Is Russia at War with the West, and Are We Losing It?

Here’s an article from the Lawfare website that discusses Russia’s interference in our recent election and the way they seem to be attempting to interfere with upcoming elections in Western European countries. The article is part of an collection of information that I’ve been gathering, which has been pointing me to notion that Russia is at war with the Western democracies–or just democracies, period. In this thread, I want to “think out loud” about this topic, making this, like many other threads, a repository of notes and ideas, using this as a way to examine and formulate my thoughts. Let’s start with the following:

What I Mean by War?

Actually, let me start by what I don’t mean. I’m not talking about a military conflict–not in a conventional sense–and, really, while the military (intelligence agencies) may be involved, ultimately, this isn’t a military battle.

What kind of battle is it? This is where things get a little weird. My sense is that this is almost a battle about ideas, and a battle that is conceptual, not physical. The battlefield exists in the ether, not in three-dimensional space. The ether, here, specifically, is the “place” where public discourse occurs.* The nature of the battle involves objectives like turning the ether of public discourse into a post-truth environment, an environment were ideas, opinions, and even facts are seen as relative; where consensus by political leaders and citizens are next to impossible. If this occurs, democracy can’t function–and that’s the larger objective for Putin.

What Does Putin Gain from This?

Several things:

1. A dysfunctional democratic country will be less able to stop Putin (and other autocrats);
2. A dysfunctional democratic country can curtail the spread of democratic principles to other countries. More countries that see democracy as desirable leads to pressure and restrictions on autocrats like Putin. If people don’t want democracy, or don’t feel like it can work, then that removes a threat from autocrats.
3. A dysfunctional democratic country becomes ripe for an authoritarian ruler to take power. Chaos provides the conditions that lead to people demanding an autocratic ruler that promises to provide law and order.

The War is Between Liberal-democrats and Authoritarians/Ethno-nationalsts

Here’s an important point: the conventional dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats/Conservatives and Liberals don’t apply. Both sides agree and support a constitutional government, rule of law, etc. The areas of dispute usually involve the role of government versus the role of the free-market, and balancing the interests of the larger society with the interests of the individuals within a liberal democracy.

But this war is actually between supporters of a liberal democracy/constitutional government and those who support an authoritarian regime. (I’ll get to the ethno-nationalistic element later.) This is an important to recognize because conservatives and liberals who support a constitutional democracy need to put aside their differences and join to fight against the push for authoritarianism. I don’t think enough Democrats and Republicans are doing this right now. They have a common enemy–namely, autocrats like Putin–and the threat is very real.

Also, the sense I get is that we’re losing this war.

The Nature of Defense and Offense in This War

For defense: the press, news dissemination sites like FB and google, electoral processes (e.g., voting machines). In this war, making these things function well and making them robust and trustworthy are national security issues.

For offense: a variety of ways to retaliate against those who attack us in the way above. (I don’t really have a lot of ideas about that now.)

*Endnote: What Exactly Do I Mean by “the Ether?” Where Exactly Does Public Discourse “Occur?”

Political commentators and journalists will sometimes refer to a “national conversation.” What exactly is that? Where does it take place? The citizens that make up the entire nation can’t literally talk to one another, in the way that a small group of people can. The location of this discussion doesn’t exist in physical location and maybe it doesn’t exist in time? And yet it exists. Journalists, researchers, authors of books, politicians, and even citizens can contribute ideas–and there is a kind of discussion that occurs, with these participants responding to–either positively or negatively to previously expressed ideas and positions.

But there are certain widely accepted rules and principles that underpin this discussion. For example, persuasive opinions are backed up by facts and logic; knowledge and experience can add more weight to an argument, etc. What an autocrat like Putin is doing is attacking these rules and principles. The goal is to create a situation where facts are not important or can’t be known; lies and conspiracy theories become almost as valid and legitimate as statements that are grounded in facts and logic. If this happens, political discourse becomes meaningless–citizens become confused and demoralized and then they give up. The democracy and government becomes dysfunctional and ineffective. (Note: Perhaps, the ether angle was unnecessarily complex and abstract.)

One last thing: in a way this is a war for philosophers. I wonder if they’re speaking out about this.

Edit: Good sites for this topic

Window on Eurasia by Paul Golbe recommended by Larry Diamond, foreign policy expert.

Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA): Information Warfare Initiative (Inforwar for short, I think)

Russia Matters (A site about Russia in general, recommended by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, 1/24/2017)

97 Responses to “Is Russia at War with the West, and Are We Losing It?”

  1. Reid

    Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy by Larry Diamond (appearing at The Atlantic).

    I’ll have to read that later, but I wanted to make one point: Russia never seemed like a threat, even if Putin were an autocrat (and I didn’t really think he’d use military force, which might be wrong), because I believed and took for granted that liberal democracies and capitalist economies, as ideas, were superior to anything else out there. Leaders that opposed both would struggle to maintain control–and their societies overall, wouldn’t be very successful. The people in those societies wouldn’t be happy, either–they’d eventually want something more, especially when they look at Western countries. (And I don’t mean to imply that Western countries–specifically, the democratic governments and capitalist economies–don’t have serious deficiencies and problems as well–they definitely do.)

    I still feel this way…however, there’s a scenario where the situation isn’t so optimistic. In that scenario, Western societies allow a post-truth information landscape to dominate, their democracies become dysfunctional, and maybe they become destabilized because of significant demographic shifts (e.g., dramatic changes in ethnic make up, etc.). In this scenario, the liberal democracies may be too weak to stop autocrats; the people in non-liberal democracies may start thinking that liberal democracies aren’t desirable. And maybe these liberal democracies get taken over by authoritarians themselves.

    If the West is going to lose to authoritarian states, this is a plausible way of it happening in my opinion.

  2. Reid

    On Putin Russian Leader is Neither a Realist Nor a Nationalist

    This Times article covers various tactics that Russian government uses to smear and attack enemies.

  3. Reid
  4. Reid

    This NYT articles reports that the Russians hacked into the Republican National Convention as well. If you read the NYT article about the way Russians smear and attack enemies, the news that Russians hacked the RNC is quite disturbing. The Russians are known for a tactic called “kompromat” (which I never really knew about). Basically, it’s blackmail. The KGB would find or try to create fake compromising information/videos and use it to blackmail or discredit enemies. Could they have used this technique on the RNC or Trump? Suppose they got Trump’s tax records or some other damning evidence? And then look at Trump’s behavior with regard to Putin. Recently, the Trump team made an announcement about questioning the credibility of the recent CIA report, without really providing any evidence for doing so.

  5. Reid

    Eli Lake recommends something Obama can do to retaliate.

    In October, retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News: “It’s well known that there’s a great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs. … It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen.”


    The effect of a disclosure by the Obama administration though would be apparent in the West. Putin may not care whether his citizens know how corrupt he is. But I bet his Western bankers and business partners do. Fiona Hill, a senior fellow and Russia expert at the Brookings Institution, told me Monday: “The one thing about revealing this information is that it would stigmatize his wealth. This is shining a spotlight on him and his allies.”

  6. Reid
  7. Reid

    I wanted to comment on a quote from this NYT article:

    “When Ray and I say that corruption is an equilibrium, what it really means is that institutions are only strong when you believe in them,” said Miriam Golden, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wrote a new book on corruption with Professor Fisman. “I don’t want to say that our institutions only exist in our minds, but really that’s true. What is the rule of law except that we ultimately believe that we ought to follow certain rules?”

