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How Russia Uses Cyberwarfare Around The Globe


President Trump is going ahead with his meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin in spite of calls to cancel the summit after the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers. In an interview with CBS News, Trump said he is going in with low expectations but that, quote, "nothing bad is going to come out of it." He also told CBS that he hadn't thought to ask for the extradition of the 12 accused Russians. For more now on how Russia leverages its cyberespionage around the world, we turn to Misha Glenny. He's the author of "McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime."

Welcome to the program.

MISHA GLENNY: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Russia has pursued destabilization of Western powers in so many ways over so many years. What did we learn from these indictments about Russia's strategy in the United States?

GLENNY: Well, what we know is that they can use cyber and information warfare very easily without having to put in too many resources because Russia, we have to remember, is starting from a position of great economic weakness. Its economy is a tenth of the size of the economy of the United States. It's only half the size of the British economy - bedraggled, post-Brexit Britain. And so it has to use its resources very carefully. Now, it has its residual nuclear forces and strong conventional forces. But essentially, in order to undermine the West, it cannot rely on its ability to develop technologically in the next 10 years.

And so it uses cyber to exploit existing vulnerabilities in Western political systems. And it now looks as though the Department of Justice and Robert Mueller has got sufficient evidence to identify the players involved from the Russian intelligence community who've been interfering with the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Misha, you've written about how the Russian government intersects with criminal networks. How does that work? And what impact does that have on how they conduct these operations?

GLENNY: Well, the free market economy in Russia in the 1990s emerged as what's called gangster capitalism, whereby a lot of organized crime groups were involved in the emerging corporations headed by oligarchs. And within this network, the KGB, or the FSB as it's now called, had a very subordinate, inferior position. When Putin came into power - and Putin, of course, his background was as a KGB officer - he flipped that around. So now it's the KGB and Putin in control, and the oligarchs and organized crime have to do what Putin says if they want to continue in a privileged position in Russian society.

And so they are integrated in conventional intelligence, but what was interesting in the first decade of this century is we saw Russian criminal groups becoming very active over the Internet. And they, too - there is ample evidence - I've written about this in my book "DarkMarket" - of how the Russian state co-opted Russian organized crime to take part in operations aimed at Western political systems like the one that we've seen the indictments for in the past couple of days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So when you look at these indictments, did anything surprise you? It seems like this was something that you had predicted in you work.

GLENNY: Well, what surprised me is the extent and length that the GRU, Russian military intelligence, were able to continue intervening and examining email accounts and servers after it had first been identified in particular by the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike that there was interference going on on some of the DNC, DCCC and Hillary Clinton accounts. It is pervasive. It's long-term. And there are very, very serious questions being asked here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think these indictments scare off the Russians at all? I mean, how do you think they view this? We have midterm elections coming up here. And obviously, there's great concern here that this could happen again.

GLENNY: I don't think that the Russians will be scared at all by this. I think that they're enjoying the whole spectacle. And I suspect that Donald Trump is going to basically accommodate Putin's wishes at the meeting. There is something very, very fishy in the state of Denmark at the moment in the United States. And I think the Russians are making hay out of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Misha Glenny, author of "McMafia," thank you so much for joining us.

GLENNY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.