Saturday 22 December 2018

Russia may have nuclear arms in Crimea, hacked EU cables warn

Diplomatic messages describe annexed area of Ukraine as ‘hot zone’ and Trump as ‘bully’

Brussels has launched an investigation into the apparent hacking of the EU’s diplomatic communications network after thousands of sensitive cables were made public, including descriptions of Donald Trump as a “bully” and Crimea as a “hot zone” where nuclear weapons may be present.

The dump of confidential cables on a public site laid bare the concerns of EU diplomats and officials over the Trump administration and its dealings with Russia and China.

Among the reports made public was a warning on 8 February that Crimea had been turned into a “hot zone where nuclear warheads might have already been deployed”.

Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian territory in 2014. In public, neither the EU nor the US has suggested there is any evidence of the presence of nuclear weapons.

The EU’s secretariat said in response to the first report of the leak in the New York Times that it was “aware of allegations regarding a potential leak of sensitive information” and was “actively investigating the issue”.

The European commission’s vice president, Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia, said there was every “institution or country” was vulnerable to such attacks but he declined to comment on the leaks.

Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with Crimea. Photograph: Pavel Rebrov/Reuters

Much of the content of the cables merely confirmed publicly stated worries in Brussels about the Trump administration, and the descent of the world’s rules-based order, but the security breach will be a major concern.

According to one note, European diplomats described July’s meeting in Finland between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as “successful (at least for Putin)”.

In a press conference after the meeting, Trump had gone off-script. He appeared to offer the Russians the opportunity to question US intelligence agents in exchange for US interrogation of Russians indicted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is investigating claims of collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow.

According to a 20 July note, White House officials subsequently assured the EU that Trump’s agreement would be “nipped down”.

A second cable, detailing a discussion held on 16 July between European officials and Xi Jinping, quotes the Chinese president as comparing Trump’s “bullying” of his government over trade to a “no-rules freestyle boxing match”.

The account further quoted the Chinese president vowing that his country “would not submit to bullying” from the US, “even if a trade war hurt everybody”.

“China was not a backward country any more,” the European diplomat noted Xi as saying.

A cable in March quoted EU officials speaking of “messaging efforts” to mitigate “the negative attitude to the EU [of the Trump administration] in the beginning, which had created a lot of insecurity”.

Caroline Vicini, the deputy head of the EU mission in Washington, suggested that diplomats from member states continued to describe the US as “our most important partner”. The cable also recommended bypassing Trump by dealing with Congress.

The notes, covering three years of diplomatic activity, had apparently been posted online by hackers, where they were discovered by a security company called Area 1, who passed the information on to the New York Times.

The newspaper said the techniques deployed by the hackers resembled those used by a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army. The leaked cables, of which 1,100 were passed to the New York Times, were only ‘restricted’ documents, however, rather than the EU’s most secretive communications which are held on a different network

The hackers are also said to have infiltrated the networks of the UN during the months in 2016 when North Korea was launching missiles. References are reportedly made to confidential meetings of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, with leaders in south-east Asia.

Blake Darche, co-founder of Area 1, said he believed that tens of thousands more such documents have been stolen. “We estimate that the ones we found are a small fraction of the overall operation,” he said. “From what we can see, the EU has a significant problem on their hands.”

(Source: The Guardian)

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