    But in corrupt systems that belief is often missing, because the institutions that are supposed to provide accountability are often weakened through bribery, threats, and other illicit means.

    What I’m learning is that these institutions can be weakened in other ways–e.g., constant messages that the press is biased and therefore untrustworthy. People like Trump saying that these institutions are rigged, without any basis for doing so. Also, a country like Russia could attack those institutions. One fear: Russia could hack into these institutions–planting fake information to discredit the institutions or even obtain information to blackmail them. The result would be that these institutions would be weakened, and as a result politicians will be able to get away with murder (literally) and lies.

    I’m getting the sense we don’t really understand the extent to which we rely on these institutions for holding politicians accountable; and also being able to make collective decisions.

  8. Reid

    Understanding Russia’s Spywar. If you like spy novels, this is real life version (if true)–except we (and Obama) come out on the wrong end. If it’s true, though, we need to address the hard truths of this right away.

  9. Reid

    Germany Sees a Rise in Russian Propoganda, Cyberattacks.

    They’ve got an upcoming election. Some national security made a point: whatever Obama did to penalize Russia regarding their interference, didn’t work. I agree with that.

  10. Reid

    Why Exactly is Russia Such a Threat?

    I don’t know if anyone is reading this, or if anyone is reading this, I’m not sure if they understand exactly why or how Russia can be a threat. To me, it seems pretty clear, although maybe I have the wrong information. I’m going to briefly try and explain this, because I think it’s something that is very important, and I see very little discussion about this.

    Let’s get something out of the way first. The threat is not conventional. In 2012, Romney named Russia as one of the biggest geopolitical threats, citing their military and diplomatic actions on the world stage. Obama made light of this, and, if we’re talking about military, economy, or diplomacy, I would agree with this reaction.

    The problem involves Russian espionage and propaganda. But here’s the thing. I suspect that wouldn’t have been a big deal until recently–when more and more people relied on the internet, including social media and adopting wireless technology. These developments relating to technology has made Western democracies highly vulnerable to Russian espionage and propaganda a threat.

    Why? I’ll mention two things:

    1. They’ve weakened the press–both in terms of the press’s authority and finances;

    2. The internet has also undermined and weakened the prestige and authority of elites, experts, and gatekeepers. I’m not 100% sure on this, but my sense is this has happened, and it has happened because people no longer depend on elites, experts, and gatekeepers. The internet given the power to bypass them–not such much in their every day life–but in the world of politics. What I mean is that if my car breaks down or I get sick, I’m still going to rely on experts to help me (although even here, with a DIY ethos that’s prevalent, maybe less than in the past). But in terms of political opinions and matters involving political solutions–I can choose to ignore experts, elite, and gatekeepers, without much consequence…well, seeing the consequences might be a lot harder. If this is true, this is precisely what makes Russian espionage and propaganda so potentially devastating.

    Is the threat clear? If not, I’ll try to explain later.

  11. Reid

    More on How the Internet, Social Media, etc. Has Made Western Democracies More Vulnerable to Russian Propaganda and Espionage

    3. The internet has allowed hostile actors to get information from key institutions and individuals. From what I understand, the Russians will also plant or alter information to discredit or blackmail (kompromat) these individuals and institutions.


    Now, if the credibility of institutions like the press, economic agencies, etc., is weakened, then knowing what is real and important regarding political issues and problems becomes extremely difficult. We all rely on these institutions to identify consensus about these problems–but we’re uncertain about the reliability of these institutions–if we mistrust them–then we can’t form consensus over solving problems.

    This can lead to confusion, frustration, and hopelessness. People give up trying to understand what’s true or real in politics. And my sense is that a lot of people already feel that way.

    Now add to this people who openly attack these institutions–Conservative talk show hosts who aggressively attack the media or countries like Russia who promote false stories–and you create even more confusion and distrust is enhanced. This can really weaken our nation–and it also opens the door for an authoritarian.

    Why? Well, people will get tired of the dysfunction and they’ll want someone to fix this.

    Now, imagine if we racial tensions escalate into riots or a terrorist attack occurs. More people will be open to an authoritarian ruler.

    And if the institutions and gatekeepers that help us know what is real and true, in the realm of politics, are weakened, then the people will have a hard time holding the authoritarian accountable.

    Here’s one thing that’s important to take away: people who keep making baseless attacks on key democratic institutions (like the press, or electoral process) are actually weakening our country significantly. They’re actually aiding Russia in their war against Western Democracies.

    People who support our form of government have to fight against this–strongly repudiating baseless attacks on these institutions. We also have to strengthen these institutions. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about being pro-liberal democracy.

  12. Reid

    Larry Diamond’s Atlantic article that I linked above gives a solid and relatively quick overview of the threat Putin poses. I guess if you chose one thing to read about the situation, this wouldn’t be a bad pick.

    Here are some quotes from the article:

    Putin has been desperate to get out from under these sanctions so that his regime can thrive domestically and internationally. His goals appear to be twofold. First, he seeks to restore some form of Russian empire—with at least informal dominion over all the territories of the former Soviet Union—while forcing the West to accept this new balance of power and treat Russia as a superpower once again. Second, he seeks to invert Woodrow Wilson’s famous call to arms and instead “make the world safe for autocracy.” Democracy is his enemy. He is smart enough to know that he cannot undermine it everywhere, but he will subvert, corrupt, and confuse it wherever he can.

    The greatest danger, however, is not what is happening in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. It is the alarming decay of liberal democracy in Europe and the United States, accelerated by escalating Russian efforts at subversion. Putin’s forces are on such a roll that they can no longer contain their glee. One pro-Putin Russian governor recently declared in a radio interview, “It turns out that United Russia [Putin’s political party] won the elections in America.”

    The most urgent foreign-policy question now is how America will respond to the mounting threat that Putin’s Russia poses to freedom and its most important anchor, the Western alliance. Nothing will more profoundly shape the kind of world we live in than how the Trump administration responds to that challenge.

    If that last sentence is true (and I tend to think it is)–if the American people understood this–how could they support Trump, given all the red flags?

  13. Reid

    A little more specifics on how Russia will attempt to interfere with the upcoming German election

  14. Reid

    This International Business Magazine article focuses on the intelligence agency in Algeria–the DRS (an acronym for agencie’s French name). The article mentions how an Islamic group, the GIA (Groupe Isamlique Arme), opposing the Algerian government may have actually been taken over by the DRS:

    John R. Schindler, professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, wrote explicitly in National Interest: “Simply put, GIA was the creation of the DRS.”

    Schindler explained that by learning methods of intelligence and counter-espionage from the Soviet KGB, DRS formed groups like GIA to create the largely false impression that Islamic extremists posed a threat to the country’s stability and security — thereby justifying the intelligence network’s very existence.

    Why is this relevant? In a tweet today, Schindler claimed that there is “good evidence” that Syrian intelligence has penetrated and perhaps now manipulating ISIS. Schindler also claims that Syrian intelligence is trained in “provokatsiya.” From Schindler’s website:

    Provokatsiya simply means taking control of your enemies in secret and encouraging them to do things that discredit them and help you. You plant your own agents provocateurs and flip legitimate activists, turning them to your side. When you’re dealing with extremists to start with, getting them to do crazy, self-defeating things isn’t often difficult. In some cases, you simply create extremists and terrorists where they don’t exist. This is causing problems in order to solve them, and since the Tsarist period, Russian intelligence has been known to do just that.

