Russia’s US election hacking / information war campaign

by Chris Zappone

This is a big deal: the Russians are possibly trying to manipulate the outcome of the US election using a combination of hacking and information war. Whether they will have any success is another matter. But that they are doing this, is not open to debate, as this story shows. The story was published the same day it emerged publicly that Russians hackers had hacked the DNC.

Two short quotes.

From a Clinton spokesman: “What appears evident is that the Russian groups responsible for the DNC hack are intent on attempting to influence the outcome of this election.”

Sure, Russia fears a Hillary Clinton presidency. After all, Clinton was behind the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, an event that has sent chills up the spine of Russia’s leader, Clinton is a former secretary of state, well-acquainted with geopolitical realities. Clinton, a child of the Cold War, wouldn’t probably flinch at countering Vlad through Eastern Europe – and beyond. Plus Putin would probably find dealing with a really powerful woman in the White House a challenge.

The Russian end goal, according to one ex-NSA voice, isn’t necessarily to pick sides in the US election but to weaken them all. From Bloomberg:

Russia uses sophisticated “information operations” to advance foreign policy, and the target audience for this kind of mission wouldn’t be U.S. voters or even U.S. politicians, said Brendan Conlon, who once led a National Security Agency hacking unit.

“Why would Russia go to this trouble? Simple answer — because it met their foreign policy objectives, to weaken the U.S. in the eyes of our allies and adversaries,” said Conlon, now CEO of Vahna Inc., a cyber security firm in Washington. Publishing the DNC report on Trump “weakens both candidates — lists out all the weaknesses of Trump specifically while highlighting weaknesses of Clinton’s security issues. The end result is a weaker president once elected.”

There is a long history to this strategy.

It goes back at least as far as Russia’s success in converting the Sacco and Vanzetti murder case from a local crime to a show trial to demonstrate America’s fear and loathing for the foreign-born proletariat.In it’s day, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial was an issue any thinking, caring person had to have an opinion on. And likely a strong one. To this day, the Sacco and Vanzetti are remembered as martyrs, even if the reality may have been quite a bit different.

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Today I suppose Putin’s support for Trump may be more about trying to strengthen a particularly weak and offensive candidate in order to make the US campaign more extreme than it genuinely should be. I’ve heard that the Russian perception of the US, at least during the Cold War, was so vastly distorted there was a tendency for Russians to misjudge the efforts their propaganda would actually have. And that may be happening too, as Trump is forcing a needed crisis within the Republican Party [paywall].

In any case, Russia is helping make this the first US election in which a foreign power is actively using online information war techniques to try to influence it. And that’s a Big Effin’ Deal.