Increased Alarm Over Intrusion Into U.S. and Sandia/Los Alamos

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal authorities expressed increased alarm Thursday about an intrusion into U.S. and other computer systems around the globe that officials suspect was carried out by Russian hackers. The nation’s cybersecurity agency warned of a “grave” risk to government and private networks.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in its most detailed comments yet that the intrusion had compromised federal agencies as well as “critical infrastructure” in a sophisticated attack that was hard to detect and will be difficult to undo.

CISA did not say which agencies or infrastructure had been breached or what information taken in an attack that it previously said appeared to have begun in March.

“This threat actor has demonstrated sophistication and complex tradecraft in these intrusions,” the agency said in its unusual alert. “CISA expects that removing the threat actor from compromised environments will be highly complex and challenging.”

President Donald Trump, whose administration has been criticized for eliminating a White House cybersecurity adviser and downplaying Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, has made no public statements about the breach.

President-elect Joe Biden said he would make cybersecurity a top priority of his administration, but that stronger defenses are not enough.

“We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” he said. “We will do that by, among other things, imposing substantial costs on those responsible for such malicious attacks, including in coordination with our allies and partners.”

The cybersecurity agency previously said the perpetrators had used network management software from Texas-based SolarWinds to infiltrate computer networks. Its new alert said the attackers may have used other methods, as well.

Over the weekend, amid reports that the Treasury and Commerce departments were breached, CISA directed all civilian agencies of the federal government to remove SolarWinds from their servers. The cybersecurity agencies of Britain and Ireland issued similar alerts.

A U.S. official previously told The Associated Press that Russia-based hackers were suspected, but neither CISA nor the FBI has publicly said who is believed be responsible. Asked whether Russia was behind the attack, the official said: “We believe so. We haven’t said that publicly yet because it isn’t 100% confirmed.”

Another U.S. official, speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter that is under investigation, said the hack was severe and extremely damaging although the administration was not yet ready to publicly blame anyone for it.

“This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America,” the official said. “They got into everything.”

The official said the administration is working on the assumption that most, if not all, government agencies were compromised but the extent of the damage was not yet known.

This hack had nothing to do with President Trump firing Director Krebs at CISA even though the Associated Press keeps suggesting it does. But things just took a turn for the bad, bad side –>

Sandia National Laboratories – From the Manhattan Project to a National Lab Sandia

Texas A&M System part of team awarded lucrative Los Alamos National Lab  contract | The Texas Tribune

Los Alamos

The Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, have evidence that hackers accessed their networks as part of an extensive espionage operation that has affected at least half a dozen federal agencies, officials directly familiar with the matter said.

On Thursday, DOE and NNSA officials began coordinating notifications about the breach to their congressional oversight bodies after being briefed by Rocky Campione, the chief information officer at DOE.

They found suspicious activity in networks belonging to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico and Washington, the Office of Secure Transportation, and the Richland Field Office of the DOE. The hackers have been able to do more damage at FERC than the other agencies, the officials said but did not elaborate.

Federal investigators have been combing through networks in recent days to determine what hackers had been able to access and/or steal, and officials at DOE still don’t know whether the attackers were able to access anything, the people said, noting that the investigation is ongoing and they may not know the full extent of the damage “for weeks.”

Spokespeople for DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The attack on DOE is the clearest sign yet that the hackers were able to access the networks belonging to a core part of the U.S. national security enterprise. The hackers are believed to have gained access to the federal agencies’ networks by compromising the software company SolarWinds, which sells IT management products to hundreds of government and private-sector clients.

DOE officials were planning on Thursday to notify the House and Senate Energy committees, House and Senate Energy and Water Development subcommittees, House and Senate Armed Services committees, and the New Mexico and Washington State delegations of the breach, the officials said.

The FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the “ongoing” cybersecurity campaign in a joint statement released on Wednesday, saying that they had only become aware of the incident in recent days.

“This is a developing situation, and while we continue to work to understand the full extent of this campaign, we know this compromise has affected networks within the federal government,” the statement read.

NNSA is responsible for managing the nation’s nuclear weapons, and while it gets the least attention, it takes up the vast majority of DOE’s budget. Similarly, the Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs conduct atomic research related to both civil nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The Office of Secure Transportation is tasked with moving enriched uranium and other materials critical for maintaining the nuclear stockpile.

Hackers may have been casting too wide a net when they targeted DOE’s Richland Field Office, whose primary responsibility is overseeing the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state. During World War II and the Cold War, the U.S. produced two- thirds of its plutonium there, but the site hasn’t been active since 1971.

The attack on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may have been an effort to disrupt the nation’s bulk electric grid. FERC doesn’t directly manage any power flows, but it does store sensitive data on the grid that could be used to identify the most disruptive locations for future attacks.


After Lying, Ambassador Yovanovitch has a Fat Job at Georgetown

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Ambassador (ret.) Marie L. Yovanovitch is a Senior Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it received 210 pages of records from the State Department which show that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch had specifically warned in 2017 about corruption allegations against Burisma Holdings. During her November 2019 testimony in the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she knew little about Burisma.