    What does this mean? Does this mean that Putin via Syria is now manipulating ISIS–to, for example, help create the impression that Putin and Assad are now fighting ISIS? To what extent is Syria/Russia controlling ISIS, if this is even the case? I have no idea. I also have no idea weight to give these claims. I don’t have reason to doubt Schindler (whom I’ve been following on twitter), but he’s just one guy. I’d like to get more experts to confirm this view. Still, at the very least, I’m opening my mind to the possibility that Schindler’s views are accurate.

    If he’s right, then this is important to keep in mind with regard to the way Trump talks about the fight against ISIS and his foreign policy with regard to Putin and Assad. To wit:

  15. Reid

    Interesting twitter rant from a guy who says he’s a linguist and intelligence analyst regarding the nature of the tweets he’s seen since recently. Basically, he seems to be suggesting that there are a bots being used to attack targets or manipulate social media–and that these bots might be coordinated from a central location, like Kremlin.

    Also this:

  16. Reid

    Thoughts on Russia’s “fight” against terrorism

    This article is written by a documentary filmmaker about how the Russian ambassador to Canada is warning Canada not to send troops to Latvia as part of a NATO defense effort–that this move is diverting funds to fight terrorism. I saw this article from a Gary Kasparov’s tweet. Kasparov is a former chess champion and outspoken critic of Putin.

    Here’s one quote about Russia’s “fight” against ISIS in Syria and how many Syrian refugees they’ve taken in.

    How then does Moscow’s own record of fighting ISIS and terror, compare? Late last year, the US State Department estimated that less than 10 percent of Russian bombs in the Syrian conflict were hitting ISIS or terror related targets. Over the past two years, the relentless Russian bombing of Syrian civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, residential zones and reportedly a UN aid convoy has been well documented and condemned by the international community.

    Human Rights Watch has published evidence of Syrian-Russian use of illegal cluster and incendiary munitions that burn victims with thousands of white-hot fragments that melt through flesh, maiming and torturing anyone within a few yards of an explosion.

    Yet the Russian ambassador, whose own government has done little in the fight against terror and which has been implicated in countless violations of international conventions on war, feels compelled to criticize Canada’s reputation and record.

    Canada, which has accepted tens of thousands of refugees could ask Ambassador Darchiev for his country to do a little more to help. As of November, Russian actions in the region have helped create millions of refugees, and yet the Kremlin has granted refugee status for exactly two of them. Yes, two.

  17. Reid
  18. Reid
  19. Reid
  20. Reid

    Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over Ukraine and the Syrian civil war. Some leaders like Le Pen have hobnobbed in Moscow and at embassy events at home. Chieftains of Hungary’s anti-Semitic Jobbik and Austria’s Freedom Party also have made the trip.

    How Russians Pay to Play in Other Countries (Didn’t read this yet.)

  21. Reid

    Backstory on Current US-Russian Relations

    The following article was written by Karthryn Stoner, Stanford professor and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration. The article is really long, but informative, attempting to explain current US-Russian relations. Specifically, the article seeks to address if Obama was too soft or hard on Russia. The authors position is that Putin is largely to blame for the situation, not Obama or the the U.S. in general. I’ll try to summarize their views:

    When Putin gained power in early 2000, Russia experienced really strong economic growth (while Putin also constricted civil rights). In 2008, with the global economic meltdown increased civil unrest in Russia (dropping oil prices hurt the Russian economy), which lead to civil unrest, including public protests. Putin’s reaction?

    This growing popular unrest meant that Putin needed a new argument in order to achieve re-election as President of Russia for a third time, in 2012. To counter this new wave of social mobilization, Putin revived an old Soviet-era argument as his new source of legitimacy—defense of the motherland against the evil West, and especially the imperial, conniving, threatening United States. In particular, Putin argued that the United States was seeking to topple his regime.

    If Stoner and McFaul are correct, then Putin went back to a Cold War narrative, making the U.S. a hostile enemy. But they also point out a twist:

    Different from the Cold War, however, Putin’s regime added a new dimension to the ideological struggle— conservative Russia versus the liberal West. Russian state-controlled media asserted that Putin had nurtured the rebirth of a conservative, Orthodox Christian society. By contrast, these same media outlets presented the West as decadent, hedonistic, godless, and homosexual. Russians needed protection from these dangerous Western ideas. This is why the Kremlin passed a law against homosexual “propaganda”—while decadent Western countries like the United States and Ireland legalized gay marriage. His growing embrace of the Russian Orthodox Church is another part of his campaign to champion Russia as a culturally conservative alternative to a hedonistic Western culture.

    If true, this could explain why some American evangelicals view Putin and Russian in a more positive light.

    My feeling is that the entire narrative–US is the enemy; Russia is now a champion of cultural conservatism (Also, I understand that white nationalists are being drawn to Russia.)–is just a way for Putin to maintain power. Then again, maybe Putin believes that the US has been trying to undermine his power. (Stoner and McFaul also point out cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in the first three years of Obama’s first term)

    One thing I’ll mention about Russia. In reading a bit about the fall of the Soviet Union, the one thing that stood out was a problem of national identity that the Russians would face. What would replace the Soviet vision? What would be the source of national pride and esteem? What would Russia’s place in the world be? I feel like these are vitally important, and I don’t get the sense that subsequent Russian leaders provided compelling answers to these questions. I do think helping Russia find answers to these questions that are positive to the world order behooves first world nations.

  22. Reid

    From the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) site: Information Warfare: What is it and How to Win it

  23. Reid

    Details on how Russia spreads propaganda and influence according to Gary Kasparov, pro-democracy advocate and former chess champion:

    Even as intelligence agencies and news organizations release new information implicating Russia in subverting American and European democracy on a daily basis, Western media outlets are happy to take Putin’s money to push his propaganda. Russia Today is beamed into millions of homes and hotels around the world in several languages, and, reportedly, the channel pays to be broadcast, rather than the more customary arrangement in which cable operators pay content providers. Google aggregates Sputnik and other Russian propaganda outlets on its news pages. Major newspapers, including The Washington Post, publish paid ads and glossy inserts pushing the Kremlin line. Note that this is all done in English, to influence Americans, not to reach the Russian diaspora. Russian cash flows to far-right political parties and nongovernmental organizations around the world while Putin’s oligarchs invest in influential Western companies — and people.

    Hacking is an ideal new front in this type of shadow war. It’s difficult to trace and, like terrorist attacks, cyberwar has a very high impact-to-cost ratio. Once data is stolen, it barely takes any work at all, since the media is delighted to distribute it far and wide. Stolen information has the irresistible allure of forbidden fruit, no matter how banal the actual content may be. Social media has no vetting at all and has become fertile soil for Kremlin trolls and fake news organizations. These digital tools will only grow in power and in influence. After the tremendous success of the Democratic National Committee hack, there will only be more such attacks unless very strong deterrence is put in place to discourage them.

    Later he suggests how Putin has to be stopped:

    Since Putin’s aggression is for his personal benefit, the most effective responses to it are also personal, targeting him and his authority instead of following an obsolete playbook of tit-for-tat diplomatic and economic games….Unless there is a credible threat of striking a blow that could shake Putin’s grasp on power in Russia, he will not stop.

