Trump calls newspaper report on Russia power grid 'treason'

A person works at a computer during the 10th International Cybersecurity Forum in Lille

The Times reported on Saturday that the United States Cyber Command was ramping up attacks against Russia's electric grid as a warning shot against future USA election meddling by the Kremlin and also to prepare for a potential major conflict between the two countries.

The placement of the malware that deep within the Russian grid had never previously been attempted, the Times reports, and is intended partly as a warning and also to put the U.S. in a position to conduct cyber attacks should a significant conflict arise with Russia. Assertions made by the New York Times that US special services became much more active during the a year ago in attempts to introduce malware into the Russian energy system run contrary to facts, US President Donald Trump said.

"What I found most disturbing about that New York Times story about whether we're preparing the battlefield, in terms of the electrical grid in Russia, was the fact that the security officials with the administration felt they couldn't tell this to the president because he might compromise that information in a conversation with the Russians", Schiff told "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Trump has not been briefed on the operation because of "the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials".

In a tweet blast Saturday night, the president called the news outlet "desperate for a story, any story". The revelation comes just three days after the news that a Russia-linked group called Xenotime has started laying the early groundwork for potential attacks on United States power companies. Mr Trump said in one of the tweets.

The paper also warned that "accusing the press of treason is risky".

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The article says that the administration declined to describe the specific actions it was taking under the new powers that were granted previous year by the White House and Congress to the special US Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that specialises in the military's offensive and defensive cyber operations.

But the action inside the Russian electric grid appears to have been conducted under little-noticed new legal authorities, slipped into the military authorization bill passed by Congress last summer.

"Because the new law defines the actions in cyberspace as akin to traditional military activity on the ground, in the air or at sea, no such briefing would be necessary", officials reportedly told The New York Times.

The placement of the malware that deep within the Russian grid had never previously been attempted, the Times reports, and is intended partly as a warning and also to put the USA in a position to conduct cyber attacks should a significant conflict arise with Russia.

In February in an interview with Joint Forces Quarterly, Gen Paul Nakasone, the commander of US Cyber Command, spoke of the need to "defend forward" with "persistent engagement" suggesting a shift in tactic was on the horizon.

According to the newspaper, since at least 2012 the USA has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.

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