The records were obtained by Judicial Watch in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed in January 2020 seeking records of communications from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv mentioning Burisma (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:20-cv-00229)).

On October 4, 2017, Michael Polt, a former ambassador to Estonia and Serbia and who until October 2020 was Senior Director at the McCain Institute, emailed Yovanovitch regarding the McCain Institute’s plan to conduct leadership development training for Ukrainian prosecutors that would be funded by Burisma. The idea was suggested to Polt by Sally Painter, Burisma’s lobbyist at Blue Star Strategies, and a Burisma executive. In the email, Polt notes that he was introduced to Painter by U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. Volker was also a Trump impeachment witness.

Polt emails Yovanovitch on October 4, 2017:

Dear Masha: Greetings from the home front and all the best for your complex assignment in Kiev! I wonder if I could pick your brain on a leadership development we have been asked to run for Ukrainian public prosecutors here at the McCain Institute. Kurt cannot get involved with this, due to his other role as Special Envoy. Sally Painter of Blue Star Strategies, whom Kurt introduced to me and then stepped aside, together with Vadym Poharskyi of the Burisma Group have asked us whether we could provide a two-week Leadership Development and Professional Capacity Building program for Ukrainian public prosecutors proposed to us by the Ukrainian Chief Prosecutor. Burisma would fun this. We are prepared to do this, as we have done for similar groups from the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and from Pakistan. I would greatly appreciate your view if you know Burisma and/or Vadym or others.

Yovanovitch, in her response, warned Polt about Burisma, writing:

Mike: Sorry not to have responded more quickly. I will get back to you with a fuller response, but I would urge caution in dealing with the Burisma Group. It is widely believed that the owner was the beneficiary of the corrupt justice system here and I think –to the extent that anyone is aware that Burisma is funding the training –there would be raised eyebrows in Kyiv over the irony of Burisma training prosecutors and to what end.

I’d also note that the PGO [Prosecutor General’s Office] is one of the entities here that remains resolutely unreformed. After a year and a half of trying, we pulled out and reprogrammed our resources into other areas in the justice sector that were ready for change. Wish I had better news and will get back to you with more details.

In a November 7, 2017, email to Yovanovitch, Polt indicates that he is taking her “sage advice” and “not moving forward” with Burisma’s funding of the training.

During her November 15, 2019, testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment proceedings, Yovanovitch said she didn’t have much knowledge about Burisma, and noted that she only learned of its connection to the Biden family through “press reports” she read while preparing for her Senate confirmation hearing.

The new production of records from the State Department also includes several emails regarding the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s response to John Solomon’s reporting for The Hill. The emails are almost entirely redacted, as are the names of the officials involved. In one email regarding this effort, an unidentified official cites a report by the George Soros-funded Anti-Corruption Action Center defending itself against the reporting as a “useful reference point.”

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv closely monitored media and social media reaction to many conservatives and journalists in potential violation of federal law.

“Marie Yovanovitch knew much more about Burisma than what she revealed in her testimony at the sham impeachment hearings,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch will continue its efforts to unearth the shady details in the Burisma-Biden scandal that is not going to go away.”

In an October production from the State Department, Judicial Watch received records which included a briefing checklist of a February 22, 2019, meeting in Kyiv between Yovanovitch and Painter. The briefing checklist noted that Painter also planned to meet with Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) Officer Martin Claessens “regarding the Burisma Group energy company.”

At the time of the meeting, Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, was serving on the board of directors for Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm, despite having no previous experience in the energy industry. Biden served on the board of Burisma until his term expired in April 2019.

In September 2020, Judicial Watch made public records that show George Kent, the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, which was copied to Yovanovitch, highlighting Russia-linked media “trolling” Joe Biden over “his son’s business.”

In a related case Judicial Watch uncovered records showing the U.S. embassy in Ukraine monitoring, in potential violation of law, Donald Trump, Jr. Rudy Giuliani, and major journalists on Twitter on their commentary on Ukraine, “Biden-Burisma 2020,” and George Soros. The search terms that were flagged to be monitored by State Department officials on social media included Yovanovitch, Ukraine Ambassador, Ukrainian Ambassador, Ukraine Soros, Clinton campaign, and Biden-Burisma.


Space Command Alarmed at Russia’s Anti-Satellite Weapons Test

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

WASHINGTON — Russia conducted its second test this year of a direct ascent anti-satellite missile test, according to a U.S. Space Command, yet again drawing sharp criticism from the U.S.

“Russia has made space a war-fighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites. This fact is inconsistent with Moscow’s public claims that Russia seeks to prevent conflict in space,” said Space Command head Gen. James Dickinson in a statement. “Space is critical to all nations. It is a shared interest to create the conditions for a safe, stable, and operationally sustainable space environment.”

Space Command said the direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tested is a kinetic weapon capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit. A similar anti-satellite missile test by India in March 2019 that destroyed the nation’s own satellite on orbit drew criticism from observers, who noted that the debris created from the threat could cause indirect damage to other satellites.

