No Let Up in Cyberattacks, Influence Campaigns Targeting US

Top U.S. intelligence and defense officials caution the threat to the U.S. in cyberspace is not diminishing ahead of November’s midterm elections despite indications that Russia’s efforts to disrupt or influence the vote may not match what it did in 2016.

The warnings of an ever more insidious and persistent danger come as lawmakers and security officials have increasingly focused on hardening defenses for the country’s voter rolls and voting systems.

It also comes as top executives from social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google prepare to testify on Capitol Hill about their effort to curtail the types of disinformation campaigns used by Moscow and which are increasingly being copied by other U.S. adversaries.

“The cyberthreat to the U.S. is not limited to U.S. elections, a point that is too often missed,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a conference outside of Washington Tuesday. “The weaponization of cybertools and the relative lack of global guardrails in a cyber domain significantly increases the risk that a discrete act will have enormous strategic implications.

“Foreign influence efforts online are increasingly being used around the globe,” he added.

Others ramp up attacks

Government officials as well as those from private cybersecurity have said repeatedly over the past few months that they have not yet seen a repeat of what Coats himself described as the “robust” campaign Moscow launched in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Still, there are concerns that even if the Kremlin has eased its efforts, other countries and a variety of nonstate actors have ramped up their own campaigns, often learning from Russia’s 2016 exploits.

“I remain deeply concerned about threats from several countries to upcoming U.S. elections — the midterms this year, the presidential elections in 2020 and beyond,” Coats said.

While the director of national intelligence did not name any countries in particular, other officials have previously pointed to China, Iran and North Korea as the main culprits.

Two weeks ago, social media giants Facebook and Twitter announced they had removed hundreds of pages and accounts linked to a disinformation campaign that originated in Iran and targeted the U.S. as well as other countries.

​Once major attacks now normal

U.S. cybersecurity officials warn that hacking, phishing attacks and disinformation campaigns have become increasingly popular tools for so-called bad actors’ and that they often escape the attention of the general public.

One reason is that what might have been described as a major cyberattack 10 years ago is often seen now as part of the normal threat landscape.

“We’ve crossed that threshold many, many times,” said John Rood, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy. “We are in that environment where on a near daily basis we are being challenged with those activities.”

What worries him, he said, is not the cyberattacks on their own but the prospects of someone combining cyber with a more traditional type of attack on the U.S. homeland.

“Some of our allies or friends have experienced a combination of cyberactivities, manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum and physical — air, land, sea — domain [attacks], whether that be Ukraine or Georgia.”

​Small attacks just as worrisome

Yet other U.S. officials believe it is not the prospect of large-scale cyberattacks that should be the sole reason for concern.

“While I don’t see a dramatic cyberattack coming at us, every day there are small ones,” according to National Security Agency Deputy Director George Barnes.

“The problem is we focus on the big and the slow drip happens out the back,” he said. “And the slow drip is the continued theft of intellectual properties from our industries.”

Part of the problem, according to Barnes and other officials, is the extent to which government and industry in the U.S. in connected to and dependent on cyberspace, creating what they describe as a large and vulnerable “attack surface.”

And despite government efforts to reach out to private companies to share information about the threats, and even about ongoing or imminent attacks, U.S. officials fear the current level of cooperation is still not enough.

As a result, the U.S. is “continually pummeled by nation state and non-nation state sponsored malicious cyber activity,” Barnes said.

In response to the growing pace of attacks, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have become ever more vocal in identifying the perpetrators and calling attention to their exploits.

Increasingly, they are also talking out loud about hitting back.

“We are not standing idly by,” Coats said.

“Every kind of cyberoperation, malicious or not, leaves a trail,” he said. “Persistence on our part has enabled us to identify and publicly attribute responsibility for numerous cyber attacks and foreign influence efforts and then prepare for the response.”

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No Let Up in Cyberattacks, Influence Campaigns Targeting US

Top U.S. intelligence and defense officials caution the threat to the U.S. in cyberspace is not diminishing ahead of November’s midterm elections despite indications that Russia’s efforts to disrupt or influence the vote may not match what it did in 2016.

The warnings of an ever more insidious and persistent danger come as lawmakers and security officials have increasingly focused on hardening defenses for the country’s voter rolls and voting systems.

