A new report from the Washington Post examines the long-range goals of Russia’s information warfare. Although the Mueller investigations are focused on the specific ways that Russia meddled to ensure Trump took the White House, that’s just one part of a Russia’s wider disruptive plans. Sabotaging Hillary Clinton may not have even been the primary goal of this cyber war with the ultimate end goal to re-establish Russia as a great power.
“The Kremlin’s aim is to sow perpetual discord in governments and populations, beyond just one election cycle.”
Russia will continue using overt strategies that we have become familiar with: Spreading propaganda on social media, for example. They will also employ much more sinister covert tactics “such as contracting organized crime to commit atrocities to create fear in unsuspecting populations.”
Cyber-warfare is a way to push back against perceived threats from the West, which the Post identifies as chiefly “NATO expansion,” and “Western incursions into post-Soviet space.”
Seeing Trump win the White House was shocking to all, probably even Trump himself, but even if Hillary had won, Russia’s overall goals would have remained the same: “To spread division, exacerbate any conflict possible, and ultimately destabilize the political system and erode trust in the government and institutions.”
So what can America do at this point, as we head into the midterms?
Even though Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson acknowledges that Russia will interfere in our elections again, he reportedly squandered millions of dollars that were available for the purpose of combatting the Russian cyber interference.
Trump himself almost seems to invite more interference, but the Post suggest that Russia’s goals could just as easily be to help the Democrats in the next round of cyber warfare. Admittedly, that seems far-fetched, given how valuable Trump himself has been towards Kremlin goals of destabilizing America.
It seems we have very little time to brace ourselves for the next round of Russian attacks. Even if we can’t rely on our government, Facebook or Twitter to effectively combat the pervasive problem, the most effective solution certainly includes recognizing Russia’s tactics and becoming better informed ourselves.
The Post suggests cultivating more trust in government through transparency could go a long way:
“Boosting government transparency and ensuring stability in institutions also could be proactive policy steps, and this would mean fewer opportunities to divide populations on issues.”
Unfortunately, once again, it seems that Trump has done more damage than Russia could have ever hoped to inflict in that area. He has appointed people for the specific goal of undermining the institutions they represent. He has sown discord and waged culture wars to divide Americans and create historically low trust in our government. It’s as if he took Russia’s playbook and ran with it.
It seems trusting today’s Republicans or Trump to help us in this area may be naive.
Michael McFaul, former United States Ambassador to Russia suggests concrete ways to strengthen America’s cybersecurity, including new government regulations and deterrents, and better information for American to identify content from the Kremlin.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) September 28, 2017
McFaul suggests outlawing the purchase of advertisements by foreign actors meant to influence our elections, registering those foreign agents through the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and punishing Americans who colluded with Russia or other foreign actors. That would certainly include Trump, if the Mueller investigation makes that determination.
Until “we can find out what the hell is going on,” as Trump would say, McFaul suggests that paper ballots should be required in the mid-terms:
“Until security and confidence are enhanced, every state also must collect paper ballots to back up electronic vote counts,” says McFaul.
More than this, if America is to regain trust in our government, they must become active participants in making that happen. They have to remember their responsibility to democracy.
Americans must show up in droves to vote for representatives who uphold a responsibility to serve the people again. They must send people to Washington who seek to restore credibility and ethics. They must also refuse to be divided by disinformation and hateful politics and/or Russian propaganda.
In short: We must focus and refuse to be divided by Russia, Trump, or anyone else.
For more, see how Trump fought the intelligence on Russia, leaving election threats unchecked:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube