What sorts of things could Trump do? Richard Clarke, the cyber and counterterrorism chief for Presidents Clinton and (briefly) George W. Bush, recently said he would “fry” the computers of the Russians—especially those close to Putin—who launched the attacks. The proposal raised eyebrows because, in his 2010 book, Cyber War, Clarke warned against strategies relying on cyber-offensive operations, noting that they could spark retaliatory strikes, which would hurt us more because the United States is more dependent on computer networks—and, therefore, more vulnerable to cyberattacks—than other countries.
I asked Clarke whether he’s changed his mind on the broad point in the past decade. He said he hasn’t, but added, “I really don’t think shutting down Putin’s chef”—the nickname of Yevgeny Prigozhin, identified as the main backer of Russia’s “troll factory” in Robert Mueller’s recent indictment—“is going to set off a cyberwar.”
A possible parallel is the Shamoon virus, which Iranian computer scientists created in 2012 as a response to a U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s oil ministry (which itself was a follow-up to Stuxnet). Shamoon wiped out every hard drive in every work station at Saudi Aramco, the joint U.S.–Saudi Arabian oil company—about 30,000 hard drives, in all—and planted on every one of its computer monitors the image of a burning American flag. The Iranians didn’t aim the malware at Aramco’s oil-drilling business, but the message was clear: They could aim it that way if they wanted to.