Fearing another German invasion after WWI, the French built a series of well-garrisoned fortresses, minefields, and anti-tank ditches along the French-German border. The Maginot Line perpetuated the mindset of static warfare, wars of attrition rather than conquest.
The Line failed miserably when German troops employing innovative mobile tactics — blitzkrieg — simply bypassed it.
In the Cyber Age, self-serving politicians are still promoting walls, which tech-savvy blitzkreigers can bypass with a few keystrokes.
Russia harbors a loose-knit pool of expert hackers, including about a dozen cybercriminal gangs. The government not only tolerates them — so long as they don’t victimize Russians — but supports and exploits them. The government usually doesn’t employ them full-time, just as needed. “Anybody can find their services on a dedicated web site.”
However, some “hacker farms” actually are run by the FSB, Russia’s chief internal security agency. Successor to the KGB, the FSB was formerly headed by Vlad Putin himself; of Russia’s top 1000 political figures, 78 percent have worked for the FSB or its predecessors. Assisting the FSB is the GRU, the primary foreign intel agency of the Russian army. Although technically its “responsible” administrator is Defense Minister S. Shoygu, the GRU remains under the “jurisdiction” of President Putin.
Many Russian hackers are not in the game solely for the money, nor do they accept moral responsibility for their work’s downstream outcomes. As one former hacker, “Ivan,” said, “they think to hack Americans is a heroic thing. America is our former enemy, and it’s kind of our enemy nowadays. Americans use their infrastructure to monopolize the internet, and some day they could use it against us. Hacking them shows them we are stronger, that we have the best minds.”
“Personally,” continued Ivan, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I wrote them programs; what they did with them, I don’t really know, but they paid well.” But when the FSB “requests” a hacker’s assistance? “I’m a polite person so I don’t tell them to (buzz) off, but if they ask me, I won’t have a choice.” Would an active hacker agree to discuss his activities with a journalist? “Nyet.” Why not?
“Bog boyatsa,” he said with a wide grin. Literally “they’re afraid of God,” but the idiom would better translate as “the fear o’ God.” He’s not referencing a deity. Putin and Santa Claus see you when you’re sleeping, know when you’re awake. You don’t mess with the Santa.
That’s not to say that the Russian people regard Putin as a Stalinesque dictator with spies everywhere, such that nobody dare say anything, even in private, that could incur his wrath. To many he’s a strong, decisive nationalist hero who will restore Russia to its rightful role as a world power, ominously foreshadowing Trump’s MAGA fantasies.
Putin has not always displayed mistrust of the U.S. When 9-11 exploded, the Russians did not celebrate the misfortune of their erstwhile opponent; they reacted in shock and dismay. Realizing that America would go to high DEFCON status, Putin immediately told all his troops on military maneuvers and demonstrations to stand down, to avoid accidental interaction with U.S. forces when Bush reacted. He then allowed U.S. planes to fly over Russian territory en route to Afghanistan from their bases in former Soviet republics.
Not really an olive branch. Terrorist training camps in Afghanistan also hosted Chechen rebels perpetrating terrorist acts within Russia. Putin thought that aiding the Americans who sought to eradicate the camps would serve his own counter-terrorist interests as well.
But then we developed a plan to put anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic, ostensibly to guard against Iranian attack. Putin, of course, noticed that the missiles would serve just as well to block a Russian response in the event of a Western attack on Russia itself. If he thought that aiding our initial responses to 9-11 would enlist our cooperation in other spheres, he was wrong.
Then came adventurism in Georgia, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and annexation of Crimea. When Chechen rebels used sanctuaries in eastern Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge to stage cross-border attacks on Russian forces, America actually sent our own special forces to help Georgian troops oust the terrorists. But finally ongoing Russian aggression, and threats to the integrity of its neighbors (former Soviet republics themselves), prompted the U.S. to back a series of sanctions against Russia. Now the old feuding bloomed anew, with its political maneuvering and international subterfuge.
By most accounts, Vlad is vain, with his narcissistic streak on display in widely circulated photos of himself riding bare-chested on horseback. However, his counterpart in the White House displays full-on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which inclines him to a most dangerous mindset: he believes his own con.
When a self-absorbed leader cannot distinguish between reality and his own fabrications, he opens himself to manipulation by anyone who pretends to admire him. Putin is an expert in face-to-face deception. According to a former Putin staff member, the U.S. president who really gave Putin trouble was Obama, who was described as “very well prepared — he impressed us.” And in so doing, Obama established himself as Putin’s potential nemesis, along with Secretary Clinton, who was already regarded as a tough hard-liner, unsympathetic toward Russian interests.
The Russians were jubilant over Trump’s victory – with good reason.
Later — how did the Russkies influence our recent election processes, and what did they expect to gain?
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.