National Security

Cybersecurity ... With the Russians?

As National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster put it, "We would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere."

Todd Johnson · Feb. 21, 2018

Last week saw the 54th annual Munich Security Conference take place in Germany and this year’s event, considered to be the premier annual forum for international security policymakers, was a very bleak affair. The theme for this year’s conference was “To the Brink — and Back?” That accurately reflected the dour mood of the United States representation in attendance.

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster led a large U.S. delegation to Europe and his very sharp rhetoric during the second day of the conference caught a lot of people’s attention. During the question and answer session following his remarks, he criticized Russian government interference in last year’s presidential election.

When asked by a Russian delegate about working with Moscow on cybersecurity issues, McMaster rejoined (to laughter), “I’m surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available based on how active most of them have been undermining our democracies in the West. So I would just say that we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere.”

He later continued, “As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”

The words from McMaster showed that the United States policymakers are still very much concerned with the Russian cyber threat emanating from Europe/Asia and we believe that it will be a running theme for the rest of 2018. And as long as Trump isn’t found to have colluded with the Russians, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will continue to provide American diplomats and members of the cabinet top cover as they address the cyber terrorism emanating from Vladimir Putin’s regime.

While much of the world-wide press focused on the Russian-U.S. cyber comments, it was a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Saturday afternoon that caught our attention. His comments, the most distressing development from an American perspective, seemed to confirm the fact that Israel is closer to launching a full-scale military campaign against its enemies located in Syria. While brandishing a piece of the Iranian UAV that was allegedly shot down over Israeli sovereign territory, Netanyahu said his country will “continue to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria.”

It’s no secret that Israeli and United States officials have been concerned about Iranian surrogates operating in Syria for years, but the pace of military operations in the war-torn country has significantly evolved over the last few months. With the recent deaths of several Russian “volunteers” in an American air strike, the country is on the verge of becoming a tinderbox of full-scale conflict.

Hence it’s important that the Trump administration engage in a full-scale review of U.S. operations in Syria and determine what level of engagement is appropriate for the future. The American footprint in Syria is currently 2,000 operators, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments this week make it seem like the U.S. presence is going be an ongoing commitment.

Will President Trump send more troops to the region if the fighting escalates? Only time will tell, but let us hope that cooler heads prevail in a region where the U.S. has already spent so much blood and treasure in the 21st century.

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