By GEMMA CRUZ ARANETA
I came across fascinating reportage about Russia’s “hybrid war” which revealed that it was a “technological laggard “ when it was still the USSR, the Union its Soviet Socialist Republics. Behind the “iron curtain,” it was unconnected with global Internet, until a year before it ceased to exist. It was President Vladimir Putin who brought Russia to the digital age, although strangely enough, he rarely uses a computer. The first commercial Internet provider was Relcom and during its initial stages of operation, state security agents demanded hard copies of anything that passed through the network.
As expected, things changed rapidly. By 1996, the state that launched the first satellite, Sputnik I, had engendered a generation of redoubtable hackers who expeditiously penetrated the military and security networks of no less than the United States of America, Russia’s rival for world hegemony. They left no file unturned — maps of US military bases and installations wherever these were found, designs of military, naval, and air force hardware still classified, configurations and schedules of troops — everything was hacked.
In 2008, Pentagon officials were befogged when a highly restricted network with its own exclusive non-public Internet was suddenly breached. How did the Russian cyber spies do it? Through the NATO headquarters in Kabul! Apparently, there were a lot of small retail outlets in the area, which the Russian hackers supplied with thumb drives infected with viruses. They knew that someone from NATO would buy one, sooner or later and mindlessly insert it in a secure computer. According to Evan Osnos, et al, (“Active Measures”, 2017) in the past decade, ”… cyber tactics have become an essential component of Russia’s efforts to exert influence over its neighbors.”
Estonia is a good case in point. One fine day, no one could get on line, not the banks nor business establishments, neither could government offices, not even (then) President Toomas Ilves himself could get on line. That was bewildering because Estonia happens to be one of the most wired countries in the world; it is the birthplace of Skype and the headquarters of many tech companies. What happened was not really hacking; Estonia’s sites were swamped with DDoS, Distributed Denial of Service (Osnos, 2017). President Ilves pointed to Russia as the culprit. Estonia had removed a World War II statue of a Russian soldier, which was at a prominent place in Tallinn, the capital. The Russian government took offense.
A year after the DDoS attack on Estonia, Russia turned its cyber sights on Georgia as they were fighting over South Ossetia. As Russian tanks rolled in and fighter planes soared over the disputed territory, a battalion of hackers breached military and civilian sites so Georgian officers could not send orders to their troops. Pres. Putin enhanced ground operations with cyber activity with full cooperation of Russia’s military sector.
General Valery Gerasimov, a man in his early sixties, wrote the following: “A perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war….The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”
That is a fragment from General Gerasimov’s article titled, “The Value of Science in Prediction,” published in the “Military Industrial Courrier, “an influential journal in Russia. In the same essay, he asserted that Russia should adopt the Western strategy of combining military, technological, media, politics, and intelligence tactics to “destabilize an enemy at minimal cost.” This “hybrid war” is now known as the Gerasimov doctrine.
The strategy is not new; the general himself described it as “Western.” We have read and heard about how non-military means can effectively achieve the political and strategic objectives of an “intervening” state, or an anti-people government for that matter. Cyber technology shortens the process, makes it more efficient; it can be used to cheat in elections, to create unrest and bring people down on their knees. Cyber technology can create civil wars and untenable conditions conducive to martial law and military intervention. In a way, this hybrid war is raging around us and we are totally unprepared.