Political MoJo

Are Russia and Ukraine on the Verge of an All-Out Cyberwar?

| Wed Mar. 12, 2014 9:16 AM PDT

For the past week, reports of physical violence have been rolling out of Ukraine: Russian troops storming a base in Crimea, officers beating journalists, and violent brawls at rallies. But as tensions escalate, another part of the conflict appears to be playing out in a cloudier realm: cyberspace.

On Saturday, Ukraine's top security agency—the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine—announced at a briefing that it had been hit by severe denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, "apparently aimed at hindering a response to the challenges faced by our state." This comes on the heels of a number of alleged hacks involving Russian and Ukrainian targets, including attacks on news outlets and blocking reception to the cellphones of Ukrainian parliament members.

Security experts say the region is currently seeing an unusually high number of DDoS attacks, which aim to shut down networks, usually by overwhelming them with traffic. But many of those seem to be coming from third parties, rather than government entities. In terms of state-sponsored cyberwarfare, "we haven't seen that much," says Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm. Alperovitch adds, though, that his firm has seen a significant amount of cyber-espionage on the part of the Russian intelligence services—including tracking the activities of Putin opponents in both Russia and Ukraine—but he would not disclose names of those being monitored.

Ukraine is situated in a region of the world known for breeding some of the most talented cyber criminals. Several Russian universities offer top-notch hacking training, and a Ukrainian hacker is suspected in December's theft of 40 million credit card numbers from Target. But Ukraine and Russia aren't on equal footing when it comes to their cyberwarfare capabilities. "Russia is a Tier 1 cyber power," says Alperovitch. "Ukraine isn't even in Tier 3." So Russia has a leg up in this arena—and, during past conflicts with former Soviet bloc countries, it has flexed its cyberwarfare muscles. In April 2007, hackers unleashed a wave of cyberattacks on Estonian government agencies, banks, businesses, newspapers, and political parties, following a spat over the removal of a Soviet war memorial in Tallin, the country's capital. (The Kremlin took only partial credit for the crippling three-week attack.) Georgia was targeted with similar attacks in 2008 in the days leading up to its invasion of the secessionist republic of South Ossetia. (Russian involvement was widely suspected.)

Ukraine has yet be targeted with these type of widespread cyberassaults on key infrastructure—but it may not be long. "I anticipate continued escalation," says Jason Healey, director of the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative and the former White House director of cyber infrastructure protection during the Bush administration. So far, the cyberskirmish is playing out differently than past attacks, Healey says. While the Estonia and Georgia attacks were strictly digital, in Ukraine's case, pro-Moscow forces have also deployed more hands-on attacks on information: "This old-school, Cold War style physical manipulation of equipment. Getting in and physically messing with the switches so Ukrainian civic leaders don't have phone service," Healey says. In Ukraine, these sorts of attacks ​are likely to be a bigger threat, because much of the telecommunications infrastructure was installed by Russians during the Soviet era. "Cyberattacks the way we tend to look at them—denial-of-service attacks, and so forth—you don't have to do those when you've got physical access to the guy's switch!" says Healey.

Here's a run-down of what has transpired so far: 

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VIDEO: David Corn on Why the CIA's Fight with Senators Is "All-out War"

Wed Mar. 12, 2014 7:43 AM PDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and Julian Epstein this week about the "unprecedented" allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 12, 2014

Wed Mar. 12, 2014 7:10 AM PDT

CAMP HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- As crew chief Spc. Scott Pauley, Company B, 1-140 Aviation Battalion provides direction, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry clears out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, Feb. 8. Soldiers of the 1-184 were sharpening their air assault skills in preparation for annual training 2014. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin M.M. Cossel)

WATCH: Front-Runner in GOP Senate Primary Says Planned Parenthood Wants to Kill Newborns

| Wed Mar. 12, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

According to North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, Planned Parenthood has a secret plan to legalize the killing of newborn babies as old as three months. Brannon, a Rand Paul-backed obstetrician who is a front-runner for the GOP nomination, made the allegations at a November fundraiser for Hand of Hope, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers he operates in North Carolina.

Well how far will [it] go? Last year, February 29, 2012, the Journal of Ethics in Australia, they debated that. They said we already know abortion is fine, why stop in the womb? Why not three months after. Why should we end the responsibility at that point? It could happen in America. Florida's trying to do it right now and so is Georgia. Planned Parenthood. Because we allowed that slippery slope. Every human being deserves life, liberty, and property.

Brannon's statement appears to be based on testimony given last year by a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Asked how the organization's physicians would respond if a baby were born alive during an abortion, the lobbyist appeared confused and said she'd have to check. But in a follow-up statement, Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, unambiguously rejected the notion: "In the extremely unlikely event that the scenario presented by the legislators ever happened, of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant."

"These absurd and patently false claims by Greg Brannon demonstrate just how extreme and out of touch he is when it comes to women's health issues—and the rest of the Republican Senate candidates in North Carolina are just as dangerous," Planned Parenthood Action Fund Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. Brannon's campaign did not respond to request for clarification.

