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Forbes: US cyberattack against Venezuela power grid very possible

The widespread blackout in Venezuela looks like a textbook example of how a cyberattack would take place if it were to be carried out.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Forbes Magazine published a news and analysis piece on March 9th, speculating on the possibility that Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s accusations that the crippling power outages in his country are the product of a cyberattack conducted by the United States.

The article’s writer, Kalev Leetaru, says a great deal in a report notably cautious of making a claim that this is what is in fact taking place, but he gives some very good explanation as to how it could be so.

Before exploring Mr. Leetaru’s thoughts in depth, it is worth mentioning that thus far, neither the press agencies of the US nor the Russian Federation have said much on this theme. It is certainly a known quantity that Venezuela is the present focus of a major tug-of-war between the two powers. Venezuela has the richest known oil reserves on the planet, and it relatively close proximity to the United States makes it strategically important to the interests of that nation. Yet, the country has long received much of its support from the Russian Federation.

Following a still hotly-contested election in which the two sides deepened the conflict through their own rhetoric, with President Trump taking a loud and proud stance with Juan Guaido and Russian President Vladimir Putin remaining supportive of Mr. Maduro, much of the rhetoric seemed to be plateauing.

And then the lights went out in Venezuela. Not just sporadic power outages, but an astounding event, leaving the capital city of Caracas and 20 of the nation’s 23 regions with no power, starting March 7th. Other statistics set the affected area as 70 percent of the country of 31.6 million people.

Venezuela, despite its wealth of oil, gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric sources, the main source being the power station in Guri, in Bolivar, one of Venezuela’s southern states. This one station is responsible for providing about 70 percent of the country’s energy.

According to a CNN report, the outage at the power station was likely the result of old equipment and bad maintenance.

This may be clear, but the reasons why this was not taken care of are less clear. The American media point of view about why this situation is the way it is is corruption and terrible leadership and management starting with Socialist president Hugo Chavez, and continuing through Nicolas Maduro. However, the depth and scope of the country’s economic – and now utility – crisis is astounding, considering the country’s resources and the ability of its people. It is easy to speculate, and some have gone much farther than mere speculation, that the United States is trying to unseat the government through a citizens’ revolt. If so, that revolt seems to have hit a snag because supposed pro-US candidate Guaido did not win a victory decisive enough to take power without controversy.

This crisis appears to many to be an engineered one, and it is easy to understand why, placing the circumstantial dominoes in a row. Now we come to the writer from Forbes, who explains here how it is possible that what we are watching is a real live cyberattack in progress. We have added emphasis.

As Venezuela endured one of its worst blackouts in recent memory this week, the government repeatedly claimed the widespread outage of power, phone and internet was due to a foreign cyberattack attempting to unseat its president. While the reality is that Venezuela’s blackout was most likely due to chronic underfunding of its electrical infrastructure and deferred maintenance, the idea of a foreign nation state manipulating an adversary’s power grid to force a governmental transition is very real.

In 2015 I explored the concept of “cyber first strike” in which governments would increasingly turn to cyberwarfare either on its own or as part of hybrid warfare to weaken an adversary prior to conventional invasion or to forcibly and deniably effect a transition in a foreign government.

Interrupting power and water supplies, disrupting traffic patterns, slowing or interfering with internet access, causing smart homes to go haywire and even remotely triggering meltdowns at nuclear power plants were all topics increasingly being discussed in the national security community at the time as legitimate and legal tactics to undermine a foreign state.

In the case of Venezuela, the idea of a government like the United States remotely interfering with its power grid is actually quite realistic. Remote cyber operations rarely require a significant ground presence, making them the ideal deniable influence operation. Given the U.S. government’s longstanding concern with Venezuela’s government, it is likely that the U.S. already maintains a deep presence within the country’s national infrastructure grid, making it relatively straightforward to interfere with grid operations. The country’s outdated internet and power infrastructure present few formidable challenges to such operations and make it relatively easy to remove any traces of foreign intervention.

Widespread power and connectivity outages like the one Venezuela experienced last week are also straight from the modern cyber playbook. Cutting power at rush hour, ensuring maximal impact on civilian society and plenty of mediagenic post-apocalyptic imagery, fits squarely into the mold of a traditional influence operation. Timing such an outage to occur at a moment of societal upheaval in a way that delegitimizes the current government exactly as a government-in-waiting has presented itself as a ready alternative is actually one of the tactics outlined in my 2015 summary.

