Europe should do more as a guardian of “liberal world order” because the US is starting to take a “skeptical” view of that role, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said, adding that China and Russia must be limited in their influence.
“If the United States is starting to take a skeptical view of its role as the guardian of global order – and we’ve already seen hints of this in recent years – then I would see this as a call to action directed at Europe, including Germany,” Schaeuble said in a speech at the American Academy in Berlin, a think tank that promotes US-German ties.
He went on to state that China and Russia should not be allowed to step up to the plate when it comes to “filling the gaps left by the US.”
“I doubt whether the United States truly believes that the world order would be equally sound if China or Russia were to fill the gaps left by the US, and if China and Russia were simply given a free hand to dominate the spheres of influence that they have defined for themselves,” Schaeuble said during the Tuesday speech.
“That would be the end of our liberal world order. This order is still the best of all possible worlds [and] it does not matter if you look at it from ethical, political or economic [points of view]. And we want this order to keep moving forward, or at least not see it weakened,” he continued.
Russian President Vladimir Putin previously slammed Washington in 2015 for “attempts to create a unipolar world,” implying that the US is attempting to dominate world affairs.
However, he told Russian TV channel NTV in 2016 that “attempts to create a unipolar world failed,” and that the “world balance” was “gradually being restored.”
“But this is inevitable! Attempts to create a unipolar world have not succeeded. We are living in a different dimension. Russia has always held this point of view – that, while protecting our national interests, we must respect the interests of other countries. So, this is the way we establish relations with other countries,” Putin said at the time.
Schaeuble’s statements come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Europe could no longer completely rely on its allies.
“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” she told a crowd at an election rally in Munich.
The German leader noted that it is time for Europe “to take our destiny in our own hands,” advocating for the continent to become a larger player in global affairs.
One of the biggest points of contention between Germany and the US is President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which Merkel described as “extremely regrettable” during a speech in Berlin.
A 25-year-old Federal contractor was charged Monday with leaking a top secret NSA report — detailing how Russian military hackers targeted US voting systems just days before the election.
The highly classified intelligence document, published Monday by The Intercept, describes how Russia managed to infiltrate America’s voting infrastructure using a spear-phishing email scheme that targeted local government officials and employees.
It claims the calculated cyberattack may have even been more far-reaching and devious than previously thought.
The report is believed to be the most detailed US government account of Russia’s interference to date.It was allegedly provided to the Intercept by 25-year-old Reality Leigh Winner, of Augusta, who appeared in court Monday after being arrested at her home over the weekend.
She was charged with removing and mailing classified materials to a news outlet, DOJ officials said.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein explained in a statement. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
Winner, who works as contractor at Pluribus International Corporation, allegedly leaked the report in early May. A federal official told NBC News that she had, in fact, given it to the Intercept.
According to the document, it was the Russian military intelligence that conducted the cyber attacks last year.
Specifically, operatives from the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, are said to have targeted employees at a US election software company last August and then again in October.
While the name of the company is unclear, the report refers to an undisclosed product made by VR Systems — an electronic voting services and equipment vendor in Florida that has contracts in eight states, including New York.
The hackers were given a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” the report says.
On August 24, 2016, the group sent the employees fake emails, which were disguised as messages from Google. At least one of the workers was believed to be compromised.
In late October, the group established an “operational” Gmail account and posed as an employee from VR Systems — using previously obtained documents to launch another spear-phishing attack “targeting US local government organizations,” the report says.
According to the NSA, the hackers struck on either October 31 or November 1, sending spear-fishing emails to at least 122 different email addresses “associated with named local government organizations.”
They were also likely sent to officials “involved in the management of voter registration systems,” the report says.
The emails were said to have contained weaponized Microsoft Word attachments, which were set up to appear as unharmful documentation for the VR Systems’ EViD voter database — but were actually embedded with automated software commands that are secretly turned on as soon as the user opens the document.
The hack ultimately gave the Russians a back door and the ability to deliver any sort of malware or malicious software they wanted, the report says.
In addition, the NSA document also describes two other incidents of Russian meddling prior to the election.
In one, the hackers posed as a different voting company, referred to as “US company 2,” from which they sent phony test emails — offering “election-related products and services.”
The other operation was said to be conducted by the same group of operatives, and involved sending emails to addresses at the American Samoa Election Office, in the attempt to uncover more existing accounts before striking again.
It is ultimately unclear what came of the cyberattack, but the NSA report firmly states that the Russians had been intent on “mimicking a legitimate absentee ballot-related service provider.”
“It is unknown, whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed by the cyber actor,” the NSA states of the result of the hacking.
While the government employees were only hit with simple login-stealing tactics, experts told the Intercept that such operations could prove even more dangerous than malware attacks in some instances.