It also comes as top executives from social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google prepare to testify on Capitol Hill about their effort to curtail the types of disinformation campaigns used by Moscow and which are increasingly being copied by other U.S. adversaries.

“The cyberthreat to the U.S. is not limited to U.S. elections, a point that is too often missed,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a conference outside of Washington Tuesday. “The weaponization of cybertools and the relative lack of global guardrails in a cyber domain significantly increases the risk that a discrete act will have enormous strategic implications.

“Foreign influence efforts online are increasingly being used around the globe,” he added.

Others ramp up attacks

Government officials as well as those from private cybersecurity have said repeatedly over the past few months that they have not yet seen a repeat of what Coats himself described as the “robust” campaign Moscow launched in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Still, there are concerns that even if the Kremlin has eased its efforts, other countries and a variety of nonstate actors have ramped up their own campaigns, often learning from Russia’s 2016 exploits.

“I remain deeply concerned about threats from several countries to upcoming U.S. elections — the midterms this year, the presidential elections in 2020 and beyond,” Coats said.

While the director of national intelligence did not name any countries in particular, other officials have previously pointed to China, Iran and North Korea as the main culprits.

Two weeks ago, social media giants Facebook and Twitter announced they had removed hundreds of pages and accounts linked to a disinformation campaign that originated in Iran and targeted the U.S. as well as other countries.

​Once major attacks now normal

U.S. cybersecurity officials warn that hacking, phishing attacks and disinformation campaigns have become increasingly popular tools for so-called bad actors’ and that they often escape the attention of the general public.

One reason is that what might have been described as a major cyberattack 10 years ago is often seen now as part of the normal threat landscape.

“We’ve crossed that threshold many, many times,” said John Rood, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy. “We are in that environment where on a near daily basis we are being challenged with those activities.”

What worries him, he said, is not the cyberattacks on their own but the prospects of someone combining cyber with a more traditional type of attack on the U.S. homeland.

“Some of our allies or friends have experienced a combination of cyberactivities, manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum and physical — air, land, sea — domain [attacks], whether that be Ukraine or Georgia.”

​Small attacks just as worrisome

Yet other U.S. officials believe it is not the prospect of large-scale cyberattacks that should be the sole reason for concern.

“While I don’t see a dramatic cyberattack coming at us, every day there are small ones,” according to National Security Agency Deputy Director George Barnes.

“The problem is we focus on the big and the slow drip happens out the back,” he said. “And the slow drip is the continued theft of intellectual properties from our industries.”

Part of the problem, according to Barnes and other officials, is the extent to which government and industry in the U.S. in connected to and dependent on cyberspace, creating what they describe as a large and vulnerable “attack surface.”

And despite government efforts to reach out to private companies to share information about the threats, and even about ongoing or imminent attacks, U.S. officials fear the current level of cooperation is still not enough.

As a result, the U.S. is “continually pummeled by nation state and non-nation state sponsored malicious cyber activity,” Barnes said.

In response to the growing pace of attacks, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have become ever more vocal in identifying the perpetrators and calling attention to their exploits.

Increasingly, they are also talking out loud about hitting back.

“We are not standing idly by,” Coats said.

“Every kind of cyberoperation, malicious or not, leaves a trail,” he said. “Persistence on our part has enabled us to identify and publicly attribute responsibility for numerous cyber attacks and foreign influence efforts and then prepare for the response.”

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Pressley Wins Fight for ‘Soul’ of Party in Massachusetts House Race 

Ayanna Pressley is all but assured of becoming the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, the latest example of the Democratic Party’s embrace of diversity and progressive politics as the recipe for success in the Trump era.

The 44-year-old’s upset victory against longtime Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano in Tuesday’s primary sets the stage for Pressley to represent an area once served by Tip O’Neill and John F. Kennedy. Her win comes at the tail end of a primary season in which black politicians have made a series of advances.

In nearby Connecticut, Jahana Hayes is on track to become that state’s first black woman to win a congressional seat if she prevails in November. And black politicians in three states, Florida, Georgia and Maryland, have won the Democratic nomination for governor, a historic turn for a country that has elected just two black governors in U.S. history.

Unabashedly progressive

Greeting voters at a Boston polling station, Pressley spoke of “the ground shifting beneath our feet and the wind at our backs.”