But, here, Mr. Leetaru does give pause, noting that although the circumstances do line up, it ain’t necessarily so…

On the other hand, outages are commonplace in Venezuela due to years of grid mismanagement. The country’s power grid does not need the help of the NSA to experience yet another shutdown. Indeed, last week’s outage was far more likely to have been just the natural result of poorly maintained generation and distribution equipment than to have been a targeted U.S. cyberattack.

But he seems at least somewhat convinced since the pattern and results match so well:

Yet, this is precisely why cyberwarfare is so powerful as an influence tool. Most countries, including the U.S., have experienced concerns over their aging and increasingly overloaded utilities infrastructure. A power plant shutting down due to a malfunctioning piece of equipment or an overloaded transmission line failing are more likely to be chalked up to underinvestment than to a foreign cyberattack. A failed power line sparking a massive wildfire would be dismissed as poor preventive maintenance rather than deliberate foreign sabotage.

Influence operations are designed to silently nudge a country towards a particular outcome. Aging utilities infrastructures offer a perfect vehicle for such operations, since the blame for grid failures typically falls upon government officials for failing to adequately oversee that infrastructure, even when it is owned and maintained by private companies. Cyberattacks against utilities have the ability to disrupt all facets of modern life and generate mediagenic imagery without undue risk to the initiating country, making them an almost perfect weapon.

Putting this all together, it is extremely likely that this past week’s blackout in Venezuela was the simple result of the country’s own infrastructure problems rather than a targeted cyber action by the United States designed to oust President Maduro. Yet, the inability to definitively discount U.S. or other foreign intervention, whether deliberate or accidental, demonstrates the incredible power of using cyberattacks to target utilities. Such outages can quickly turn a population against its government while making it almost impossible to definitively prove foreign intervention.

Again, Russia seems to have stopped short of blatantly accusing the Americans of conducting this attack. However, the news agency TASS, which is one of the least opinion heavy news outlets anywhere, in a press review made note of the Izvestia news agency’s article that precisely does blame the US for this situation. TASS press review makes the following points from the Izvestia piece:

A cyber attack against Venezuela’s power facilities, which Caracas has blamed on the US, was designed to create intolerable living conditions throughout the Latin American country, Izvestia writes. According to Washington strategists, the power outage was aimed at whipping up protest sentiment to topple Venezuela’s legitimate President Nicolas Maduro. On March 7, state power corporation Corpoelec reported an act of sabotage at the country’s major Guri hydroelectric plant, which supplies power to the capital and 70% of Venezuela. Since Thursday afternoon, 21 out of 23 states across the country have been without electricity.

According to an expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Igor Pshenichnikov, Washington is trying to paint the Venezuela blackout as though absolute chaos is reigning throughout the country and all Venezuelan economic sectors, including critical ones such as power supply, have been shaken to the core by the crisis. The country’s TV channel, Telesur, reported that the US is using this “economic crisis” plotline as another pretext for its planned military intervention into the country under the slogans of “establishing democracy and order.”

Apparently, the masterminds of this attack sought to target sensitive social infrastructure facilities, primarily hospitals, to disrupt life-supporting equipment that requires uninterrupted power supply. The major goal was to spark mass public discontent. Meanwhile, the organizers of this cyber attack and those in the mass media covering it made a blunder, the expert noted. All these “dramatic” articles and Twitter reports about power cuts in hospitals and even the death of 79 patients turned out to be fake news, the paper writes. Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the masterminds of this cyber attack and their accomplices in Venezuela did not take into account that under President Maduro’s initiative all hospitals across the country had been equipped with reserve power generators and not a single hospital faced power cuts nor did anyone die. Local media reports said the power supply is being restored across the country and “peace and calm are prevailing in Venezuela.”

Izvestia, or TASS then make a mistake in referring to Mike Pompeo as “Vice President” of the US. (He is Secretary of State.)

This is not to say that the information coming out of TASS and Izvestia is wrong, but it is probable that the potential this situation has to escalate into a major row between the US and the Russian Federation has instilled a bit of caution. The circumstantial evidence appears to be present, but it is actually exceedingly difficult to get real solid and independently verifiable information when there is so much political at stake.

One can only watch, pray and hope.

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Peace on Korean Peninsula within reach, if only Trump can remove Pompeo & Bolton (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the results of the Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok, Russia, aimed at boosting bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, as well as working to contribute to a final peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.

