Energy

Evidence Mounts Of Full-Scale Russian Campaign To Undermine American Energy

REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The U.S. government for the first time ever blamed Russia for hacking into American energy infrastructure. The Trump administration action comes a little over two weeks after a House committee detailed Russian attempts to influence energy markets.

U.S. officials said a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” that began in March 2016, possibly earlier, is part of a campaign to target critical infrastructure, including energy, nuclear and aviation facilities.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Thursday said hackers targeted small facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” Reuters reported.

It’s the first time the U.S. has directly called out Moscow for infrastructure hacking. It’s still unclear whether or not the hacks were successful or led to any damage, and the security alert did not name the companies targeted.

The Trump administration condemnation comes more than two weeks after the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology found Russian agents used social media outlets to embolden opposition to American energy production.

“Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy,” reads the committee’s report on Russian activities.

The committee found accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm, published 9,097 social media posts from 2015 to 2017 targeting energy policies and projects. Thirteen Russians connected to IRA were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.,” the House committee found.

For years, Republicans and energy industry experts have worried Russian money was being used to undermine U.S. energy policy.

Intelligence officials confirmed in early 2017 in a declassified report on election meddling that the state-owned media outlet Russia Today (RT) ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”

The House committee began the investigation in 2017 and asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to investigate whether or not Russians were using an offshore Bermuda-based law firm to funnel money to U.S. environmental groups.

Lawmakers asked Mnuchin to investigate whether or not the U.S.-based environmental group, the Sea Change Foundation, took $23 million from a Bermuda-based shell company with ties to Russian oligarchs in 2010 and 2011.

Sea Change gave millions to U.S.-based environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. All of those groups oppose hydraulic fracturing.

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