeli security measures in Jerusalem are preventing reporters from doing their jobs. The FPA’s position, expressed in at least two statements during the past three weeks, came in response to Israeli security measures enforced in the city after Muslim terrorists murdered two police officers at the Temple Mount on July 14.

Earlier this week, the FPA, which has often served as a platform for airing anti-Israeli sentiments, went farther by filing a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice challenging the actions and behavior of the Israeli security forces toward journalists during Palestinian riots in protest against the installation of metal detectors and cameras at the entrances to the Temple Mount. The petition demanded that the Israeli security forces stop restricting journalists’ entry to the Temple Mount compound. It also complained of verbal and physical abuse against journalists by the police.

The FPA protest should come as no surprise to those familiar with the anti-Israel agenda of its leadership. This organization has a long record of black-and-white thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and somehow, the Israelis always come out in the wrong.

While the FPA is teeming with self-proclaimed “open-minded” journalists, their minds seem closed to facts surrounding Palestinian violence. Funny how enlightened folks — generally ready to side with the underdog — become suspiciously overcome by intellectual darkness when the underdog might be an Israel trying to manage Palestinian terror in the most humane manner possible.

Surprise or no surprise, the latest FPA onslaught against Israel serves as a reminder that many of the foreign journalists have no shame in advancing an anti-Israel agenda.

The journalists so distraught over Israel’s recent security measures are the very ones who refuse to enter Syria out of fear of being beheaded by ISIS. These are the journalists who have stopped traveling to Iraq, fearing for their lives. Many of these journalists, particularly the women among them, will not report in Egypt, lest they be raped, let alone targeted by a terror group.

These journalists, when they travel to most Arab and Islamic countries, are assigned government “minders” who accompany them, openly and covertly, 24/7. They will wait in vain to receive a visa to enter Iran or Saudi Arabia — or be made to wait and beg for months before receiving it.

The Military Options for North Korea by John R. Bolton

North Korea test-launched on Friday its first ballistic missile potentially capable of hitting America’s East Coast. It thereby proved the failure of 25 years of U.S. nonproliferation policy. A single-minded rogue state can pocket diplomatic concessions and withstand sustained economic sanctions to build deliverable nuclear weapons. It is past time for Washington to bury this ineffective “carrots and sticks” approach.

America’s policy makers, especially those who still support the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, should take careful note. If Tehran’s long collusion with Pyongyang on ballistic missiles is even partly mirrored in the nuclear field, the Iranian threat is nearly as imminent as North Korea’s. Whatever the extent of their collaboration thus far, Iran could undoubtedly use its now-unfrozen assets and cash from oil-investment deals to buy nuclear hardware from North Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations.

One lesson from Pyongyang’s steady nuclear ascent is to avoid making the same mistake with other proliferators, who are carefully studying its successes. Statecraft should mean grasping the implications of incipient threats and resolving them before they become manifest. With North Korea and Iran, the U.S. has effectively done the opposite. Proliferators happily exploit America’s weakness and its short attention span. They exploit negotiations to gain the most precious asset: time to resolve the complex scientific and technological hurdles to making deliverable nuclear weapons.

Now that North Korea possesses them, the U.S. has few realistic options. More talks and sanctions will fail as they have for 25 years. I have argued previously that the only durable diplomatic solution is to persuade China that reunifying the two Koreas is in its national interest as well as America’s, thus ending the nuclear threat by ending the bizarre North Korean regime. Although the negotiations would be arduous and should have commenced years ago, American determination could still yield results.

Absent a successful diplomatic play, what’s left is unpalatable military options. But many say, even while admitting America’s vulnerability to North Korean missiles, that using force to neutralize the threat would be too dangerous. The only option, this argument goes, is to accept a nuclear North Korea and attempt to contain and deter it.

The people saying this are largely the same ones who argued that “carrots and sticks” would prevent Pyongyang from getting nuclear weapons. They are prepared to leave Americans as nuclear hostages of the Kim family dictatorship. This is unacceptable. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has it right. “What’s unimaginable to me,” he said last month at the Aspen Security Forum, “is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver.” So what are the military options, knowing that the U.S. must plan for the worst?

First, Washington could pre-emptively strike at Pyongyang’s known nuclear facilities, ballistic-missile factories and launch sites, and submarine bases. There are innumerable variations, starting at the low end with sabotage, cyberattacks and general disruption. The high end could involve using air- and sea-based power to eliminate the entire program as American analysts understand it.

Second, the U.S. could wait until a missile is poised for launch toward America, and then destroy it. This would provide more time but at the cost of increased risk. Intelligence is never perfect. A North Korean missile could be in flight to a city near you before the military can respond.

The Imperative of Critical Infrastructure Protection – Cyber and Physical (articles/blogs by Chuck Brooks)

In my writings (and speeches) over the past few years, I have communicated the imperative for protecting critical infrastructure against the threat of both cyber and physical attacks. Below is a short compendium of several articles I composed on the topics. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Emerging focus on cyber-threats to energy infrastructure

by Chuck Brooks in the Federal Times https://www.federaltimes.com/management/2016/10/18/emerging-focus-on-cyberthreats-to-energy-infrastructure/

Recently, the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security hosted an exercise simulating attacks on the power grid and government computer networks. Participants included law enforcement, first responders, and private sector representatives engaged in health and security.

The exercise centered on how the state would react if hackers were able to take down Kentucky’s energy grid while simultaneously engaged in the exfiltration of information from government computer networks. The goal was to provide a gap model and develop best practices that can be utilized by other states and by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Also last week, InfraGard of the National Capital Region announced a partnership between the FBI and the private sector to protect critical infrastructure and provide a comprehensive effort to recognize and support National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month. The initiative supports the DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate’s (NPPD) Office of Infrastructure Protection mission to raise awareness around critical infrastructure protection during the month of November. The energy sector has been a key area of attention for the NPPD.

