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US has been been supporting Ukraine with 'offensive' cyber operations, top general reveals

Business Insider logo Business Insider 6/1/2022 bgriffiths@insider.com (Brent D. Griffiths)
NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone testifies on Capitol Hill in 2018. Thomson Reuters © Thomson Reuters NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone testifies on Capitol Hill in 2018. Thomson Reuters
  • US Cyber Command's top general said the US has conducted "offensive" cyber operations to help Ukraine.
  • Gen. Paul Nakasone said operations have involved offense, defense, and information activities.
  • US officials tend to be careful with how they discuss America's offensive cyber capabilities.

The top US cyber official revealed on Wednesday that the US has conducted "offensive" cyber operations supporting Ukraine as it battles Russia.

US Army Gen. Paul Nakasone told British media outlet Sky News that "we've conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations." He did not specify the targets of these operations.

Nakasone heads US Cyber Command and serves as the director of the National Security Agency. Though short on details, his disclosure is rare and notable given that US officials tend to avoid publicly discussing America's offensive cyber capabilities. Additionally, the Biden administration has been carefully striking a balance between supporting Ukraine and avoiding escalating tensions with Russia.

During his discussion with Sky News, Nakasone praised Ukraine for its ability to repel Russian cyber attacks and chided critics who have suggested that reports of Moscow's cyber operations against the country have been blown out of proportion.

"If you asked the Ukrainians, they wouldn't say it's been overblown," he said. "If you take a look at the destructive attacks and disruptive attacks that they've encountered — you wrote about it in terms of the attack on [satellite company] Viasat — this is something that has been ongoing."


Video: Biden wants $33B more to help Ukraine battle Russia (USA TODAY)

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia is taking "specific preparatory steps" to carry out damaging attacks. Addressing cyber concerns in particular, Wray said Russia's strikes are becoming "more destructive as the war keeps going poorly."

"We've seen the Russian government taking specific preparatory steps towards potential destructive attacks, both here and abroad," Wray told a Boston College cyber security conference, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In addition to the cyber operations Nakasone acknowledged, the US has, along with its allies, also provided Ukraine with weapons and other forms of assistance, but there are limitations.

President Joe Biden himself outlined on Tuesday night the limits of US involvement, stressing his long-held view in a New York Times op-ed that the US wishes to keep its own forces out of the war. Biden also sought to continue to clean up his vague suggestion of regime change after his March assertion that Putin "cannot remain in power" irked some Western allies.

"As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow," Biden wrote. "So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces."

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