“This is a fight for the soul of our party and the future of our democracy,” she told reporters. “This is a disruptive candidacy, a grassroots coalition. It is broad and diverse and deep. People of every walk of life.”

For Pressley, as with many other ascendant candidates of color, unabashedly progressive credentials smoothed her path to victory in the primary. No Republicans were running, so only a write-in campaign in November could possibly stand between her and Washington.

She was endorsed by fellow congressional upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked off veteran Rep. Joe Crowley of New York in June. Pressley backs Medicare-for-all, the single-payer health care proposal, which helped her garner backing from Our Revolution, the offshoot of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Pressley called for defunding the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, which helped her draw support from Massachusetts’ popular attorney general, Maura Healey, who’s gained a national following for repeatedly suing President Donald Trump in an attempt to block his policies on immigration, gun control and other issues.

‘Be disruptive in our democracy’

“We have to be disruptive in our democracy and our policymaking and how we run and win elections,” she said in an interview this summer with The Associated Press, adding that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory challenged “narratives about who has a right to run and when, and who can win” in American politics.

“My mother did not raise me to ask for permission to lead,” she added.

Pressley tapped into growing cries within the Democratic Party for newer, more diverse leadership. She and Ocasio-Cortez both defeated older, white congressmen who were reliable liberal votes, but who didn’t look like many voters in their districts.

“With so much at stake in the era of Trump, tonight’s results make clear what Ayanna Pressley knew when she boldly launched her campaign against a 10-term incumbent: Change in the country and Congress can’t wait,” said Jim Dean, chair of the liberal group Democracy for America.

The district she’s competing in includes a wide swath of Boston and about half of Cambridge as well as portions of neighboring Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, Somerville and Milton. It includes both Cambridge’s Kendall Square, development there is booming, and the neighborhood of Roxbury, the center of Boston’s traditionally black community.

Pressley has bristled at the notion that race was a defining issue in her campaign.

“I have been really furious about the constant charges being lobbed against me about identity politics that, by the way, are only lobbed against women and candidates of color,” she said in one debate. “I happen to be black and a woman and unapologetically proud to be both, but that is not the totality of my identity.”

Massachusetts’ last Democratic primary upset came in 2014, when Seth Moulton defeated Rep. John Tierney in the state’s 6th Congressional District.

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Pressley Wins Fight for ‘Soul’ of Party in Massachusetts House Race 

Ayanna Pressley is all but assured of becoming the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, the latest example of the Democratic Party’s embrace of diversity and progressive politics as the recipe for success in the Trump era.

The 44-year-old’s upset victory against longtime Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano in Tuesday’s primary sets the stage for Pressley to represent an area once served by Tip O’Neill and John F. Kennedy. Her win comes at the tail end of a primary season in which black politicians have made a series of advances.

In nearby Connecticut, Jahana Hayes is on track to become that state’s first black woman to win a congressional seat if she prevails in November. And black politicians in three states, Florida, Georgia and Maryland, have won the Democratic nomination for governor, a historic turn for a country that has elected just two black governors in U.S. history.

Unabashedly progressive

Greeting voters at a Boston polling station, Pressley spoke of “the ground shifting beneath our feet and the wind at our backs.”

“This is a fight for the soul of our party and the future of our democracy,” she told reporters. “This is a disruptive candidacy, a grassroots coalition. It is broad and diverse and deep. People of every walk of life.”

For Pressley, as with many other ascendant candidates of color, unabashedly progressive credentials smoothed her path to victory in the primary. No Republicans were running, so only a write-in campaign in November could possibly stand between her and Washington.

She was endorsed by fellow congressional upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked off veteran Rep. Joe Crowley of New York in June. Pressley backs Medicare-for-all, the single-payer health care proposal, which helped her garner backing from Our Revolution, the offshoot of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Pressley called for defunding the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, which helped her draw support from Massachusetts’ popular attorney general, Maura Healey, who’s gained a national following for repeatedly suing President Donald Trump in an attempt to block his policies on immigration, gun control and other issues.

‘Be disruptive in our democracy’

“We have to be disruptive in our democracy and our policymaking and how we run and win elections,” she said in an interview this summer with The Associated Press, adding that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory challenged “narratives about who has a right to run and when, and who can win” in American politics.

“My mother did not raise me to ask for permission to lead,” she added.