In the same speech, Brannon said women get abortions because of the same nihilistic worldview that causes them to believe in evolution. "We have people who believe they evolve from nothing, they came from nothing, they'll go to nothing, and today doesn't matter, so when they have a mistake, why not move on?" he said.

The most recent survey of the race, from Public Policy Polling, showed Brannon tied with Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, for the Republican nomination—and running even with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) in a hypothetical November matchup.

Infamous George Zimmerman Prosecutor Puts Disproportionate Number of Black Men on Death Row

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 11:35 AM PDT
Florida state attorney Angela Corey

Florida is working hard these days to make itself a case study argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. In a state that has seen more innocent people exonerated from death row than any other in the country, lawmakers last year passed legislation to try to speed up the pace of executions. Last month, Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a dubious record for presiding over more executions in his first term than any governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Meanwhile, the state continues to ignore US Supreme Court rulings banning the execution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. Just last week, the state argued before the Supreme Court that it didn’t want to use accepted scientific principles to comply with the court's ban on executing mentally disabled people because that would spare too many death row residents, a move that would be "inconsistent with Florida’s purposes." And now comes the news the state's most notorious prosecutor has not only sent a disproportionate number of felons to death row, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans, once again raising the troubling issue of racial disparities in the state's capital punishment system.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 11, 2014

Tue Mar. 11, 2014 7:09 AM PDT

Sgt. Scott Hulsizer (left), a team leader with second platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, based in Okinawa, Japan, fires an M136 AT-4 rocket launcher after breaking away from the firing line as part of a weapons training package on the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility, March 4, 2014. 3rd Recon Bn. fired multiple weapon systems, such as the .50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun, MK-19 automatic grenade launcher and M136 AT-4 rocket launchers, as part of a two day weapons package for Exercise Sandfisher. The weapons package focused on increasing the platoon’s proficiency with each system on the battlefield. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg/Released)

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Here Is President Obama's "Between Two Ferns" Interview With Zach Galifianakis

| Tue Mar. 11, 2014 6:02 AM PDT

Tuesday morning, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of Zach Galifianakis' satirical interview show Between Two Ferns featuring Barack Obama. The 44th president came on to promote the Affordable Care Act. (At the end of the six-and-a-half-minute video, there is a link to Healthcare.gov.)

The whole thing is pretty funny. To be clear, it isn't going to set the world on fire or anything, but there are definitely some amusing bits. ("What is it like to be the last black president?" "Seriously?") Funny or Die has a very good relationship with the Obama administration, which includes creating a recent batch of pro-Obamacare videos, and even pitching the president a sketch idea directly. Galifianakis is himself an Obama supporter.

Here is the whole bit for your viewing pleasure:

 

Or as the White House describes it:

Ugh: Cheney and Palin Call For Military Involvement in Ukraine

Mon Mar. 10, 2014 7:02 PM PDT

Washington bureau chief David Corn joined Chris Matthews and Huffington Post's Howard Fineman on Hardball to discuss the push by far-right conservatives like Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Ted Cruz for US military involvement in Ukraine.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Alabama DA Drops Effort to Send Man Who Raped 14-Year-Old to Prison

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 12:56 PM PDT

Facing an uphill battle in the state supreme court, an Alabama district attorney has dropped his effort to put a man convicted of raping a 14-year-old behind bars. The News Courier reports that Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones has decided not to challenge the state appeals court ruling that allowed Austin Smith Clem to avoid prison time for his three rape convictions. "After consultation with the victim and her family, we have decided not to pursue a petition for writ of mandamus to the Alabama Supreme Court," Jones told the News Courier. "Courtney Andrews has shown immense courage and tenacity during this ordeal. My hope is that, through her example, other victims of sexual offenses will find the courage to speak out and to come forward with these crimes."

Read our earlier coverage of the Clem case here and here.

 

Dems' Anti-Koch Campaign Heats Up

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 10:38 AM PDT

Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been bounding onto the Senate floor with a new vocation of late, one unrelated to passing legislation. The Senate majority leader has made it his personal mission to call out David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled a massive infrastructure of conservative groups. He's termed the brothers "un-American." He's accused his Republican colleagues of being bought and paid for by the Kochs. He's said they are trying to rig the political system to benefit the wealthy. "The Koch brothers and other moneyed interests are influencing the politics in a way not seen for generations," he said during one recent speech. (A spokesman for the brothers, meanwhile, has fired back at Reid.) Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unveiled a website that denounces the brothers and blasts the GOP for being "addicted to Koch."

What brought Reid to denounce two political donors on the Senate floor? The vast sums of money they and their political network are spending to unseat his Democratic colleagues and overturn their Senate majority, paving the way for a Republican takeover of Congress in 2014. For months, Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded and partly bankrolled by the brothers, have blitzed vulnerable Senate Democrats with ads, spending some $30 million since last fall. Among the lawmakers in the advocacy group's crosshairs are Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).