The U.S. has prepared to launch a cyber attack on Russia if it directly interferes with the midterm elections next week, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
The Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence community secretly blueprinted an offensive cyber attack on Russia if it is found to electronically interfere with the elections on November 6, the report said.
It cites unnamed current and former senior U.S. officials who know about the plan.
Details of what the plan would involve, or how it would work, are scant. But it claimed that U.S. military hackers have been given the necessary permission to access Russian networks to carry out an attack.
To trigger the attack, Russia would have to directly interfere with the midterm elections, the report said. This would include actions like attempting to tamper with voting registration or vote tallies.
In other words, Russia would have to unleash something more than “malign influence” on the elections, such as “trying to sway peoples' opinion or the way people might vote,” an unnamed senior administration told reporters on a call on Wednesday, as cited by the CPI.
The report suggests that the U.S. is further integrating cyberwarfare with its regular military strategies and that its intelligence community is growing increasingly concerned with offensive cyber attacks on the U.S.
Russia has allegedly attempted to spread far-right propaganda on Facebook in an attempt to influence the midterms already.
Earlier this year, a Russian woman was accused of orchestrating a $35 million scheme to create thousands of fake social media and email accounts, in order to post divisive left- and right-wing memes and talking points on Facebook and Twitter.
The alleged plan was organized under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this year, which eases the rules on the deployment of digital weapons for national security.
It was designed to allow Defense Secretary Jams Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to approve retaliatory strikes without the approval of other government authorities, the CPI said. Most of the powers outlined in the executive order remain classified.
John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, told reporters in September: “For any nation that's taking cyberactivity against the United States, they should expect … we will respond offensively as well as defensively.”
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