Pressley tapped into growing cries within the Democratic Party for newer, more diverse leadership. She and Ocasio-Cortez both defeated older, white congressmen who were reliable liberal votes, but who didn’t look like many voters in their districts.

“With so much at stake in the era of Trump, tonight’s results make clear what Ayanna Pressley knew when she boldly launched her campaign against a 10-term incumbent: Change in the country and Congress can’t wait,” said Jim Dean, chair of the liberal group Democracy for America.

The district she’s competing in includes a wide swath of Boston and about half of Cambridge as well as portions of neighboring Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, Somerville and Milton. It includes both Cambridge’s Kendall Square, development there is booming, and the neighborhood of Roxbury, the center of Boston’s traditionally black community.

Pressley has bristled at the notion that race was a defining issue in her campaign.

“I have been really furious about the constant charges being lobbed against me about identity politics that, by the way, are only lobbed against women and candidates of color,” she said in one debate. “I happen to be black and a woman and unapologetically proud to be both, but that is not the totality of my identity.”

Massachusetts’ last Democratic primary upset came in 2014, when Seth Moulton defeated Rep. John Tierney in the state’s 6th Congressional District.

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Wild Blueberries Sing the Blues, With Industry in Decline

In the era of superfoods, Maine blueberries aren’t so super.

 

The Maine wild blueberry industry harvests one of the most beloved fruit crops in New England, but it’s locked in a downward skid in a time when other nutrition-packed foods, from acai to quinoa, dominate the conversation about how to eat. And questions linger about when, and if, the berry will be able to make a comeback.

 

The little blueberries are touted by health food bloggers and natural food stores because of their hefty dose of antioxidants. They’re also deeply ingrained in the culture of New England, and they were the inspiration for “Blueberries for Sal,” a beloved 1948 children’s book.​

But the industry that picks and sells them is dealing with a long-term price drop, drought, freezes, diseases and foreign competition, and farmers are looking at a second consecutive year of reduced crop size.

At Beech Hill Blueberry Farm in Rockport, this year’s harvest was off by about 50 percent, said Ian Stewart, who runs the land trust that manages the farm.

 

“Our year was a little underwhelming. There was a lot of drought. There was a freeze at a bad time,” Stewart said. “We’re hoping it’s a blip. We’ll see.”

North America’s wild blueberry industry exists only in Maine and Atlantic Canada, and an oversupply of berries in both places caused prices to harvesters to plummet around 2015. Recent years have brought new challenges, such as particularly bad spells of mummy berry disease, a fungal pathogen, and difficulty in opening up new markets.

 

The blueberries grow wild, as the name implies, in fields called “blueberry barrens” that stretch to the horizon in Maine’s rural Down East region. While the plumper cultivated blueberries harvested in states like New Jersey are planted and grown as crops, harvesters of wild blueberries tend to a naturally occurring fruit and pick it by hand and with machinery.

 

Woes in the industry have caused some growers to scale back operations in Maine. Harvesters collected a little less than 68 million pounds of wild blueberries in the state in 2017, which was the lowest total since 2005 and more than 33 million pounds less than 2016. Last year’s price of 26 cents per pound to farmers was also the lowest since 1985, and was more in line with the kind of prices farmers saw in the early 1970s than in the modern era.

This year’s harvest was mostly wrapped by late August, a little earlier than usual, and members of the industry said they believe it was another year of lower harvest. Exact totals aren’t available yet, but signs point to a crop that’s “similar to last year, or even smaller,” said Nancy McBrady, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

The industry has tried to focus on growing the appeal of the health aspects of wild blueberries, which are richer in antioxidants than their cultivated cousins, but it has been a slow climb, McBrady said.

 

“For years, the health message and the taste message of wild blueberries has been successful,” she said. “But it’s frustrating when we find ourselves in periods of oversupply and competition.”

 

Nearly 100 percent of the wild crop is frozen, and the berries are used in frozen and processed foods. Prices to consumers at farm stands and grocery stores have held about steady in the face of falling prices to harvesters.

 

The same berries are harvested in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and the weakness of the Canadian dollar has also hurt the U.S. industry because Canadian berries sell for less. Some companies operate on both sides of the border, and an equal exchange rate is better for business.

 

Such financial stress played a role in growers harvesting 5,000 fewer acres in the U.S. last year, said David Yarborough, a horticulture professor at the University of Maine. He said he expects a similar drop this year.

