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U.S. Engaged in ‘Offensive’ Cyber Operations Against Russia in Ukraine: NSA Director

Gen. Paul Nakasone talks during a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington May 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)
Gen. Paul Nakasone talks during a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington May 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The head of the U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency (NSA) confirmed that the United States conducted cyber operations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’ve conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations,” NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone said in an interview published on June 1. That includes “offensive hacking operations” he said, without elaborating on the details.

Nakasone, who is a four-star general, said the operations were lawful and conducted with civilian oversight. His interview with Sky News is the first official confirmation that the United States is engaged in a digital conflict against Russia in its bid to support Ukraine.

My job is to provide a series of options to the secretary of defense and the president, and so that’s what I do,” he told Sky News, a British news channel. It isn’t clear when the operations started or how many have taken place since the invasion started on Feb. 24.

“We remain vigilant every single day. Every single day. I think about it all the time,” he said. “This is why we’re working with a series of partners to ensure we prevent that, not only against the United States but against our allies as well.”

Nakasone also detailed how so-called hunt forward operations enabled the United States to track down hackers and find their tools before they could be deployed. In one such operation, according to Nakasone, U.S. military specialists were present in Ukraine near the date of the invasion.

“We went in December 2021 at the invitation of the Kyiv government to come and hunt with them. We stayed there for a period of almost 90 days,” he told the outlet.

Officials later told Sky News that the U.S. team was later withdrawn from Ukraine in February amid a buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border.

The general also made reference to alleged major hacking attempts carried out by Russian state actors to launch cyberattacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure.

“We’ve seen this with regard to the attack on their satellite systems, wiper attacks that have been ongoing, disruptive attacks against their government processes.”

“This is kind of the piece that I think sometimes is missed by the public. It isn’t like they haven’t been very busy, they have been incredibly busy. And I think, you know, their resilience is perhaps the story that is most intriguing to all of us,” he said, describing Kyiv’s response.

On June 1, the Biden administration announced it would send another $700 million in military aid to Ukraine’s forces, including long-range rockets.

“The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend itself,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House. Those weapons include the high mobility artillery rocket system “with battlefield munitions.”

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