Russia has completed tests of its Nudol ballistic-missile system several times in recent years, including in April of this year. Nudol can be used as an anti-satellite weapon and is capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit. According to the CSIS Aerospace Security Project’s “Space Threat Assessment 2020,” Russia conducted its seventh Nudol test in 2018.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has used the development and testing of anti-satellite weapons by Russia and China as a justification for creating both Space Command and the U.S. Space Force in 2019.

“The establishment of U.S. Space Command as the nation’s unified combatant command for space and U.S. Space Force as the primary branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that present space combat and combat support capabilities to U.S. Space Command could not have been timelier. We stand ready and committed to deter aggression and defend our nation and our allies from hostile acts in space,” Dickenson said.

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller made similar comments last week as the White House released a new National Space Policy, which calls for the U.S. to defeat aggression and promote norms of behavior in space

“Our adversaries have made space a war-fighting domain, and we have to adapt our national security organizations, policies, strategies, doctrine, security classification frameworks, and capabilities for this new strategic environment. Over the last year, we have established the necessary organizations to ensure we can deter hostilities, demonstrate responsible behaviors, defeat aggression, and protect the interests of the United States and our allies.”

The White House released a new space policy directive on Dec. 16 intended to serve as a strategic roadmap for the development of space nuclear power and propulsion technologies.

Space Policy Directive (SPD) 6, titled “National Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion,” discusses responsibilities and areas of cooperation among federal government agencies in the development of capabilities ranging from surface nuclear power systems to nuclear thermal propulsion, collectively known as space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP).

“This memorandum establishes a national strategy to ensure the development and use of SNPP systems when appropriate to enable and achieve the scientific, exploration, national security, and commercial objectives of the United States,” the 12-page document states.

SPD-6 sets out three principles for the development of space nuclear systems: safety, security, and sustainability. It also describes roles and responsibilities for various agencies involved with the development, use, or oversight of such systems.

Much of the document, though, is a roadmap for the development of nuclear power and propulsion systems. It sets a goal of, by the mid-2020s, developing uranium fuel processing capabilities needed for surface power and in-space propulsion systems. By the mid to late 2020s, NASA would complete the development and testing of a surface nuclear power system for lunar missions that can be scalable for later missions to Mars.

SPD-6 calls for, by the late 2020s, establishing the “technical foundations and capabilities” needed for nuclear thermal propulsion systems. It also sets a goal of developing advanced radioisotope power systems, versions of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) long used on NASA missions, by 2030.

Many of the initiatives outlined in SPD-6 are already in progress. NASA has been working with the Department of Energy (DOE) on a project called Kilopower to develop surface nuclear reactors, including efforts to seek proposals to develop a reactor for use on the moon. NASA has also been studying nuclear thermal propulsion, an initiative backed by some in Congress who have set aside funding in NASA’s space technology program for that effort.

“We have these individual initiatives going on — nuclear thermal power, the Kilopower activities — and what we’re trying to do is pull together a common operating picture for Defense, NASA, and DOE,” said a senior administration official, speaking on background about SPD-6.

That roadmap and schedule are also intended to prioritize those activities. Surface nuclear power is needed in the nearer term to support lunar missions later in the decade, particularly to handle the two-week lunar night. Nuclear thermal propulsion, as well as alternative nuclear electric propulsion technologies, are less critical since they are primarily intended to support later missions to Mars.

“Those things are important for going to Mars,” the official said of nuclear propulsion, “but first we’re doing the moon and leveraging terrestrial capabilities and technologies to put that foothold on the moon.”

Another issue addressed in SPD-6 is the use of different types of uranium. Tests in 2018 as part of the Kilopower program used highly enriched uranium or HEU. That project, and discussions by NASA and DOE to use HEU for flight reactors, raised concerns in the nuclear nonproliferation community. They were worried that it could set a precedent for renewed production of HEU, which is also used in nuclear weapons.

SPD-6 restricts but does not prohibit, the use of HEU in space nuclear systems. “Before selecting HEU or, for fission reactor systems, any nuclear fuel other than low-enriched uranium (LEU), for any given SNPP design or mission, the sponsoring agency shall conduct a thorough technical review to assess the viability of alternative nuclear fuels,” it states.

“We want to keep those proliferation concerns foremost in our minds,” a senior administration official said. “We don’t want to necessarily rule out HEU if that’s the only way to get a mission about, but we want to be very deliberate about it.”

The policy, an official said, “sets an extremely high bar” for non-defense use of HEU on space systems, citing progress on high-assay low enriched uranium, which can provide power levels similar to HEU systems with only a modest mass penalty.

The White House released SPD-6 a week after it issued a new national space policy during a meeting of the National Space Council. That broader policy briefly addressed space nuclear power and propulsion, discussing roles for various agencies, but did not mention the roadmap or other details found in SPD-6.

Many thought the release of the national space policy would conclude the administration’s work on space policy, making SPD-6 something of a surprise. A senior administration official said work on various space policy directives and the national space policy had been slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic, but wouldn’t rule out additional announcements in the remaining five weeks of the Trump administration.