    Only the personal will work. Target and expose the vast wealth Putin and his cronies hide abroad. Freeze their funds and their companies, revoke their visas and memberships. Stop providing Putin with the credentials of an equal when he should be treated like a pariah. Contain his adventurism abroad by making it clear that he will suffer exactly the sort of humiliating geopolitical defeat that would endanger his hold on power in Russia.

  24. Reid

    Terrific NY Times article about troll farms, specifically one in Russia. It’s terrific for the way it explains the Russian trolling as a part of an overall strategy, and also terrific for the way it tells a compelling story, like a good spy novel. Recommended.

    Here are a few quotes:

    The following year, when Vyascheslav Volodin, the new deputy head of Putin’s administration and architect of his domestic policy, came into office, one of his main tasks was to rein in the Internet. Volodin, a lawyer who studied engineering in college, approached the problem as if it were a design flaw in a heating system. Forbes Russia reported that Volodin installed in his office a custom-designed computer terminal loaded with a system called Prism, which monitored public sentiment online using 60 million sources. According to the website of its manufacturer, Prism “actively tracks the social media activities that result in increased social tension, disorderly conduct, protest sentiments and extremism.” Or, as Forbes put it, “Prism sees social media as a battlefield.”


    Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.

    Edit: One takeaway from me: These tactics can be employed by anyone–another nation state, a business, terrorist groups, or even an individual. (And I expect it will be–and I expect these tactics/strategies to evolve, becoming more advanced and sophisticated over time.) Basically, the internet has created a situation where anyone with enough savvy and resources can, like a puppet-master, manipulate information and therefore manipulate perceptions of what is real and true. (There’s also the possibility to poison the entire information landscape so that many people don’t know what to believe.) It could be simple as one individual wanting to wreck the life of another person. The attacker could, by themselves or paying someone else, to hack into the victim, getting information or access to the person’s social media accounts, and then start releasing information and/or planting/altering information on the victim’s accounts. Perhaps, this is significantly different from what Putin is doing, but it

  25. Reid

    Playing By Putin’s Tactics, an Op-Ed in WaPo by Molly McKew

    In Crimea, Putin debuted a pop-up war — nimble and covert — that is likely to be the design of the future.

    First, the hidden army appeared out of nowhere. Soldiers-of-no-nation were outfitted for troublemaking and street-fighting. These troops, denied by Putin, are also seemingly unconstrained by the laws, rules and conventions governing warfare — Putin’s biggest brush-off yet to international order. They are Putin’s hybrid of soldiers and terrorists: hidden faces, hidden command-and-control, hidden orders, but undoubtedly activated to achieve state objectives. The lack of an identified leader gums up the international community’s response: There is no general with whom to negotiate a cease-fire or surrender; if violence erupts, there is potentially no way to end it short of stopping each gunman.


    Putin has manufactured a version of reality to propagate the narrative he needs to destabilize Ukraine. He decided an ethno-lingual division was needed to achieve his objectives — and then cast parts. Now the story is being acted out on hundreds of fronts and posted on social media, a virtual live-stream of content for Putin’s argument of oppression, victimization and fear in Russian-speaking Ukraine.

    Reality plays no role in all this.

    Third, “…Putin is using financial markets as a polemical tool.”

  26. Reid

    This Politico article got a lot of buzz from several journalists I follow, and I think it’s really important. Basically, in answer to the question, Are we at war with Russia? The author, Molly McKew’s answers is an emphatic yes. Highly recommended.

    (Note: If more Americans understood this article, I believe many would be really alarmed with Trump’s actions, rhetoric and links to Russia. Basically, his actions are in alignment with with Putin. If Putin was in control of the President, it wouldn’t be too different from what we see from Trump in my view.)

  27. Reid

    Some key quotes from the article in the previous post:

    What both administrations fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.


    This Russia does not aspire to be like us, or to make itself stronger than we are. Rather, its leaders want the West—and specifically NATO and America — to become weaker and more fractured until we are as broken as they perceive themselves to be. No reset can be successful, regardless the personality driving it, because Putin’s Russia requires the United States of America as its enemy.


    …rarely has the goal been to install overtly pro-Russian governments. Far more often, the goal is simply to replace Western-style democratic regimes with illiberal, populist, or nationalist ones.

    Third, information warfare is not about creating an alternate truth, but eroding our basic ability to distinguish truth at all. It is not “propaganda” as we’ve come to think of it, but the less obvious techniques known in Russia as “active measures” and “reflexive control”. Both are designed to make us, the targets, act against our own best interests.


    Rather than a stable world order undergirded by the U.S. and its allies, the goal is an unstable new world order of “all against all.” The Kremlin has tried to accelerate this process by both inflaming crises that overwhelm the Western response (for example, the migration crisis in Europe, and the war in eastern Ukraine) and by showing superiority in ‘solving’ crises the West could not (for example, bombing Syria into submission, regardless of the cost, to show Russia can impose stability in the Middle East when the West cannot).


    It’s also important to acknowledge that a more isolated, more nationalist America helps Putin in his objectives even while it compromises our own. We need to accept that America was part of, and needs to be part of, a global system — and that this system is better, cheaper, and more powerful than any imagined alternatives. For many years, the United States has been the steel in the framework that holds everything together; this is what we mean by ‘world order’ and ‘security architecture,’ two concepts that few politicians try to discuss seriously with the electorate.

  28. Reid

    #4 and #5 Reasons Russia (and Other Hostile Actors) Are a Threat to the U.S.

    Before I go into those reasons I want to reiterate what was said in the two recent posts. Putin’s objective is to weaken Western Democracies, by attacking and discrediting that form of government; and he’ll do this by causing confusion and telling outright lies within the marketplace of ideas–making it seem impossible to know what is true and factual. Putin (and other hostile actors) aren’t trying to overthrow Western Democracies and replace them with Communist ones. He’s not trying to invade the U.S. or Western European countries (although he may do that with ones on his border). Putin’s war is subversive and involves propaganda to make Western Democracies weak/corrupt/ineffective, while making himself seem effective/strong/moral, etc. It’s a battle based on information and perceptions.

    4. Hyper-partisanship–Hyper-partisanship diminishes government effectiveness, and increases frustration and discontent in the American public. This may have contributed to electing someone an unqualified, demagogue/authoritarian like Trump. Both parties should put this aside and unite based on shared embrace of liberal democratic principles.

    5. Tribalism and identity politics–When Americans cluster around specific issues, instead of embracing values and ideals that bring the nation together, then we’re vulnerable. Because so many people are on the internet all the time, the Russian techniques of espionage/propaganda can exploit and inflame these divisions, causing massive civil unrest, weakening the nation as a whole. It also creates an opportunity for an authoritarian ruler to consolidate power.

  29. Reid
  30. Reid

    Quotes from CEPA Infowar No. 1: Information Warfare: What Is It and How to Win It? by Edward Lucas and Ben Nimmo (I highlighted certain passages in bold print below):

    In this conflict, known inside Russian parlance as “information-psychological war,” the
    aim is to “disorganize and demoralize” the enemy, to achieve victory without the need of full-scale military intervention….Russian techniques employ a mixture of media, psychological, economic and cultural means, as well as espionage, cyberattacks (seen in Estonia in 2007, alongside another Kremlin-inspired outburst of local protests), subversion, corruption, and targeted kidnapping and assassination.13 Sometimes these elements are paired with covert military intervention, as in the case of Ukraine.14 Most times, however, it represents a “contact-less” conflict that is fought in the realms of perception and the human mind. It continues through both official peace and wartime. Russia is exceptionally good at it.

