On Trump’s Impenetrable Cyber Security Unit to Guard Election Hacking

Man oh man did Vladimir Putin hand Trump his ass in their meeting the other day. While most the focus has been on Trump’s apparent refusal to confront Putin on the election hack (which Trump is now trying to spin — pity for him he excluded his credible aides who could tell us how it really went down or maybe that was precisely the point).

But I was more interested in Putin and Sergei Lavrov’s neat trick to get Trump to agree to a “joint working group on cybersecurity.”

Lavrov says Trump brought up accusations of Russian hacking; Moscow and DC will set up joint working group on cybersecurity.

Here’s how Trump has been talking about this in an [unthreaded] rant this morning.

People who’re just discovering this from Trump’s tweets are suitably outraged.

But I think even there they’re missing what a master stroke this was from Putin and Lavrov.

First, as I noted at the time, this comes at the moment Congress is trying to exclude Kaspersky Lab products from federal networks, accompanied by a more general witch hunt against the security firm. As I have said, I think the latter especially is problematic (and probably would have been designed at least partly to restore some asymmetry on US spying on the world, as Kaspersky is one of the few firms that will consistently ID US spying), even if there are reasons to want to keep Kaspersky out of sensitive networks. Kaspersky would be at the center of any joint cyber security effort, meaning Congress will have a harder time blackballing them.

Then there’s the fact that cooperation has been tried. Notably, the FBI has tried to share information with the part of FSB that does cyber investigations. Often, that ends up serving to tip off the FSB to which hackers the FBI is most interested in, leading to them being induced to spy for the FSB itself. More troubling, information sharing with US authorities is believed to partly explain treason charges against some FSB officers.

Finally, there’s the fact that the Russians asked for proof that they hacked our election.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: The Russians have asked for proof and evidence. I’ll leave that to the intelligence community to address the answer to that question. And again, I think the President, at this point, he pressed him and then felt like at this point let’s talk about how do we go forward. And I think that was the right place to spend our time, rather than spending a lot of time having a disagreement that everybody knows we have a disagreement.

If the US hadn’t been represented by idiots at this meeting, the obvious follow-up would be to point to Russia’s efforts to undermine US extradition of Russians against whom the US has offered proof, at least enough to get a grand jury to indict, most notably of the three Russians involved in the Yahoo hack, as well as Yevgeniy Nikulin. The US would be all too happy to offer proof in those cases, but Russia is resisting the process that will end up in that proof.

But instead, Trump and his oil-soaked sidekick instead agreed to make future hacking of the US easier.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

30 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    13 times? So which of CIA and FBI asked more? Why did NSA not ask also? Did NSA already know what DFIR would reveal?

  2. lefty665 says:

    What do you think of the cease fire in southwest Syria set to start today?  Will the Pentagon and CIA sabotage it like they did last year? Will Pompeo and Mattis execute foreign policy set by Trump and Tillerson?  A ceasefire would likely not have been possible with warmonger neocons Hill and McMaster in the meeting, or if Kushner was there representing the Israelis.

    Cooperating on cyber certainly has its issues, especially if we put FBI chumps in contact with FSB.  OTOH, as developed countries we have some common interests, there are likely some things we can work on together. Same goes for terrorism, and there are some overlaps with cyber. NSA’s reliance on zero day exploits has been, and continues to be, problematic. But putting NSA in contact with the FSB would likely neutralize the information outflow or reverse it.

    SLF Think you’re right, NSA already did know the answer. We’ve heard not even whispers which makes it likely the answer was not what the policy makers wanted. If  NSA saw that flow had been to the Russians Brennan would have had it splashed all over his propaganda, and NSA would have had more than “moderate” confidence in the conclusion. That is a classic Sherlockian “Dog that didn’t bark”, ie, the flow was not to Russia, or perhaps not anywhere. Maybe it really was an inside job as Assange has been claiming. Some at the DNC must have been nauseated by the corruption of the organization for you know who.

    • John Casper says:


      You wrote:

      “What do you think of the cease fire in southwest Syria set to start today?  Will the Pentagon and CIA sabotage it like they did last year? Will Pompeo and Mattis execute foreign policy set by Trump and Tillerson?  A ceasefire would likely not have been possible with warmonger neocons Hill and McMaster in the meeting, or if Kushner was there representing the Israelis.”

      I thought U.S. and western interests in Syria were due to its natural gas reserves and natural gas pipelines that would bring Iranian natural gas to ME and Europe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran-Iraq-Syria_pipeline

      If not, what is U.S. and western objective?