Putin’s meeting with Kim may prove to be a pivotal diplomatic moment, as North Korea continues to work towards normalizing ties with the U.S. amidst ongoing denuclearization talks with the Trump White House.

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Via the BBC…

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme.

Such guarantees would need to be offered within a multinational framework, he added, following talks near Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.

Mr Kim praised the summit as a “very meaningful one-on-one exchange”.

Mr Putin said North Korea’s leader was “fairly open” and had “talked freely on all issues that were on the agenda”.

The meeting followed the breakdown of talks between the US and North Korea in February, when Mr Kim met US President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Those talks reportedly stalled over North Korea’s demand for full economic sanctions relief in return for some denuclearisation commitments – a deal the US was not willing to make.

Speaking after the talks on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted to see full denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

But he said this could only be achieved through respect for international law.

“We need to restore the power of international law, to return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” he said.

Mr Kim greeted Russian officials warmly when he arrived in Russia on Wednesday.

The North Korean leader was entertained by a brass band in Vladivostok before he got inside a car flanked by bodyguards, who – in now familiar scenes – jogged alongside the vehicle as it departed.

What do we know about the summit?

According to the Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin believes the six-party talks on North Korea, which are currently stalled, are the only efficient way of addressing the issue of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

Those talks, which began in 2003, involve the two Koreas as well as China, Japan, Russia and the US.

“There are no other efficient international mechanisms at the moment,” Mr Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“But, on the other hand, efforts are being made by other countries. Here all efforts merit support as long as they really aim at de-nuclearisation and resolving the problem of the two Koreas.”

What do both sides want?

This visit is being widely viewed as an opportunity for North Korea to show it has powerful allies following the breakdown of the talks with the US in February.

The country has blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of the Hanoi summit. Earlier this month North Korea demanded that Mr Pompeo be removed from nuclear talks, accusing him of “talking nonsense” and asking for someone “more careful” to replace him.

The summit is also an opportunity for Pyongyang to show that its economic future does not depend solely on the US. Mr Kim may try to put pressure on Moscow to ease sanctions.

Analysts say the summit is an opportunity for Russia to show that it is an important player on the Korean peninsula.

President Putin has been eager to meet the North Korean leader for quite some time. Yet amid the two Trump-Kim summits, the Kremlin has been somewhat sidelined.

Russia, like the US and China, is uncomfortable with North Korea being a nuclear state.

How close are Russia and North Korea?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (of which Russia is the main successor state) maintained close military and trade links with its communist ally, North Korea, for ideological and strategic reasons.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade links with post-communist Russia shrank and North Korea leaned towards China as its main ally.

Under President Putin, Russia recovered economically and in 2014 he wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture.

While it is arguable how much leverage Russia has with the North today, the communist state still regards it as one of the least hostile foreign powers.

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Putin meets Kim for the first time (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at the historic meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

The meeting marks the first ever summit between the two leaders.

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Via RT…

Leaders of Russia and North Korea sat down for a historic summit in Vladivostok, expressing hope it will revive the peace process in the Korean Peninsula and talks on normalizing relations with the US.

The summit on Russky Island, just off Vladivostok, started a little late because President Vladimir Putin’s flight was delayed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had made the trip by train, arriving on Wednesday.

In brief public remarks before the talks, the two leaders expressed hope the summit will help move forward the reconciliation process in the Korean Peninsula. Putin welcomed Kim’s contributions to “normalizing relations” with the US and opening a dialogue with South Korea.

Kim said he hoped the Vladivostok summit would be a “milestone” in the talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but also build upon “traditionally friendly ties” between Russia and North Korea.

The North Korean leader also made a point of thanking Putin for flying all the way to Vladivostok for the meeting. The Far East Russian city is only 129 kilometers from the border with North Korea.

The historic summit takes place less than two months after Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi fell apart without a breakthrough on denuclearization. The US rejected North Korea’s request for partial sanctions relief in return for moves to dismantle nuclear and missile programs; Washington insists on full disarmament before any sanctions are removed.

Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the main subject of the Kim-Putin summit, but there will also be talks about bilateral relations, trade, and humanitarian aid. The first one-on-one meeting is scheduled to last about an hour, followed by further consultations involving other government officials.

Following the summit, Putin is scheduled to visit China.

 

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Kim And Putin: Changing The State Of The Board In Korea

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


Today is a big day for Korea. The first face-to-face summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un takes place.