    By contrast, Western liberal democracies are singularly ill-equipped to deal with this type of warfare. The West believes in categories and boundaries. Its intelligence officers do not talk to journalists. Its defense chiefs do not talk to the criminal justice authorities. Its media owners do not talk to financial supervisory bodies. The West believes in, and practices, the separation of powers. Its adversaries do not. A hostile Russian entity
    may be a business, an intelligence-collection operation, a money-laundering front, a propaganda outfit and a means of distributing bribes, all at the same time.


    The Kremlin’s media machine has made a particular effort to reinforce radical anti-establishment parties and individuals as metaphorical moth grubs in the fabric of democracy. As they burrow into the political system, the fringes benefit at the expense of mainstream, centrist, established forces and institutions. This is not the normal process of political dispute-settling, evolution and renewal: it is an artificial process instigated and stoked from outside.

    Russia’s approach, unlike Nazi Germany’s ethnic and ideological one, is deeply nihilistic: it does not matter what the parties in question stand for, as long as they are against the West. Thus RT has amplified the messages of ultranationalists in France and former Communists in Italy; it has shown clear bias in political events such as Scotland’s independence referendum and the election of the leader of the UK Labour Party.15 The unifying factor behind those it supports can be summed up in the word “anti”: they are anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-nuclear and anti-American, as well as being, in many cases, anti-each other. Strengthening them weakens the West.

    You could white nationalists or attempts to create California or Texas separatists groups. (I’d be wary if they also tried to fund radical Native Hawaiian Sovereignty groups.)


    Factual rebuttal of Russian claims is ineffective: Russian propaganda does not seek to win factual arguments, but merely to spread confusion.
    17 Even if Western audiences only come to believe that there are two sides to the story – say, on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine – then the Kremlin has already won an important victory.

    The above is reminiscent of the strategy of tobacco companies and climate deniers–probably gun lobby as well.


    In this way, the Kremlin is not so much conducting an information war as it is waging a “war on information.”22 By destroying the information space with disinformation, Russia seeks to destroy trust and the possibility of a reality-based political discourse in the democratic West.

    What’s disturbing is that this also seems to describe what Donald Trump is doing as well.

  31. Reid

    I find what Molly McKew says, both in the Politico article I linked above, and this short interview clip, compelling, and really important. Maybe her analysis is not correct, but at this point, I think she is. If this is correct, the U.S.–and its citizens–need to understand the nature of the Russian threat.

  32. Reid
  33. Reid

    Masha Gessen of the New York Times Book Review basically reviewed and critiqued the recent declassified intelligence report given to President Obama and President-elect Trump. For someone like me, the Gessen’s critique was dispiriting because her verdict, in my view, can be described as shoddy and flimsy. I should say that I have not read the original report, and I didn’t carefully read her view (closer to skimmed would be more accurate). Still, she’s fairly thorough, and I wouldn’t dismiss her criticisms (especially since she wrote two anti-authoritarian articles, at least).

    I wanted to mention her review because I think this type of thorough evaluation is important, and it’s equally important to read criticisms that go against what you would prefer to hear.

  34. Reid

    Another important Politico article by Molly McKew.

    The Kremlin fears the examples set by American democracy and American society: If Russia had either, the criminal, kleptocratic reign of the modern Russia security state would be done.

    The Kremlin’s global objectives remain to dismantle NATO, erode the values of the liberal democratic world order, and weaken the reach of American power. So what did they really hope to gain from their interference in the U.S. election? The specific goals of Putin’s campaign were, in real and narrative terms, to portray America as fractured and flawed; to erode trust in our system, our values and our institutions at home and discredit them abroad; to deepen divides within our society; to take away our ability to evaluate fact from fiction and make decisions in our own best interests; and to ensure that whatever America emerged from the election, it was one less interested in countering the Kremlin’s global imperialist insurgency.

    I want to say more about both McKew articles, but let me say a few things now:

    1. The way the Kremlin will achieve these objectives may be hard to grasp. Their means isn’t primarily conventional–i.e., invading a country (although that could be part of it). Their means are psychological, it involves manipulating our perceptions and our beliefs and faith in our leaders and system of government.

    2. One important point: their objectives are half-way from being met even without their active manipulation in my view. The information environment created from the internet, weakening gatekeepers and referees that provide a common set of facts and perspectives to understand and solve problems; plus hyper-partisanship, leading to attacks on Democratic institutions and dysfunction in Washington; and radical groups on the left and right that already believe the system is broken and rigged against them. Even without Russian interference these things would be a problem. Additionally, whether Russia is the primary cause isn’t as important as the fact that these issues are a major problem.

    3. I should point out there validity to the criticisms of our economic and political system and leadership is valid. But here’s the thing: we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The American system of government, capitalism, both global and domestic, and global world order–these things are good in concept. Sure there is corruption and problems, but the answer isn’t tearing all these things down. What would we replace them with? What we would replace the principle of rule of law, capitalism, liberal democracy? Certainly, a Strongman-rule isn’t the answer.

    4. Critics should first affirm these systems, and then work hard to make improvements.

  35. Reid

    The following How Social Media is Crippling Democracy and Why We Seem Powerless to Stop It from Zdnet by Jason Perlow fits well with point #2 in the previous post–namely, that the internet has already done half the work for the Kremlin. (Note: I’m unfamiliar with ZDnet, and I’ve never heard of Jason Perlow, so keep that in mind.)

    In the case of Facebook, the service’s algorithm will ensure that you will read shared news from viewpoints similar to your own. Your feedback loop is in essence, self-curated based on what you actually “like.” And if you don’t like your friends and what they share, you can unfollow and unfriend them, thus whittling down the echo chamber to an even smaller sample size, depending on how many friends you have.

    With Twitter, you’re getting a raw feed. Compared to Facebook, all the information you receive is opt-in, because you are subscribing to read tweets from specific people, and you might not be aware of the biases of those people immediately. But, in a sense, it is also curated, because if you don’t like what people are saying, you just unfollow them. And thus your sample size, much like on Facebook, becomes a reflection of what you want to hear.

    So, everyone is seeing things through their own filter. Here’s the fun part: Your filter is also filtered. And you have no control over that whatsoever. It can be edited and changed, and you might not even realize it.

    (emphasis added)

    I don’t fully understand the author’s meaning of the last two sentences, as he really doesn’t explain in great detail. (He makes a reference to 1984, but I’ve never read that, so I didn’t understand the reference.) But it did remind me McKew’s articles–namely, that it feels like we’re living in a hall of mirrors. I think this is directly related to the weakening of gatekeepers.

  36. Reid

    Tom Nichols, an expert on Russia who teaches at the Naval War College was on Rhode Island public TV. It’s a little under 30 minutes. For those who don’t like to read longer articles, this is worth your time. He touches on the Russia’s threat and also touches on the problem I’m bringing up in the “death of gatekeeper’s” thread. However, Nichols writes about the death of expertise, but I think they’re closely related if not the same thing.

  37. Reid

    Ambassador Susan Power’s last speech, focusing on Russian threat.

