OUR PICKSThe Pandemic of Unknowns | Cybersecurity & Smart Buildings | DHS & Disinformation Threat, and more

Published 26 January 2022

·  The Pandemic of Unknowns

·  Whisper It, but Putin Has a Point in Ukraine

·  DHS: Extremists Continue to Plot, Encourage Physical Attacks on Electricity Infrastructure

·  More Federal Coordination Needed to Tackle U.S. Domestic Extremism

·  Democrats in Congress Seek Review of Teams Within the Border Patrol

·  Hidden Cybersecurity Challenges of Smart Buildings

·  The Role for DHS in Countering the Disinformation Threat

The Pandemic of Unknowns  (Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker, Foreign Affairs)
Reaching a new normal in an age of uncertainty.

Whisper It, but Putin Has a Point in Ukraine (Richard Sakwa, The Spectator)
For the first time in at least a generation, there is the real prospect of war in Europe. It is easy for politicians in the West to talk about ‘Russian aggression’. What else is a massive build-up of troops if not an aggressive posture? But Russia is acting because its leadership feels threatened. From the high towers of the Kremlin, Ukraine looks like an increasingly hostile, American-backed Potemkin state.
Russia’s aspiration for Ukraine is not as dramatic as it’s often made out to be. Nowhere has Putin suggested that he envisages a future single state, and there’s little reason to believe the Kremlin — hemmed in by a struggling economy, stagnant living standards, and a population which has demonstrated absolutely no appetite for dangerous foreign adventures — intends to reconstitute the Soviet Union. Instead, to protect its own security, Russia desires a neutral, friendly, multilingual Ukraine.
It is not an unreasonable wish. But as the western powers arm and encourage a militant and hostile neighbour — whether it comes to pass is far from certain. In the first Cold War, we emerged relatively unscathed from the Cuban missile crisis. This time around, with a real military threat on the doorstep of the USSR’s nuclear inheritor, we may not be so lucky.

DHS: Extremists Continue to Plot, Encourage Physical Attacks on Electricity Infrastructure  (Bridget Johnson, HSTopday)
Communications and tactics that give “few indicators of suspicious activity will likely render these attacks difficult to detect,” warns intel memo.

More Federal Coordination Needed to Tackle U.S. Domestic Extremism  (Rachel Kleinfeld, Just Security)
On Jan. 13, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militia, with seditious conspiracy. The historic charge is an admission that Rhodes and a number of his militia members sought to interfere with the execution of the law – in this case, the certification of the presidential vote – or possibly bring down the government. But the trial is obscuring sluggish federal action and state backpedaling in other areas.
At a meeting of political violence experts in December, we realized that there was not a single indicator suggesting the United States is in a better position now than it was before the 2020 presidential election. The one difference is a president committed to the rule of law. To date, however federal action has failed to prioritize the threat. An interagency federal response is required to help overwhelmed states tackle countervailing policy responses at the state level and to address federal gaps and oversights.

Democrats in Congress Seek Review of Teams Within the Border Patrol  (Eileen Sullivan, New York Times)
Lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office to review “critical incident teams,” and two House committees will conduct a separate investigation.

Hidden Cybersecurity Challenges of Smart Buildings  (Amy Mintz, HSToday)
Reports of BAS cyberattacks are considered rare, as of now. However, smart buildings have serious potential to be a ransomware target.

The Role for DHS in Countering the Disinformation Threat (Francis Taylor and Gregory Michaelidis, Just Security)
When then President Donald J. Trump ousted Christopher Krebs shortly after the 2020 election it was likely the first that most Americans had ever heard of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As CISA’s director, Krebs had earned bipartisan plaudits for his leadership, before he was fired for publicly debunking Trump’s false claims concerning voter fraud in the 2020 presidential elections.
While the public saw the firing as another self-serving act by a vengeful president, security professionals drew a deeper lesson – that DHS could be playing a more forceful role defending against the spread of misinformation and disinformation. For context, it’s worth recalling that DHS was created in 2003 when the U.S. government was still reeling from its inability to “connect the dots” before the 9/11 attacks. The new department was to become the central hub around which the “spokes” of law enforcement, intelligence, border security, and aviation security would revolve.