The Slatest

NYT: U.S. Steps Up Attacks on Russian Electrical Grid, but Trump May Be in the Dark

Children play in front of a power plant in central Moscow on November 15, 2018.
Children play in front of a power plant in central Moscow on November 15, 2018.
MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty Images

Washington is intensifying its campaign to install malware in Russia’s power grid in an illustration of how the administration is getting more aggressive as the cyber war between the two countries intensifies. In a bombshell report released Saturday afternoon, the New York Times reveals the United States is stepping up its digital attacks on Russia’s electric grid. The move is seen as part warning to President Vladimir Putin and part a readiness effort to be ready to carry out a significant cyberstrike if a conflict breaks out.

The stepped up incursion into Russia’s power grid is part of the broader response to Moscow’s efforts to affect the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections and comes after many within the administration had been calling for more aggressive action despite the “risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.” And officials say the difference is noticeable. “It has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year,” a senior intelligence official told the Times. “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”

Although the United States has been digging inside Russia’s electric grid for years, now it is taking a more offensive stance and installing malware “at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before.” This follows a move to give the United States Cyber Command more leeway to carry out offensive activities without approval from the president. For now it seems President Donald Trump isn’t being kept in the loop. Two officials told the Times they think the commander in chief hasn’t received detailed briefing on the effort. There is “broad hesitation” among Pentagon and intelligence officials to reveal too many details of the program to Trump because they fear how he might react or that he could even bring it up with foreign officials.