 

Other factors, such as poor pollination last year, have also held the crop back, Yarborough said. He stopped short of describing the industry as in full-blown crisis, but he said some smaller growers are in crisis mode.

The industry at large is hoping it doesn’t suffer too many more down years, said Homer Woodward, vice president of operations for Jasper Wyman & Son, a major industry player.

 

“I think the state of Maine is going to pick less pounds than last year. That’s the product of economic downturn,” said Woodward said. “And mother nature was cruel to us this year.”

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Wild Blueberries Sing the Blues, With Industry in Decline

In the era of superfoods, Maine blueberries aren’t so super.

 

The Maine wild blueberry industry harvests one of the most beloved fruit crops in New England, but it’s locked in a downward skid in a time when other nutrition-packed foods, from acai to quinoa, dominate the conversation about how to eat. And questions linger about when, and if, the berry will be able to make a comeback.

 

The little blueberries are touted by health food bloggers and natural food stores because of their hefty dose of antioxidants. They’re also deeply ingrained in the culture of New England, and they were the inspiration for “Blueberries for Sal,” a beloved 1948 children’s book.​

But the industry that picks and sells them is dealing with a long-term price drop, drought, freezes, diseases and foreign competition, and farmers are looking at a second consecutive year of reduced crop size.

At Beech Hill Blueberry Farm in Rockport, this year’s harvest was off by about 50 percent, said Ian Stewart, who runs the land trust that manages the farm.

 

“Our year was a little underwhelming. There was a lot of drought. There was a freeze at a bad time,” Stewart said. “We’re hoping it’s a blip. We’ll see.”

North America’s wild blueberry industry exists only in Maine and Atlantic Canada, and an oversupply of berries in both places caused prices to harvesters to plummet around 2015. Recent years have brought new challenges, such as particularly bad spells of mummy berry disease, a fungal pathogen, and difficulty in opening up new markets.

 

The blueberries grow wild, as the name implies, in fields called “blueberry barrens” that stretch to the horizon in Maine’s rural Down East region. While the plumper cultivated blueberries harvested in states like New Jersey are planted and grown as crops, harvesters of wild blueberries tend to a naturally occurring fruit and pick it by hand and with machinery.

 

Woes in the industry have caused some growers to scale back operations in Maine. Harvesters collected a little less than 68 million pounds of wild blueberries in the state in 2017, which was the lowest total since 2005 and more than 33 million pounds less than 2016. Last year’s price of 26 cents per pound to farmers was also the lowest since 1985, and was more in line with the kind of prices farmers saw in the early 1970s than in the modern era.

This year’s harvest was mostly wrapped by late August, a little earlier than usual, and members of the industry said they believe it was another year of lower harvest. Exact totals aren’t available yet, but signs point to a crop that’s “similar to last year, or even smaller,” said Nancy McBrady, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

The industry has tried to focus on growing the appeal of the health aspects of wild blueberries, which are richer in antioxidants than their cultivated cousins, but it has been a slow climb, McBrady said.

 

“For years, the health message and the taste message of wild blueberries has been successful,” she said. “But it’s frustrating when we find ourselves in periods of oversupply and competition.”

 

Nearly 100 percent of the wild crop is frozen, and the berries are used in frozen and processed foods. Prices to consumers at farm stands and grocery stores have held about steady in the face of falling prices to harvesters.

 

The same berries are harvested in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and the weakness of the Canadian dollar has also hurt the U.S. industry because Canadian berries sell for less. Some companies operate on both sides of the border, and an equal exchange rate is better for business.

 

Such financial stress played a role in growers harvesting 5,000 fewer acres in the U.S. last year, said David Yarborough, a horticulture professor at the University of Maine. He said he expects a similar drop this year.

 

Other factors, such as poor pollination last year, have also held the crop back, Yarborough said. He stopped short of describing the industry as in full-blown crisis, but he said some smaller growers are in crisis mode.

The industry at large is hoping it doesn’t suffer too many more down years, said Homer Woodward, vice president of operations for Jasper Wyman & Son, a major industry player.

 

“I think the state of Maine is going to pick less pounds than last year. That’s the product of economic downturn,” said Woodward said. “And mother nature was cruel to us this year.”

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