US deploys more cyber-commandos abroad
The US military has sent dozens of hackers to Ukraine as it expands its cyber presence worldwide, a top military official told Reuters on Monday. Details of their mission are unclear, but the Pentagon says that its hackers “execute full-spectrum operations against adversaries.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco, Major General William Hartman of the US army said that the Pentagon’s Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) has deployed 43 specialists to Ukraine.
“Those are defense teams we send, and [they] hunt for shared adversaries, find tools and capabilities,” he told the news agency.
Demand for these teams has increased in the last three years, Hartman said, revealing that US hackers have conducted 47 operations in 20 different countries in that time frame. The general added that US cyber operatives were deployed at the invitation of the countries in question.
The CNMF was formed in 2014 and was made a unified command under the United States Cyber Command last year. Its jurisdiction appears to be both domestic and international, with the US Cyber Command website stating that CNMF staff are drawn from the US army, air force, navy, and marine corps, all of which are tasked with conducting operations abroad. At the same time, the website describes these operatives as working with the FBI and Department of National Security, both of which operate on US soil.
“CNMF’s mission is to plan, direct and synchronize full-spectrum cyberspace operations to deter, disrupt and if necessary, defeat adversary cyber and malign influence actors,” the website states.
The CNMF’s presence in Ukraine was announced by Hartman last year. However, US officials have not explicitly mentioned its members when disclosing America’s military presence in Ukraine. While recently-leaked Pentagon documents suggested that US and other NATO special forces are operating in Ukraine, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted earlier this month that the US only has a “small military presence” at its embassy in Kiev.
Kiev announced last year that it would recruit up to 300,000 pro-Ukrainian cyber activists to “disrupt the work of [Russian] digital resources” and “fight propaganda.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned at the time that Kiev risked creating a “cyber ISIS” that would easily transition into criminal activity once the conflict ended.