There is a power outage in the US alright, but it’s got nothing to do with Russian hackers. The “outage” is due to the American political class evidently losing its power-of-influence on public opinion.
That would explain why this week US media reported a sensationalist story alleging that Russian state hackers had the capability to crash the American power grid.
It seemed to be a blatant attempt at whipping up public fears and anti-Russia sentiment. That base motive would have been all the more impelled because the public were evidently not responsive to the post-Helsinki “Traitor Trump” hysteria.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week, the US media went hysterical in denouncing the American president as a “traitor” and “stooge”. That rabid reaction was because Trump held a cordial meeting with Putin and because he appeared to play down long-running, and tenuous, claims about “Russian interference” in the 2016 elections for the White House.
Trump’s summit with Putin – the first that the two leaders have held since Trump took office nearly eighteen months ago – sent Congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well as intelligence and media pundits, into a collective delirium of condemnation.
Apparently, the idea of the US-Russia normalizing bilateral relations and avoiding spiraling tensions between the two nuclear superpowers was anathema to the political establishment and the media chattering-class.
However, the telling thing was that most ordinary American citizens were not provoked into sharing this hysteria over Trump and Putin. Several polls showed that the US public remained supportive of Trump or neutral about his engagement with the Russian president. That was in spite of saturated corporate media coverage decrying Trump for “betraying” America and “colluding with an enemy state”.
That’s where the story comes in about Russian agents allegedly hacking into the US electric grid. More than a week after the Helsinki summit, media headlines like this appeared: “Russian hackers have gained capability to cause US blackouts”.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on July 23 started “briefing” US media and power industry companies that Russian state hackers had gained access to the nation’s electric grid and were capable of “throwing switches” to cause widespread blackouts.
The DHS stated that the alleged cyber attacks “claimed hundreds of victims” in an ongoing subversive campaign. But, as US government-owned Radio Free Europe reported, the DHS officials “did not provide names of alleged victims”.
One former Pentagon official is quoted as saying: “They’ve [Russia] been intruding into our networks and are positioning themselves for a limited or widespread attack. They are waging a covert war on the West.”
The reports this week contain lots of technical jargon about how would-be hackers could have gained access to the power networks. But in all the reportage there is the typical lack of verifiable evidence that we have seen in countless other Western media claims of Russian “malign activity” – from US election interference, to nerve agent attacks in Britain.
This is not the first time that the scare story concerning alleged Russia cyber attacks on civilian infrastructure has emerged.
Recall that back in 2016, the Washington Post published a false story that Russian hackers had targeted the US power grid via an electric company in Vermont. It quickly transpired that Burlington Electric had not been hacked at all, but that didn’t stop US politicians foaming at the mouth about “Putin the thug” and Russia committing “acts of war”.
Similarly, the British government has made outlandish, sensationalist claims that Russian hackers are targeting the country’s infrastructure. UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson earlier this year issued the outrageous warning that “thousands and thousands of Britons would die” from Russia allegedly disrupting essential public utilities.
Williamson said Russia was targeting Britain to, “Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths… creating total chaos within the country.”
British military chiefs have also made reckless public alerts that Russia is trying to cut undersea communication cables around Britain. Again, despite the lack of evidence and largely based on pejorative speculation, this has led to US Treasury sanctions being imposed on Russian companies involved in submarine and diving technology.
Russia has categorically denied any intention of targeting civilian infrastructure. As with Moscow’s repeated denials of hacking into US and Western elections, the relentless fact-free anti-Russia narrative continues unabated.
Nonetheless, the sinister story this week in US media about Russia hacking vital public infrastructure is particularly insidious. It can be easily distorted and politicized into “an act of war”. If that perception takes hold more widely, then we have a scenario where Russia is liable for counter-attacks by America and its NATO allies, which could escalate dangerously into a military war.
Another insidious aspect is that due to years of chronic underinvestment by Western governments in their national infrastructures, it could be all-too easy to portray outages in electric and water services as being caused by “Russian sabotage” when the truth is that the outages are simply due to lack of maintenance by cost-cutting Western governments. Add to that, too, problems of extreme weather events due to climate change causing havoc in public infrastructure, which can also be misattributed to Russia by the anti-Russia political establishment in the West.
But one positive thing to emerge after the Trump-Putin summit is that the US public seem to have become inured to fear-mongering by the anti-Russia brigade among the political establishment.
There was a time when US and Western public opinion could be more easily manipulated and misled by “Red Scares”. Not any more, it seems.
Nevertheless, that evident loss of influence-power by elite elements within the US ruling structure and their media may tempt them in their desperation to unleash even more outrageous stories and false flag provocations in order to incriminate Russia.