Joe Biden hands Putin a target list

As Barack Obama once said of Joe Biden: "Don't underestimate Joe's ability to f--- things up."

That brings us to yesterday's Russia-U.S. bilateral summit in Geneva, and Biden doing what comes naturally.

According to the Washington Examiner:

President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure "entities" that must be "off-limits" to cyberattacks and hinted at major retaliation from the United States should Russia allow continued malign activity in the sphere.

Biden, speaking ahead of his press conference following a slate of bilateral meetings with Putin and Russian officials, claimed the topic of cybersecurity was included in a discussion on establishing a "mechanism" for "strategic stability."

"I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off-limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means," the president stated. "I gave them a list, and I don't have it in front of me, if I am not mistaken, of 16 entities — 16 defined as critical infrastructure, from the energy sector to our water systems."

It was lunacy.  Who hands a "killer" as Joe said earlier, or even a "worthy adversary" as our commander-in-chief said later, a "do not attack list," as if Putin would heed it with only the best of intentions?

Problems galore stand out with that approach, and they're all doozies.

First, Biden is giving Putin a "do not attack" list, informing Russia of where the U.S.'s worst vulnerabilities are.  It's pretty much a target list, a declaration of America's biggest fears.  That's pretty valuable intelligence for any "worthy adversary."  That's information that spies pay big dollars for to their agents to get, and here Joe Biden just handed it to them without making them shell out.  Scott Johnson at Power Line has the list of 16 from Biden's "do not attack" list here

Second, it's also very naïve.  Tell Putin where it hurts, Joe, and Putin will stay away, seems to be the logic.  That's pretty comparable to Biden's announcing a U.S. pullout date in Afghanistan, offering the Taliban a convenient date for calculating a response.  Our enemies thrive on such certainty.  Yet here Joe goes, handing Putin a list of where it hurts most, and trusting in his good offices to refrain from cyber-attacks, based on a threat of retaliation.

Third, Biden seems to be saying that while 16 American industries, such as water and power and 14 others are all off limits to cyber-attacks, pretty much everything else is perfectly acceptable.  No consequences for attacks on a retailer or a baseball team or anything one can anticipate didn't make the top-16 list, it seems — that's the implication.  Picking and choosing who can't be a target and who can is not going to instill confidence in the American economy, even assuming that Putin does heed the Biden command.

Fourth, with the list of 16 in hand, it's only a matter of time before the list starts to leak out.  Yes, it's already public, but Biden highlighted its importance. Biden has already cited water and energy as two targets off limits to Putin to cyber-attacks.  That's sent a message to the world's hackers as well as China and North Korea to get busy, because if Biden doesn't want these targets attacked, then all the better to attack them.  That's the logic of hackers and sovereign enemies, and they're not all Putin. 

Two other issues muddle the picture, and they're problematic, too.

First, does Putin control the hackers?  If so, he's got a list of targets for attack now, but if not, then the list is worthless because the hackers operate outside his control.

Putin, in fact, is still denying that he controls Russia's cyber-hacker rings that have already targeted a U.S. energy pipeline in the South and the U.S. meat industry in the recent past, which makes him hard to work with.  Any attack at all is going to be denied, merited or not, so you can bet the 16 will be breached.  Yet the question remains: does Putin control these people, or does he not?  Does Putin control hackers in some place like Belarus, or North Macedonia, which is also where such attacks could originate?  Does Putin control them in China?  Seems we need some "root causes" here, as Kamala Harris likes to say before we can go farther.

Does the U.S. have flawless intelligence on who is doing it?  If so, why isn't the U.S. acting to stop just the culprits?  It seems overly broad to blame a whole country for the actions of a few criminals and take hell-to-pay retaliation.  It has a high potential for trouble, given that all of these attacks have happened undercover with complete deniability.  It seems like a lot to threaten when the provenance of such attacks remains unclear. 

Second, are Biden's threats even going to scare Putin?  We also already know that even with a smoking gun on the matter of China and its creation of COVID in a Wuhan lab, Joe doesn't seem to be willing to take action.  We also know that the U.S. sometimes gets faulty intelligence, as happened in the case of Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.  Biden's now vowing massive retaliation on Russia for any cyber-breach, verified or not verified, yet then said: "We'll find out whether we have a cyber-security arrangement that begins to bring some order," according to the Washington Examiner.  Will that be before or after the boots on the ground and the flattening of cities, Joe?

It's obvious that the threats Biden is vowing are largely going to be read as toothless by Putin if that's what his plan is.  It's unrealistic.  And not only does it call to mind Obama's profane statement about Biden, but it also recalls former CIA director Bob Gates's statement — that Biden has been "wrong on nearly every foreign policy front."

He's beneath his office with this foolish list.  And he's rapidly moving into the ranks of America's worst presidents.

Image: Screen shot from a camera aimed at a television set during a broadcast, filtered with FotoSketcher.

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