VR Systems doesn’t sell voting machines, but holds contracts in New York, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia — making it a prime target for those who want to disrupt the vote and cause chaos come election day.
“If someone has access to a state voter database, they can take malicious action by modifying or removing information,” Pamela Smith, president of election integrity watchdog Verified Voting, told the Intercept.
“This could affect whether someone has the ability to cast a regular ballot, or be required to cast a ‘provisional’ ballot — which would mean it has to be checked for their eligibility before it is included in the vote,” she said. “And it may mean the voter has to jump through certain hoops such as proving their information to the election official before their eligibility is affirmed.”
At least one US intelligence official admitted to the Intercept that the Russian hackers described in the NSA report could have disrupted the voting process on November 8, by specifically targeting locations where VR Systems’ products were in use. They cited the simple possibility of compromising an election poll book system, which could cause widespread damage in certain places.
“You could even do that preferentially in areas for voters that are likely to vote for a certain candidate and thereby have a partisan effect,” explained Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society.
In response to the report, VR Systems’ Chief Operating Officer Ben Martin told the Intercept: “Phishing and spear-phishing are not uncommon in our industry. We regularly participate in cyber alliances with state officials and members of the law enforcement community in an effort to address these types of threats. We have policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.”
Published on May 31, 2017
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‘Cautiously optimistic’ about progress in Russia-US relations
RT – MAY 31, 2017
A powerful bureaucracy is preventing US presidents from making changes, Vladimir Putin told Le Figaro, saying he’s not surprised Donald Trump hasn’t restored relations with Moscow amid a power struggle – just as Obama failed to shut down Guantanamo.
Despite early signals from the Trump administration that it would not mind improving relations with Russia, which seemed to hit rock bottom during the last months of the Obama presidency, Moscow “had no special expectations” with regards to the new US President Trump, the Russian leader said in an interview to be published in full Wednesday.
While US presidents “come and go,” its political landscape is hardly prone to changes, Putin said, noting that the incumbent US leader “is steering a traditional US policy.”
This political invariability can be ascribed to the sprawling US bureaucratic machine, which imposes rigid constraints on every neophyte leader as soon as he rises to power, Putin argued.
“When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits… These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes,” Putin elaborated, noting that no administration is able to escape this trap, which significantly narrows its room for maneuver.
Putin argued that former US President Obama also fell victim to the system as he was not able to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Describing Obama as a “forward-thinking man,” Putin said that he has no doubt that Obama genuinely wanted to follow through his pledge, but failed even though the controversial Cuban prison was known primarily for torture and a practice of unlawful detentions.
“Can you imagine France or Russia acting this way? This would have been a disaster. But it is possible in the United States and continues to this day,” Putin said, referring to widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in the prison.
The Russian president said Moscow still hopes for a political normalization with Washington, but is in “no hurry” and “ready to wait” until the anti-Russian hysteria, fueled by the defeated party which seeks to shift the blame for its own loss on Russia, subsides.
“That said, I am cautiously optimistic, and I think that we can and should be able to reach agreements on key issues,” he said.
Criticizing the increase in NATO military spending and its build-up on Russia’s doorstep, Putin nevertheless noted that Trump showed a “pragmatic and understandable approach” when he demanded from other NATO member states to share the financial burden of common defense with the US.
Dismissing allegations of Russian meddling in the US and French presidential elections, Putin argued that claims that Moscow was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails have not been supported by evidence. He added that it does not take much effort to cover up the source of the attack for the purpose of making Moscow a scapegoat.
“As President Trump once said, and I think that he was totally right when he said it could have been someone sitting on their bed or somebody intentionally inserted a flash drive with the name of a Russian national, or something like that,” Putin said.
The Russian leader believes that essence of the problem lies not in the Moscow’s perceived interference in the electoral process, but in the unwillingness of those who were stunned by the defeat in the November elections to take responsibility for their poor performance.
“They are absolutely reluctant to admit this, and prefer deluding themselves and others into thinking it was not their fault, that their policy was correct, they did all the right things, but someone from the outside thwarted them. But it was not so. They just lost and they have to admit it,” Putin said.
Apparently, Trump turned out to be “closer to the people and better understood what ordinary voters want,” Putin said, suggesting that the Democrats need to put up with the fact and adding that when those drop this mindset “it will be easier for us to work [with the US].”
While there is no timeline for when such a turnaround will happen, Putin believes that this phase in US-Russia relations, during which Russia is being dragged into US internal policy, is temporary.
“The fact that this is being done using anti-Russia tools is not good, as it brings discord into international affairs,” Putin said. “But it will pass, everything passes, and this will pass as well.”