      • greengiant says:

        Qatar,  soon to be KSA gas,  and put a thumb in the eyes of the Shia,  ( Hezbollah/Iran/Iraq)  per Israel and KSA.  Trump throws everyone under the bus,  that is what Trump does,  that and fooling all of the people some of the time.  Every, every sentence that is a defense of Trump,  Putin, the neo cons, the neo liberals, Clinton,  the GOP,  the dems, the TLAs  is nothing but a sick joke.  Trump ran as the great isolationist but that lie is only for fools.

      • lefty665 says:

        Hi John,  Gas and pipelines are part of it too. A larger part is that the USG and our Wahhabi allies, KSA, UAE and Qatar have been working to overthrow the Syrian government in service of Sunni, neocon and Israeli visions for the middle east. None of that has a relationship to US national interests.  Specifically we have been supporting ISIL, al qaeda, et al to achieve those goals. Aiding the rats who attacked us on 9/11 (15 of the 19 were Saudis, so we invaded Iraq, curious huh?) would be treason if done by any of us individually. Apparently it’s ok if done by the USG  in thrall to the Saudis, Israelis and our own neocons.

        Cooperating with the Russians, Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah in a cease fire in southwest Syria is a big change in US policy and is sure to piss off the Israelis, not to mention our own neocons and the rabidly anti Russian segment of our military.  Prior ceasefires have been broken by US military attacks on Syrian government forces. We will see if it happens this time too. Remember, the Russians are in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, we are not. Our military presence constitutes an invasion of Syria. It is another unlawful war of aggression.  Although it has gotten scant attention in the US MSM, the Israelis have been flying air assaults within Syria over the explicit objections of the Syrian government, they also have been supporting ISIL and al qaeda et al logistically.  Seems likely the Russians and Syrians expect those air assaults to stop as part of the cease fire.  That could be interesting.

        The southwest corner of Syria is a pretty tight little area bordered by Lebanon, the Golan Heights (Syrian territory occupied by the Israelis) and Jordan.  Here is a link to a pretty good map of Syria, Iraq and adjoining war zones showing who is where: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Syrian_and_Iraqi_insurgency_detailed_map   I find that when reading about what is going on in that area that having the map up along side what I’m reading makes it a lot easier to follow.

        I am responding in good faith to your question. I trust that you, as I, have taken bmaz’s admonition to heart.


  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Joint cyber-security patrol.  Fox, meet hen house.  Trump is so clueless it hurts.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      And trump jr and kushner met with russian lawyer last year, so it’s all good, right? /s

  4. Fiddlin' Bill says:

    There’s a parallel too: Kushner’s “secure line of communications” running from Russian Embassy to Moscow.  Seems like this idea keeps coming up.

  5. TrumpIsCoolerThanYou says:

    You people want this Russia BS to be true so badly, you’re willing to overlook all the stuff Obama and Clinton did. Like Obama’s open mic at that summit and what about Clinton’s big reset button with all that uranium. Talk about collusion. You people have lost all objectivity and for what? More globalism liberal policies setup so the privileged elite can take the best of this earth and make more people poor?

    • TheOtherJim says:

      Hi there. Your post was kind of incoherent, badly lacking in any relevance to the issue at hand, and fairly bereft of factual content. For example: Clinton’s big reset button with all that uranium. Huh? And of course there’s that vague reference to “Obama’s open mic…” That one, at least, I can address: He said he’d have more flexibility after the election. Which was entirely true, and people whose livelihood does not consist of pearl clutching and feigned outrage recognize that anything said or done in the course of a campaign (except, apparently, when it’s Donald Trump) is blown entirely out of proportion by partisan zealots.

      But your last comment is the most telling. Here, we have an administration consisting almost entirely of the “privileged elite” who are intent on stealing from the poor and passing it to the rich who are actually fulfilling that which you ascribe to liberals. I have no idea what kind of warped thinking processes would lead to such a conclusion, but I suspect your grip on reality is exceedingly weak.

      Have a nice day.

    • John Casper says:


      You’re not a conservative.

      “Graham unloads on Trump: Blind spot on Russia ‘undermining his entire presidency'”


      1. Since you brought up Obama and HRC, why hasn’t Trump’s DOJ indicted either?

      2. If you were a conservative, you’d know why giving uranium to Russia was smart, or do you think Trump is wrong about climate change?

      You’re worried about the “poor?”

      3. Are you a socialist for Trump?

      4. What about the middle class?

      5. So you support, “Trump: UK trade deal expected ‘very quickly,’ confirms London visit”


      Please, tell us about it.

      To make restitution for the insults, please post that you’re donating $100 to the site. Then, follow through.

  6. TGuerrant says:

    …Aaaaaaand 12 hours after Trump commended himself for planning a U.S./Russian cyber security unit (and after sending Mnuchin out to praise this “significant accomplishment” on ABC’s This Week), POTUS tweets:

    “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can, & did!”