  38. Reid

  39. Reid

    The Baltic States in a Post-Nato Environment an interview with Edward Lucas.

  40. Reid

    Discussion with Molly McKew, Anna Aruntunyan, a journalist; and Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

    Some form of news discussion groups came to mind when they were talking about the Baltic states being struggling to deal with Russian hyperwarfare, as they lack resources. If some non-profit group, working with universities and news agencies could organize these groups to talk about Russian disinformation campaigns, first of all, and then meet regularly to talk about news. The group would serve as a procedure to vet the information that people receive. Also: I think when people get most of the information on the internet, they’re more vulnerable to manipulation by malicious entities like the Russian government. If people can discuss and get their information offline, I think this would be a way to counteract the Russian disinformation campaign. If these groups were ideologically diverse, well-run, and widespread, it could also just help the democracy overall.

  41. Reid

    Edward Lucas: The Realism We Need

  42. Reid
  43. Reid

    Good way to put it

  44. Reid

    And to read later: The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

  45. Reid

    An Example of How the U.S. Can Be Manipulated

    I wasn’t sure which article McKew was talking about. When I googled it, the article is on Intercept and Salon and RT–the Russian propaganda station! I don’t believe anything I see on RT–and I tend to believe that it’s untrue and some attempt to manipulate. It’s worrisome that Salon is doing an article on that–and this is what McKew must be referring to.

    On a related note, when you look at Russian techniques and compare them to the Trump White House’s actions, they seem very similar.

  46. Reid

    Note: Russia and (apparently) China Often Accuse Protestors of Being Paid

  47. Reid

    From a Bloomberg article about recent arrests of a few Russian intelligence officers. The article speculates that they may have been working with a rogue hacking group–Shaltai Boltai (or Humpty Dumpty). The group basically hacks prominent individuals for profit, sometimes being hired by intermediaries.

    There was speculation that the arrests were made because the intelligence officers were giving secrets to the U.S. However,

    The Russian leaks could be FSB red herrings. But the different pieces of evidence together point toward the Shaltai Boltai version of the arrests. That version is in line with how security agencies generally operate in Putin’s Russia: Parallel to their official duties, officers often run private security operations involving blackmail and protection. If Mikhailov ran such a business out of the FSB’s Information Security Center, he wouldn’t stand out among his colleagues. But in the paranoid world of Putin’s third presidential term, leaks of information to Ukraine and to the U.S. would have been impermissible.

    Those in the West who fear government-sponsored Russian hackers must keep in mind that these are not people who willingly subject themselves to any kind of military discipline. They aren’t necessarily patriots, either. An FSB officer, recruited from the hacking community, can use his rank and position to obtain compromising material and sell it to wealthy clients. A team profiting from these opportunities can include both officers and civilians. The Russian government can hire such a team through intermediaries if it needs something sensitive done — but so can foreign intelligence services.

    It’s a murky world in which actors are both predator and prey. The Kremlin enjoys access to brilliant and unscrupulous people; the downside, of course, is that they may be hard to control.

  48. Reid

    The following is a tip on how authoritarian regimes behave, but I didn’t know where else to put this.

    You need to think like the enemy. When the enemy is losing, you will see projection. When winning, they boast and at times reveal too much.

    — Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) November 12, 2016

  49. Reid
  50. Reid

    To be the best of my knowledge, I trust Molly McKew, so I trust what was said in this clip:

  51. Reid

    Information War Tactic: Discredit Individual Experts


    Yahoo News reporting that a dubious(fake?) website Center for Global Studies (CGS) put the names of well-known analysts on articles they have NOT written–kind of reverse plagiarism.

    Yahoo tried to determine who ran the site, but failed. Possible suspects: Russia or even Iran.

    The strange appearance of CGS Monitor appears to be a new phenomenon in media manipulation, aimed at subtly spreading propaganda to unsuspecting news consumers — as well as undermining the “brands” and reputations of prominent opinion makers, according to Brian Mefford, a Kiev-based scholar at the Atlantic Council, who has been studying the website.

    “The CGS Monitor … has taken fake news to new depths with its use of fake opinions,” Mefford wrote in a posting this week on the Atlantic Council’s website. “How do we really know who said what? Academics, scholars, politicians, and writers must now vigilantly manage their brand as a core part of their work. Your opinion, it turns out, may no longer actually be yours.”

    One thing that this tactic does, which I don’t recall the article mentioning: it undermines the trust that people have for these individuals, or, at the very least, increases doubt and confusion about whom to trust. This is insidious because one way individuals can manage and navigate the glut of information online is to rely on trusted individuals. That is, certain individuals serve as gatekeepers that can help filter information for people. But the tactic here undermines that.

  52. Reid

    Interesting analysis of Kremlin Uses World Leaders in European Leaders in Their Propaganda

    I found this Hungarian article from a retweet by Edward Lucas, an English journalist who specializes in Central and Eastern Europe.

    On goals of Russian information warfare (from a book, War and Peace, no not that one):

    The book lists weakening the opponent’s governmental defense capability and its military power, breaking its fighting morale and trust in military leadership, discrediting political leadership, provoking “controlled crises” and staggering the population’s mood as potential goals of information warfare. An integral part of information war is the moral and psychological training of one’s own population to prepare them for war, including the formulation of a depiction of the enemy.

    The new Russian military doctrine approved three years later in December 2014 considered information warfare to be equal to ground, air and naval warfare. Consequently, the importance of the field is also indicated by the allocation of resources – said András Rácz. In practice this means journalists only differ from an armoured division in that they fight the enemy on another field. The deployment of journalist brigades is quite simple because around 90% of Russian media is either directly owned by the state or strongly dependent on it.

    (emphasis added)

    The article describes who certain the analysis of some private risk assessment groups, which examined the way Russian state controlled media covered European leaders. Here’s what they found out:

    According to the study of Frantisek Vrabel and the deputy director of European Values Jakub Janda, the Kremlin disinformation campaign “works very hard to portray the European leaders according to their inclination to support Russia. The more favourable those personalities are to Vladimir Putin’s regime, the stronger voice in the international community they have according to the Russian-speaking outlets”.

    One goal of this practice is to show the Russian public that despite sanctions and international criticism Russian President Vladimir Putin has serious supporters and friends in the European Union. Consequently, the Kremlin uses the statements of certain EU politicians to legitimize its own authoritarian regime, propaganda this way also serves Russian national security interests.

    The other goal, naturally, is to depict the European Union as a community of constant debate, division and decline on the edge of dissolution in Russian-language media. It uses exactly those European politicians to achieve this aim whose statements include similar messages and/or speak contrary to the European mainstream on issues important to Russia, such as energy, the refugee crisis, NATO, EU sanctions, etc.

    So European leaders (and I imagine American leaders would qualify as well) that express favorable views of Putin/Russia, and I imagine negative depictions of their own country have significant value for Russia–because they be used as propaganda for Russian citizens. These Western leaders allow the Kremlin to make Putin seem more credible and appealing to his people. Additionally, if Western leaders say negative things about their country or the West, this can be used to create the feeling that the Russian peoples’ aren’t worse off than their Western counterparts. This takes pressure off Putin, making him less accountable to his people, making his power more secure.