And perhaps the most concerning of news activity was the announcement by head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Yukiya Amano, that a nuclear power plant in Germany was hit by a “disruptive” cyberattack within the past three years. Amano was quoted by Reuters as saying: “This issue of cyberattacks on nuclear-related facilities or activities should be taken very seriously. We never know if we know everything or if it’s the tip of the iceberg.” And he noted that this is ” not an imaginary risk.”

It should also be noted that in 2014, a computer in the control room at Monju Nuclear Power Plant in Tsuruga, Japan, was subjected to malware, but possibly by accident. And in 2015, South Korean hackers targeted Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company, but luckily to no avail. Most cyber experts believe that North Korea was behind the attempted cyberattack. These incursions are a wake-up call as there is a very real and growing fear that a future cyberattack on a nuclear plant could risk a core meltdown.

Non-nuclear power plants have also been subjected to intrusions and breaches. A hack in Ukraine was held up as a prime example. In December 2015, hackers breached the IT systems of the electricity distribution company Kyivoblenergo in Ukraine, causing a three-hour power outage.

Refineries, dams and data centers are all potential targets of cyber incursion. According to a report released last month titled “The Road to Resilience: Managing and Financing Cyber Risks,” oil and gas companies around the world could face costs of up to $1.87 billion in cybersecurity spending by 2018.

There have been attempted cyberattacks on grids and utilities, many via phishing and ransomware, and some have been successful. Adm. Mike Rodgers, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has stated that only two or three countries have the ability to launch a cyberattack that could shut down the entire U.S. power grid and other critical infrastructure.

Much of our grid still relies on antiquated technologies, and more investment in defenses are needed. As technology exponentially advances and as threat actors (including cyber mercenaries) gain tools via the dark web, that number of potential state-sponsored adversaries could expand in the near future.

In 2013, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13636, “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber-security,” which called for the establishment of a voluntary risk-based cybersecurity framework between the private and public sectors.

Congressman Trent Franks R-Ariz., chairman of the congressional EMP Caucus, and considered the foremost expert in Congress on electromagnetic pulses, has introduced legislation ( HR 3410) called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. The law would enable DHS to implement practical steps to protect the electric grid by training and mobilizing first responders for possible EMP events.

Along with Franks and Peter Prye, who heads the Task Force on National and Homeland Security (a congressional advisory board), several noted industry and policy experts, including former CIA Director Jim Woolsey; Frank Gaffney, former deputy secretary of defense and president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy; and Michael Del Rosso, former chairman of IEEE-USA Critical Infrastructure Protection Committee have been especially active in alerting the public to the critical need to find near-term solutions to protect the grid.

Clearly the entire energy critical infrastructure is justified in garnering the attention of DHS, states, regulatory organizations and the many subject-matter experts on the topic of cybersecurity.

While the threats are complex and the threat actors varied among hackers, state sponsors, organized criminal enterprises and terrorists, there are several themes to adhere to mitigate risk. These include:

Remain vigilant and continually analyze and game the energy cyberthreat landscape, as the methods, means and malware variants are constantly morphing.
Share and communicate cybersecurity information between the public and private sectors (a majority of the energy infrastructure is owned by the private sector). The government and industry are currently using pilot programs including Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program and the Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information to facilitate rapid sharing of security information. DHS NPPD has established an active and successful program in the area. DHS’ Cybersecurity Emergency Response Team responded to 295 cyber incidents in the energy sector in 2015.
Follow industry protocols, especially related to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). Power companies use SCADA networks to control their industrial systems, and many of these networks need to be updated and hardened to meet growing cybersecurity threats.
Maintain robust access management control and cyber incident response programs. This includes following National Institute of Standards and Technology, North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Nuclear Energy Regulatory Commission cybersecurity protocols.
Invest in next-generation security controls and cybersecurity technologies.

The World Energy Council says countries must raise their game in combating cyberattacks on nuclear and other energy infrastructures. They note that the frequency, sophistication and costs of data breaches are increasing. The expanding cybersecurity focus on energy infrastructure by both the public and private sectors is certainly a welcome development.

Meeting Security Challenges Through Vigilance, Readiness and Resilience

by Chuck Brooks

This photo, taken during the International Cybersecurity Forum held in Lille, France, shows cables attached to a protective cybersecurity system.

Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2017 we are facing a new and more sophisticated array of physical security and cybersecurity challenges that pose significant risk to people, places and commercial networks. The nefarious global threat actors are terrorists, criminals, hackers, organized crime, malicious individuals, and, in some cases, adversarial nation states. Everyone and anything is vulnerable, and addressing the threats requires incorporating a calculated security strategy.

According to Transparency Market Research, the global homeland security market is expected to grow a market size of $364.44 billion by 2020. A large part of the spending increase over the past year is directly related to cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors.

A security strategy to meet growing challenges needs to be both comprehensive and adaptive. Defined by the most basic elements in managed risk, security is composed of:

Layered vigilance (intelligence, surveillance);
Readiness (operational capabilities, visual command center, interdiction technologies);
Resilience (coordinated response, mitigation and recovery).

The specifics of a security approach may vary according to circumstances, but the mesh that connects the elements is situational awareness combined with systematic abilities for critical communications in cases of emergency.

Because society is undergoing such a rapid technological change, the traditional paradigms for addressing threats are evolving with the security challenges. Two particular security challenges characterize the current and future connective landscape in both the public and private sectors: protecting critical infrastructure, and protecting the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities.
The Security Challenge of Protecting Critical Infrastructure