  7. TrumpIsCoolerThanYou says:

    Such funny replies! Liberals always find a way to twist and distort the truth then want money to atone. Citing Lindsey Graham… what a joke! Then citing a CNN story. The biggest fake news of them all. Laughable! The socialist thing was great too! It’s surprising to me that liberals haven’t realized this tactic isn’t working. People are figuring out more and more this dishonest slandering of the truth. All the made up stories and skewed polls. You’re well on your way to losing again big in 2018.

    • John Casper says:


      “Such funny replies!” Wingnuts always find a way to twist and distort the truth.” “What a joke!” You can’t find a single link to rebut Lindsey Graham or a CNN story. “The biggest fake news of them all. Laughable!  The socialist thing was great too!”

      You’re welcome.

      Now please donate $200 to “atone.”

      “It’s surprising to me that,” wing nuts,  “haven’t realized this tactic isn’t working. People are figuring out more and more this dishonest slandering of the truth. All the made up stories and skewed polls. You’re well on your way to losing again big in 2018.”

    • TheOtherJim says:

      Generalize much?

      See, the biggest problem we face as a society is this propensity for certain factions to view politics as a blood sport, rather than a healthy debate and exchange of ideas. Once you reduce everything to “us versus them” and demonize the “other side” you forfeit any chance at reasonable discourse.

      We’re all people, we have ideas and concerns and notions about how things should go that might converge, diverge, or overlap. There is no “us” and “them.” Your neighbor may well be a liberal or a conservative or a centrist or just a person who holds ideas that may fall into any of those categories. The only thing accomplished by all-out warfare is loss, even for the victorious side. We’ve gained far more by cooperation and compromise than by slaughter.

  8. TrumpIsCoolerThanYou says:

    Nice retorts! I see more than ever why liberals are losing hearts and minds. Snide remarks and name calling aren’t winning arguments… Of course, I’m not allowed to have a different opinion from the tolerant liberal left! CNN might hunt me down.

    • John Casper says:


      “Nice retorts! I see more than ever why,” wing nuts  “are losing hearts and minds. Snide remarks and name calling aren’t winning arguments… Of course,” the rest of us aren’t “allowed to have a different opinion from the tolerant,” wing nuts!

      You relentlessly play the victim card and invent conspiracy theories that CNN knows who you are.

  9. TrumpIsCoolerThanYou says:

    Another zinger John! You guys have no idea you’re shooting blanks! Comical. Well, this has been fun! I’ve never comment on an article before and been outnumbered with replies. I feel like I can comment freely now when I agree or disagree. Maybe change some minds. I’m sure all of you are nice people and I hope the best for you. I sure hope you aren’t the best of the bunch… Especially you bmaz! You look so foolish out here… Sorry, you guys are like shooting fish in a barrel.

    • John Casper says:


      You “have no idea you’re shooting blanks!”

      You’re saying “you’re shooting blanks.” All I’m doing is turning your empty insults around.

      You wrote, “Comical.”

      If you’re easily amused.

      You wrote, “Well, this has been fun! I’ve never comment on an article before and been outnumbered with replies.”

      Then it should be even easier to commit to that $300 donation in this thread and follow through with it. You wouldn’t want to be known as a freeloader.

      You wrote, “I feel like I can comment freely now when I agree or disagree.”

      When did you first “feel like” that? Please be specific.

      You wrote, “Maybe change some minds.”

      I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I think the assessment of you is pretty unanimous, but the $300 donation would help.

      You wrote, “I’m sure all of you are nice people and I hope the best for you.”

      Are you leaving, or assuming another handle?

      You wrote, “I sure hope you aren’t the best of the bunch…”

      Correct, I’m way down the list.

      You wrote, “Especially you bmaz! You look so foolish out here…”

      bmaz is elite. He’s been treating you with kid gloves. I missed where he looked “foolish.” Please quote it.

      You wrote, “Sorry, you guys are like shooting fish in a barrel.”

      No reason to be sorry, you just didn’t hit any.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The standards for live trolling are declining. Or perhaps the AI s/w is becoming more colloquial.

  11. fred says:

    [This comment has been edited: /s/ bmaz]

    to hire a good hacker,contact __________________

    To the attempted poster of this nonsense:

    Sorry. We do not do advertisements here on this site, and certainly not for hacker crap.

    • John Casper says:


      This isn’t your first time here.

      What about a $100 donation to say you’re sorry.

  12. Michael says:

    Everyone and their uncle is throwing rocks at Donnie P. for stating that he and Comrade Vlad talked about setting up what could be called an additional Eyes. Nobody has pointed out that the words Donnie P. piled together in his defensive tweet clearly say that he wants to keep election hacking and other illegal things guarded and safe. Not “keep elections guarded and safe from hacking”, but “keep election hacking guarded and safe”. Think about that.

Comments are closed.