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An Anonymous Hacker May Have Compromised John Kelly’s Cell Phone. It’s Only A Sign Of Things To Come
Trump administration officials “believe” that the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s personal cell phone was “compromised” while he was serving as Secretary of Homeland Security, several anonymous U.S. government sources told Politico on Oct. 5. Although the White House claimed the former Marine general only used a secure work phone for government business (which, well, lol), those sources said Kelly “turned his phone into White House tech support this summer complaining that it wasn’t working or updating software properly” — a period of time, officials fear, that “hackers or foreign governments may have had access” to sensitive data from Kelly’s time as one of the nation’s highest law enforcement officers, according to Politico.
Kelly’s phone incident isn’t the first time one of Trump’s beloved generals has had his communications compromised, and given months of tension between Trump’s coterie of West Wing loyalists and “Church Lady” (the nickname given to Kelly by some White House staffers), it would be easy to dismiss the report as internal jousting among batshit insane Trump sycophants. But there’s actually a more logical explanation: Despite the insane fever swamps that threaten to distort legitimate reports of Russian hacking during the 2016 election, the country’s army of hackers have targeted the cell phones of U.S. military personnel for years.
Photo via DoDAn airman with the Senegalese Air Force shows U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Calaway, a loadmaster assigned to the 115th Airlift Squadron, pictures on his phone during the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA) lead African Partnership Flight in Dakar, Senegal, June 17, 2014.
The day before news broke of Kelly’s compromised cell phone, the Wall Street Journal reported that Western officials believe the Russian military is aggressively exploiting the personal smartphones of troops and politicians from NATO-aligned member nations, from the lowly combat troops deployed to Europe’s Russian border this year to senior military and political officials. The goal of these electronic incursions, Western military sources told the Wall Street Journal, is “to gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers.”
Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities have surged in recent years, from outfitting civilian cell phone towers and other civilian infrastructure with jamming devices to knock out incoming cruise missiles to disabling the electric grid for almost 250,000 Ukrainians amid increasing cyber weapon tests in the neighboring country. As recently as 2016, Russian GRU unit “Fancy Bear” used cell phone exploits to track the positions of Ukrainian D-30 towed howitzers that relied on an Android app for more efficient positioning. And in May 2017, Russia likely used Stingray communications intercept equipment — the equivalent of a “roving wiretap,” as TechDirt wrote — to send threatening messages to Ukrainian troops about how their commanders will “find your bodies when the snow melts.”
In recent months, Pentagon personnel deployed to NATO countries bordering Russia have experienced digital incursions first-hand. The Wall Street Journal described the experience of Lt. Col. Christopher L’Heureux, a 2nd Cavalry Regiment commander deployed to Poland to help train allied troops on their tactical response to a potential Russian invasion, who claimed he experienced a hack shortly after assuming command. As The War Zone points out, the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group updated its “Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook” in 2016 detailing the various electronic and cyber warfare capabilities developed facing U.S. military personnel operating near Russia, including activities that closely resemble the experience of Ukrainian troops this past May.
Photo via DoDBattle Group Poland Commander, Lt. Col. Christopher L’Heureux, Lt. Gen. Manfred Hofmann, Commander of the Mutli-National Corp-Northeast and Gen. Jarek Gromadzinski, Commander of the 15th Mechanized Brigade, watch platoons conduct situational training exercises near the Bemowo Piskie Training Area August 9.
So how did Russia-associated hackers go from targeting Army riflemen downrange to someone of Kelly’s stature? There’s an implicit assumption that the better the location of your office in the Pentagon’s E-ring or at the State Department, the more secure your communications are. But if Hillary Clinton should have known better about using a private internet server during her time as Secretary of State and while Trump administration officials can claim ignorance over their own missteps, it’s clear that Kelly, a career military man, should have known better when his phone started acting up back in December 2016.
But why can’t DARPA or another agency whip up a specially designed secure smartphone like the one President Obama used to enjoy? Engineering a completely secure device like the spy-proof “blackphone” proposed by former Navy SEAL Mike Janke in March 2015 is a deeply flawed proposition. A 2009 DoD effort to engineer an encrypted mobile device cost more than $36 million over five years; according to Larson, “by the time it was ready for use, the carriers had upgraded to 4G networks with which it was incompatible.” Not that compatibility would matter: An Army Capabilities Integration Center white paper published in 2016 found that not only do existing Pentagon policy and security constraints make developing a next-generation military smartphone cost prohibitive, but, in the case of the Army, would require “a radical change in how [the Department of Defense] and the Army protect its information from one of protecting the network to a philosophy” — a change the DoD simply doesn’t seem poised to embrace on a large scale.
The federal bureaucracy may move slowly, but the Army already has its ass in gear to address the issue, a contrast that may make Kelly’s hacking episode feel like a major violation to a retired Marine general who frequently patrols the perimeter of the White House. At least the Washington Post didn’t publish his phone number.
A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.
Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."
The Navy plans on naming its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after World War II hero Doris 'Dorie' Miller, an African-American sailor recognized for his heroism during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — and not everybody is happy about it.
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in 2018
Three. That's how many times Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe entered the burning carcass of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin on Oct. 17, 2005. Cashe, a 35-year-old Gulf War vet on his second combat deployment to Iraq since the 2003 invasion, had been in the gun turret when the IED went off below the vehicle, immediately killing the squad's translator and rupturing the fuel cell. By the time the Bradley rolled to a stop, it was fully engulfed in flames. The crackle of incoming gunfire followed. It was a complex ambush.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two Iraqi police officers were killed and dozens of protesters were wounded in Baghdad and other cities on Monday in clashes with security forces, medical and security sources said, as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.