White House Requests Billions In Tech Aid For Ukraine

  • Part Of US$10B Legislative Package Providing Economic, Cyber, Humanitarian Aid

By Dan Gunderman (dangun127)

As the ground war in Ukraine intensifies, US and NATO officials are increasingly looking to sharpen their sanctions and rhetoric against Moscow, and cybersecurity has proven a pivotal part of the discussion. The Biden administration is now requesting US$10 billion in emergency funds to address Russia’s campaign, with sizeable pots for cybersecurity. Officials say it will help curb the global impact of the Kremlin’s campaign.

While the request also entails US$22.5 billion in COVID-19-related funding, Ukrainian and allied cyber defense is a key component.

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense, which is requesting a total of US$4.8 billion, including aid for US troop deployments to neighboring NATO countries, is also requesting US$1.25 billion for cybersecurity, intelligence and defense support. The funds, administration officials say, would support “operational surges across multiple national defense components, including accelerated cyber capabilities.”

State Department

The US Department of State, requesting some US$5 billion in related funds, aims to bolster US security and economic assistance to Ukraine as well as regional allies. A request for US$1.75 billion, officials say, will help ensure “continuity of government” in Ukraine, along with financial aid for services, including cybersecurity.

The Office of Management and Budget document reads: “Resilience efforts could include assistance for countries to counter disinformation/propaganda narratives, provide support for their public messaging and engagement, support activists, journalists, and independent media, and promote accountability for Russian human rights violations.”

The requests come amid Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s public appearance at the Poland-Ukraine border over the weekend. Blinken appeared alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and called the campaign “Russia’s war of choice” – pledging additional US support.

Commerce and Energy Departments

The Department of Commerce is requesting US$21 million for its Bureau of Industry and Security, including “resources for increased enforcement efforts; analysis of chokepoints for Russian economic/trade vulnerabilities,” and “technological infrastructure and information sharing platforms [for] allies and partners.”

US$30 million earmarked for the Department of Energy would also support the integration of Ukraine’s electric grid with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, since the country’s grid now operates in isolation. The DOE, the document states, “will leverage the expertise in the National Laboratory system to aid in modeling and analytics, cybersecurity, synchronization, and other assistance ahead of a Ukraine – ENTSO-E interconnection.”

Department of Justice

Pegging its emergency funding to the recently announced KleptoCapture task force targeting the luxury items and illicit dealings of Russian oligarchs, the Department of Justice has requested US$59 million, saying funds earmarked for Klepto would help enforce “sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and other economic countermeasures.” Some US$40.2 million would support cyber, counterintelligence, and cryptocurrency tools for the FBI, the administration says; and US$10.8 million would support task force efforts to “bring sanction evaders and cybercriminals to justice.”

Additionally, US$5 million in DOJ funds would expand the US  Attorneys’ offices capacity to prosecute sanctions violators and develop data analytics for sanctions cases.

Treasury’s Proposal

Per the OMB document, the Department of the Treasury is also seeking US$91 million. Some US$25 million would provide more policy, sanction, economic analysis and intelligence support to the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The funds would also support secure and unclassified facilities, IT, and secure communications for Russia-focused personnel.

Of the Treasury’s sum, another US$30 million would be provided to the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations unit to trace “traditional and nontraditional” financial activities associated with recent Russian actions, including digital asset tracing.

The latter comes amid fears that a hobbled Russian economy might drive the Kremlin to avoid dependence on foreign currency by pushing bulk cryptocurrency transactions.

The department seeks to put US$17 million toward dozens of new KleptoCapture policy positions, the monitoring of sanctions’ impacts on global economies, and cybersecurity enhancements to protect Treasury’s systems from targeted attacks.

And US$19 million for Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, would support its Bank Secrecy Act mission that it says is “critical” for carrying out targeted financial measures against Russia.

The funds would provide FinCEN with resources for technology – including secure networks and infrastructure, due in part to increased demand for collaboration with law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community. The funds would also ensure that FinCEN is able to respond to “attempted disruption or penetration of the BSA database’s highly sensitive financial data.”

Funding Prospects

While Democratic lawmakers are hoping for swift passage of the Ukrainian aid, it is the subject of debate on Capitol Hill, since an even larger portion of the omnibus bill entails additional COVID-19 spending, which some Republicans have resisted.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter written March 7, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “This is an important week as the US remains strong and ready to face the immense challenges of our time. The president’s leadership has rallied the democracies of the world in a way not seen since World War II, and we stand unified with the people of Ukraine and against the immoral invasion by Putin.”

He continued: “We have been working on a bipartisan, bicameral basis through the weekend to finish work on an omnibus package that includes robust assistance to the people and government of Ukraine. … Democrats have made a reasonable global offer to Republicans and it is my hope that we will reach an agreement very soon so that we can meet the March 11 government funding deadline.”

In a similar letter, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote: “The US remains ironclad in our commitment to the Ukrainian people and in unity with our allies. For that purpose, the Biden administration has requested US$10 billion in humanitarian, military and economic support for Ukraine. The Congress intends to enact this emergency funding this week as part of our omnibus government funding legislation.”

Cyber Activity

US lawmakers are moving with urgency as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested additional aid from Western allies – which have stopped short of standing up a no-fly zone, saying any takedown of Russian aircraft could instigate global conflict.

Meanwhile, some members of the hacking underground have remained steadfast in opposition to Russia’s advances. The international hacking collective Anonymous has targeted Russian ministries and state media agencies with DDoS attacks, reported data leaks and defacement efforts, while Ukraine’s “IT Army,” a unit of volunteer hackers, is now reportedly 400,000 strong, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Such clandestine activity also increases the chances of a cyberattack spilling over to the networks of NATO allies.

Still, nearly two weeks into the war, the stakes continue to rise. On Friday, the Russians shelled a nuclear power station in Ukraine, leading to a fire at a training facility located at the site. Officials say no radiation appears to have leaked. The watchdog organization NetBlocks later said the facility had been disconnected from mobile network and internet connections, a violation which was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Last week, the Ukrainian government requested that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, suspend the Russian domain “.ru,” which was rejected.


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