At the same time the 2nd annual Belt and Road Forum kicks off in Beijing.

This meeting between Putin and Kim has been in the works for a while but rumors of it only surfaced last week. But don’t let the idea that this was put together at the last minute fool you.

It wasn’t.

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

I know that sounds bold. But hear me out.

And while no one seems to think this meeting is important or that anything of substance will come from it I do. It is exactly the kind of surprise that Putin loves to spring on the world without notice and by doing so change the board state of geopolitics.

  • Russia’s entrance into Syria in 2015, two days after Putin’s historic speech at the U.N. General Assembly
  • 2018’s State of the Union address where he announced hypersonic missiles, embarrassing the U.S. Militiary-Industrial Complex which accelerated the Bolton Doctrine of subjugating the world
  • Flying 2 TU-160 nuclear-armed bombers to Venezuela, creating panic in D.C. leading to the ham-fisted regime change operations there.
  • Nationalization of Yukos.
  • The operation to secure Crimea from U.S. invasion by marines aboard the U.S.S Donald Cook during the Ukrainian uprising against Viktor Yanukovich.

Both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping are angry at the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi back in February. It was clear that everyone expected that meeting to be a rubber stamp on a deal already agreed to by all parties involved.

In fact the two meetings between Kim and Trump were only possible because Trump convinced them of his sincerity to resolve the ‘denuclearization’ of North Korea which would clear a path to rapid reunification.

It’s why they went along with the U.S.’s increased sanctions on North Korea as administered through the U.N. in 2017.

That John Bolton and Mike Pompeo destroyed those talks and Trump was unwilling or unable (who cares at this point, frankly, useless piece of crap that he is) to stop them embarrassed and betrayed them.

They are now done with Trump.

He’ll get nothing from either of them or Kim until Trump can prove he’s in charge of his administration, which he, clearly, is not.

And they will be moving forward with their own agenda for security and Asian economic integration. So I don’t think the timing of this meeting with that of the Belt and Road Forum is an accident.

And that means moving forward on solving the Korea problem without Trump.

It is clear from the rhetoric of Putin’s top diplomat, the irreplaceable Sergei Lavrov, that Russia’s patience is over. They are no longer interested in what Trump wants and they will now treat the U.S. as a threat, having upped their military stance towards the U.S. to that of “Threat.”

If Bolton wants anything from Russia at this point he best be prepared to start a war or piss off.

This is also why Russia took the gloves off with Ukraine in the run up to the Presidential elections, cutting off energy and machinery exports with Ukraine.

To put paid Putin’s growing impatience with U.S. policies, he just issued the order to allow residents of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to apply for Russian passports.

This will send Bolton into apoplexy. Angela Merkel of Germany will be none too pleased either. Putin is now playing hardball after years of unfailing politeness.

It’s also why Lavrov finalized arms and port deals all over the Middle East in recent weeks, including those with Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and India.

Bolton, Pompeo and Pence are ideologues. Trump is a typical Baby Boomer, who lives in a bubble of his own design and believes in an America that never existed.

None of them truly understand the fires they are stoking and simply believe in the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. to rule the world over a dim and barbaric world.

Putin, Xi, Rouhani in Iran and Kim in North Korea are pragmatic men. They understand the realities they live in. This is why I see Putin willing tomorrow to sit down with Kim and flaunt the U.N. sanctions and begin the investment process into North Korea that should have begun last year.

Putin would not be making these moves if he didn’t feel that Bolton was all bark and no bite when it came to actual war with Russia. He also knows that Germany needs him more than he needs Germany so despite the feet-dragging and rhetoric Nordstream 2 will go forward.

Trade is expanding between them despite the continued sanctions.

Putin may be willing to cut a deal with President-elect Zelensky on gas transit later in the year but only if the shelling of the LPR and DPR stops and he guarantees no more incidents in the Sea of Azov. This would also mollify Merkel a bit and make it easier for her politically to get Nordstream 2 over the finish line.

There are moments in history when people go too far. Bolton and Pompeo went too far in Hanoi. He will pay the price now. Putin and Kim will likely agree to something in Vladivostok that no one is expecting and won’t look like much at first.

But the reality is this summit itself marks a turning point in this story that will end with the U.S. being, in Trump’s transactional parlance, a “price taker” since it has so thoroughly failed at being a “price maker.”

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