Russia Is Back, Wilier Than Ever — and It’s Not Alone

Russia Is Back, Wilier Than Ever — and It’s Not Alone

PERSPECTIVE: Russia’s U.S. helpersRussia Is Back, Wilier Than Ever — and It’s Not Alone


Published 15 September 2020

Moscow’s hacking and disinformation tactics have evolved since 2016, while Americans help spread doubts about the November election. Russian operatives are using a sneakier, more sophisticated version of their 2016 playbook to undermine the November election — and this time, Mark Scott writes, groups inside and outside the U.S. are furthering their goal of sowing chaos.



Moscow’s hacking and disinformation tactics have evolved since 2016, while Americans help spread doubts about the November election. Russian operatives are using a sneakier, more sophisticated version of their 2016 playbook to undermine the November election — and this time, Mark Scott writes in Politico, groups inside and outside the U.S. are furthering their goal of sowing chaos.


Scott notes that Kremlin-backed operatives are flooding social media with fake accounts and stoking racial divisions around topics like Black Lives Matter. Articles in state-owned Russian media with millions of U.S. readers online seek to dampen Joe Biden’s appeal among progressives and echo President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims about voting fraud.


At the same time, Microsoft said last week, Russian state-backed hackers are waging cyberattacks against political parties, campaigns, consultants, and others tied to the U.S. elections — using more elaborate deceptions than in 2016,.


Scott writes:


[M]isinformation experts and national security officials say Moscow is again targeting the same voters as in both the 2016 presidential race and 2018 midterm elections.


The goal: to suppress turnout among disaffected Democratic voters and galvanize Trump supporters to head to the polls.


Experts note that Russia’s efforts are helped by the embrace by more and more American of a variety of conspiracy theories, many of them pushed by President Trump to his 85 million Twitter followers:


And the biggest threat this year may be Americans themselves. Many have embraced a deluge of fringe ideas and misinformation to a degree that may dwarf those foreign efforts. Extremists in the U.S. have adopted much of Moscow’s online strategy, including creating fake online personas to pump out falsehoods. Case in point: The QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges a plot by elite pedophiles and the “deepstate” to overthrow Trump, has gone so mainstream it’s poised to send adherents to Congress.


Trump has been pushing a false narrative that this year’s most potent election threat comes from China, but Intelligence officials have told Politico that no evidence backs up those claims. Under blunt questioning at a congressional hearing,


Trump’s top counterintelligence official, William Evanina, has agreed that Moscow is seeking to attack the election. He told lawmakers last month that Russia aims to “denigrate” Biden “and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.” Those efforts — plus influence campaigns by China and Iran — are “a direct threat to the fabric of our democracy,” he said in an earlier statement.


….


Ten U.S. and international national security officials, misinformation experts and tech executives who spoke to Politico said their major concerns include a hack of either campaign coming to light only days before Nov. 3. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss national security matters.


That would mirror not only the months of anti-Clinton leaks from 2016, but also the run-up to France’s 2017 presidential election, when Russian hackers released reams of internal documents from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.

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