    When reading this I couldn’t help but also think of Trump–and the way he has talked about the U.S. and Putin. I believe he’s said or suggested that NATO is outdated, he has spoken about America in dark terms (“American carnage”)–and in the recent Bill O’Reilly interview, he’s basically put us on equal moral footing with Putin. I imagine all of this is a boon for Russian propaganda.

    Edit (2/6/2017)

  53. Reid

    Edit 2/10/2017

    Russian Trying to Weaken Threat to Le Pen’s Candidacy

  54. Mitchell

    Facebook tells you what it collects and how it uses it, and you have the option to opt out by not agreeing to those terms. Vizio’s collection of data was never approved by its users. This is not the same thing.

  55. Reid

    If that’s the case that’s different, although I don’t know if the difference is really significant. FB may not collect the data, but this doesn’t mean others can’t, or am I wrong about that? My sense is that whatever you do online can be collected and analyzed–and used for whatever purposes by anyone with the desire to do so.

    Even if vizio didn’t do this, if the data is available to others (hackers), then the same problem exists there as well. At least, I think this is a problem.

  56. Mitchell

    FB absolutely collects the data. But you know this when you sign up for the service, and you can opt out of the service whenever you want. In order for “anyone” to have access to FB’s data, they’d have to steal it, and although that’s possible, since it’s the service’s greatest asset, I am sure they expend a ton of resources to make sure their data is not breached.

    I don’t know if you understand what Vizio did. They sold a TV, a piece of hardware. It doesn’t come with a service beyond the mechanics of what a TV does. If Vizio was using the hardware to collect data, the mere collecting of it goes beyond the scope of the product it sold, and whether it sells that data to a third party or not, its mere existence is not among the understood trade-offs for owning a television. This is far removed from what FB, Google, and Yahoo do, which is collect your data in exchange for free services.

    If people knew what they were watching on the TVs was being recorded somewhere, it would change their behavior. Vizio didn’t have a right to this info without clearing it first from its customers. Do you see how this is a completely different situation from what FB does? My doctor has my medical history, but he can’t release that info without my authorization. FB has my FB history, and it can do all kinds of things with it because when I acknowledged and accepted the terms of service, that was in there. I’ve given FB permission to collect the data; nobody gave Vizio that permission.

    EDIT: The FB/Doctor comparison doesn’t work because FB doesn’t release your data to third parties either; it says it won’t in the user agreement. So both FB and a doctor are collecting data with your permission.

  57. Reid

    If people knew what they were watching on the TVs was being recorded somewhere, it would change their behavior. Vizio didn’t have a right to this info without clearing it first from its customers. Do you see how this is a completely different situation from what FB does?

    Yeah, I think so–you’re basically focusing on whether the user was aware that his/her data would be used, and that the user can agree to this or not. Yes?

    If so, I sort of feel like this difference, for all practical purposes, isn’t as significant as you think. For one thing, I’m very skeptical that a lot of people would change their behavior if they knew about vizio’s set up. For example, I do not like that google uses my data, but it’s hard to give up their services. Same with yahoo. And by the way, did these websites, from the beginning, explicitly say that they would be using your personal data?

    Finally, I don’t take great comfort in the notion that FB will effectively protect personal data. Personally, I think assuming that whatever you put online will be or could be hacked into, at some point, is the safer assumption.

  58. Reid

    The Hard Truth: We’re Getting Our Butts Kicked

    From The Daily Beast: U.S. Pres for Infowar on Russia

    There’s some hope. It sounds like the U.S. Government is waking up to the threat of Russia (and other hostile nations/actors) use of information warfare. Spending is going to go up in the 200-300 millions.

    Unfortunately, there’s bad news:

    However, information warfare remains a battlefield where the Russians are far more advanced. The concept is a formal idea in Russian declarations of their military doctrine, released publicly in 2013. And Putin puts his money where his mouth is: Polyakova estimated that Russia spends, at a bare minimum, $400 million annually on information warfare in the United States.
    “Russia has a well-thought-out, complex information strategy that seeks to influence narratives and politics and policy in Western countries… unrivaled in the scope and complexity and maliciousness,” she said.

    Unlike the Cold War, Putin doesn’t need to promote Soviet-style communism: He merely has to undermine America’s democracy.
    “Russia doesn’t have to sell an ideology; it just needs to exploit divisions in the West and the West’s uncertainty about its own values and what is true and what isn’t,”
    Jensen said. “There’s a complacency in the West… about the danger this poses.”

    (emphasis added)

  59. Mitchell

    You may be underestimating how many people watch porn and don’t want anyone to know.

  60. Reid

    OK, you’re probably right about that–although I wonder if this would change this as much as you think. Here’s the thing: if people learned about the ways in which their data was being used, and this revelation was embarrassing or negative in some other fashion, then this may change people’s behavior. For example, if I watched porn, and then that information was somehow revealed to my friends and family, not only would this change my behavior, but it would change the behavior of the people around me who saw what happened.

    However, if no one really never knows about the way the data is being used–how it may be affecting you–then I’m not sure this would actually change people’s behavior. In other words, if the effects of your data being used is largely invisible, people may not care if the data is being used at all. My sense is that this is the way a lot of people think about putting data online.

  61. Reid

    From Politico: State Sponsored Hackers Targeting Journalists

    Some journalists getting the warnings say they suspect the hackers could be Russians looking to find incriminating emails they could leak to embarrass journalists, either by revealing alleged liberal bias or to expose the sausage-making of D.C. journalism.

    I see this as an attack on the credibility of the press and individual journalists, nullifying their ability to hold those in power accountable. The public needs to be aware that these are objectives of Russians and other hostile actors.

    From The Guardian: Russia Suspected Over Hacking Attack on Italian Foreign Ministry

    News of the hacking could stoke concerns that Russia may seek to influence the next Italian election, which could be called as early as June. In an interview with the Guardian late last year, a foreign diplomat in Rome questioned whether the current centre-left government, which will face a tough re-election challenge, had prepared itself for possible interference by Russia.

    The government’s main opposition, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has adopted pro-Russian positions on topics ranging from Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria, to his invasion of Ukraine, to a call for Italy to lift sanctions against Russia and reassess its commitment to Nato.

  62. Reid

    From the BBC: NATO Says Viral News Outlet is Part of Kremlin Misinformation Machine

    This is a good piece, particularly because they allow Sputnik representatives make their case as well. My conclusion: do not trust anything coming out of Sputnik (or RT).

    I will say that the way they defend themselves is pretty savvy and sophisticated. It’s pretty impressive actually.

    Edit (6/5/2017)

    Reinforcing my impression to not trust Sputnik:

    Edit (7/22/2017)

    More on Sputnik from Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA): Sputnik: Propaganda in a New Orbit

  63. Reid
  64. Reid

  65. Reid

  66. Reid

    This is my impression as well.

  67. Reid

    Analyzing Kremlin Twitter Bots

    Edit (2/20/2017)

    Putin Wages Hybrid War on Germany and West

  68. Reid

    My First Thought: He’s Projecting

    I’ve been very critical of the American news media–and I still think there are huge problems, with commercial pressures being a big source of the problem. But in spite of these problems, here’s something I’m pretty confident about: the American media isn’t a propaganda instrument from the state. Journalist have ideological biases and corporate constraints hinder their work, but the good journalists and news outlets, for the most part, do try and report things fairly and accurately.

    I don’t think this is the case with the Russian media. At this point, I would be highly skeptical of what comes out of Russian media, including English outlets like RT.

