This previously secret order involved having US intelligence design and implant a series of cyberweapons into Russia’s infrastructure systems, with officials saying they are meant to be activated remotely to hit the most important networks in Russia and are designed to “cause them pain and discomfort.”
The US has, of course, repeatedly threatened “retaliatory” cyberattacks against Russia, and promised to knock out broad parts of their economy in doing so. These appear to be the first specific plans to have actually infiltrate Russian networks and plant such weapons to do so.
Despite the long-standing nature of the threats, by the end of Obama’s last term in office this was all still in the “planning” phases. It’s not totally clear where this effort has gone from there, but officials say that the intelligence community, once given Obama’s permission, did not need further approval from Trump to continue on with it, and he’d have actually had to issue a countermanding order, something they say he hasn’t.
The details are actually pretty scant on how far along the effort is, but the goal is said to be for the US to have the ability to retaliate at a moment’s notice the next time they have a cyberattack they intend to blame on Russia.
Unspoken in this lengthy report, which quotes unnamed former Obama Administration officials substantially, advocating the effort, is that in having reported that such a program exists, they’ve tipped off Russia about the threat.
This is, however, reflective of the priority of the former administration, which is to continuing hyping allegations that Russia got President Trump elected, a priority that’s high enough to sacrifice what was supposed to be a highly secretive cyberattack operation.