President Joe Biden has been presented with a menu of options for the U.S. to carry out massive cyberattacks designed to disrupt Russia’s ability to sustain its military operations in Ukraine, four people familiar with the deliberations tell NBC News.
Two U.S. intelligence officials, one Western intelligence official and another person briefed on the matter say no final decisions have been made, but they say U.S. intelligence and military cyber warriors are proposing the use of American cyber weapons on a scale never before contemplated. Among the options: Disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, shutting off electric power, and tampering with railroad switches to hamper Russia’s ability to re-supply its forces, three of the sources said.
“You could do everything from slow the trains down to have them fall off the tracks,” one person briefed on the matter said.
The sources said the options presented include preemptive responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, irrespective of whether Russian launches its own cyber attacks on the U.S. in retaliation for sanctions. They said most of the potential cyberattacks under consideration are designed to disrupt but not destroy, and therefore fall short of an act of war by the United States against Russia. They say the idea is to harm networks, not people. Officials are debating the legal authorities under which the attacks would take place — whether they would be covert action or clandestine military activity. Either way, the U.S. would not publicly acknowledge carrying out the operations, the sources say. U.S. Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, the CIA and other agencies would have a role to play in the operations, the sources said.
“Our response will be harsh and measured, but not so severe as to encourage Putin to take more drastic steps,” one U.S. official said.
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