    I think more Americans need to realize this, and realize that Russian information propaganda apparatus can influence our impressions and beliefs–particularly those that get their information via the internet and social media.

    Edit: From a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under the Obama Administration

  69. Reid

    From a recent New Yorker article, Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War:

    In the article for Military-Industrial Courier, Gerasimov suggested that, in the future, wars will be fought with a four-to-one ratio of nonmilitary to military measures. The former, he wrote, should include efforts to shape the political and social landscape of the adversary through subversion, espionage, propaganda, and cyberattacks. His essay, written in the shadow of the Arab Spring, cited the anarchy and violence that erupted in Libya and Syria as proof that, when faced with the combination of pressure and interference, a “perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months, and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.”

    Such events were “typical of warfare in the twenty-first century,” he wrote. “The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

    And later,

    Pavel Zolotarev, the retired Russian general, explained that, when Gerasimov’s essay was published, “we had come to the conclusion, having analyzed the actions of Western countries in the post-Soviet space—first of all the United States—that manipulation in the information sphere is a very effective tool.” Previously, one had to use “grandfather-style methods: scatter leaflets, throw around some printed materials, manipulate the radio or television,” Zolotarev said. “But, all of a sudden, new means have appeared.”

    In other words, the internet, which has weakened the authority and gatekeeping effectiveness of news agencies; wireless technology, which keeps people online; social media, which allow individuals to create bubbles. To my mind, you take those away, and the Russian strategy is far less potent and viable.

    (One problem that needs to be addressed: what happens when a population has larger numbers of un-savvy/poorly-educated citizens that get their information and political discussion online?)

    Even with the rise of new technologies, the underlying truth about such operations hasn’t changed. They are less a way to conjure up something out of nothing than to stir a pot that is already bubbling. In the U.S., a strategy like the alleged hacking of the Democrats was merely an effort to deepen an existing state of disarray and distrust. “For something to happen, many factors have to come together at once,” said Alexander Sharavin, the head of a military research institute and a member of the Academy of Military Sciences, in Moscow, where Gerasimov often speaks. “If you go to Great Britain, for example, and tell them the Queen is bad, nothing will happen, there will be no revolution, because the necessary conditions are absent—there is no existing background for this operation.” But, Sharavin said, “in America those preconditions existed.”

    Several takeaways:

    1. Political leaders and pundits must take greater care in not recklessly undermining faith in democratic institutions–e.g., the press, government, political parties, etc. Indeed, the task at hand is to build this trust back up–and it’s a task that has national security implications.

    2. It’s is also not a stretch to say that a functioning Congress is a matter of a national security. That is, politicians have to put solving the countries problems ahead of politics. The fact that they haven’t done this has eroded trust in the government and fostered discontent and anger. This has made us more vulnerable to Russian disruption via propaganda.

    3. A reliable and trustworthy press is also a matter of national security. They must build trust, by addressing bias charges and just doing more thorough and accurate work.

    Domestic critics of these three domains need to understand and keep in mind the nature of the Russian threat (or any other actor that may do the same thing) when expressing their dissent. All the domains above have problems and can improve, but if the criticisms must be reasonable and responsible. If they are not reasonable, they make us vulnerable to actors like Russia. (For what it’s worth, my sense is that not many of politicians and pundits really understand this.)

  70. Reid

    RT, the Russian TV station that puts out Russian propaganda in English smeared John Schindler, a former NSA officer that I follow. They also smeared Louise Mensch, a former British MP who now lives in the US, Robby Mook and Jennifer Palmieri. (Mook is with the Democratic Party, I believe; and I’m unfamiliar with Palmieri). I interpret this as validation for what all four have been saying. It seems like the Kremlin is worried, and are trying to lay the foundation to undermine their work.

  71. Reid

    From the Times: To Battle Fake News, Ukranian Show Features Nothing But Lies

    “StopFake News” is no Onion-style satire, but rather positions itself as serious public service journalism, identifying fake news and debunking it on the air. That is because Kiev, with its running battle with Moscow, was plagued by fake news long before concern over the problem spiked in Western Europe and the United States.

    During the Ukraine crisis in 2014, manipulative and often outright invented news poured in from Russia on satellite television and websites and into sympathetic local newspapers.

    I think something like this on twitter and FB would be great–a kind of feed that would come with the site. (Users could choose to opt out.) Maybe a news agency or a university could run it. The main job would be to identify all the fake stories–particularly those created for propaganda purposes. But they could also point out errors that were made in stories during the week as well.


    Edit (2/27/2017)

    First thought that jumps out at me: speed is the enemy of this process. I agree with the suggestions. However, speed seems to be an inherent quality of social media and the internet. That is, people write and read quickly on social media. The medium is biased against deliberation, analysis, and editing. Following the steps will require self-discipline on the part of individuals. I fear this will be a small minority.

  72. Reid

    This Guardian article was really fascinating, and I recommend it. I do take it with a grain of salt as it could very well be exaggeration.

    Apropos our conversation on Vizio and Twitter, here are some quotes given by a guy who worked to support the Brexit “leave” campaign:

    Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

    Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”


    These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.

    The journalist of the article told the person he was talking to, Andy Widmore, communications person for “leave” group of Brexit, that this was creepy. Here’s Widmmore’s response:

    “It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”


    Regarding my “grain of salt comment:”

    From Buzzfeed: The Truth About Trump Data Team That People Are Freaking About

    From blogpost of Dave Karpf, an associate prof at GW University: Will the Real Psychometricers Please Stand Up

    Also, these comments:

  73. Reid

    A collection of articles on fake newsfrom StopFake website

    A Fake News Warning From a Former Propagandist. There’s description of con that is really elaborate in this.

    Defense Against the Dark Arts a Medium essay by Jonathan Stray.

  74. Reid

    A Quick Summary of Some Things That Seem True About Putin and Russian Government


    Don’t believe anything about Russia until the Kremlin denies it.

    Joke: Russia government has ties to organized crime. Who do you think organized them?

    On another note, here’s an interesting response to the question, how could the U.S. be tough on Putin and the Russian government without harming the Russian people? Here’s Garry Kasparov’s answer:

    Edit (4/8/2017)

    From The Daily Beast: Michael Weiss article, providing evidence of collusion between Russian government and organized crime.

    Edit (6/12/2017)

    From Foreign Policy: The Kremlin’s Newest Hybrid Warfare Asset: Gangsters

  75. Reid

    On WikiLeaks Disinformation Campaigns

    From Times op-ed by Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, is the author of the forthcoming “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” and a contributing opinion writer.

    WikiLeaks seems to have a playbook for its disinformation campaigns. The first step is to dump many documents at once — rather than allowing journalists to scrutinize them and absorb their significance before publication. The second step is to sensationalize the material with misleading news releases and tweets. The third step is to sit back and watch as the news media unwittingly promotes the WikiLeaks agenda under the auspices of independent reporting.

    The media, to its credit, eventually sorts things out — as it has belatedly started to do with the supposed C.I.A. cache. But by then, the initial burst of misinformation has spread. On social media in particular, the spin and distortion continues unabated. This time around, for example, there are widespread claims on social media that these leaked documents show that it was the C.I.A. that hacked the Democratic National Committee, and that it framed Russia for the hack. (The documents in the cache reveal nothing of the sort.)

    As with most misinformation campaigns, the dust that is kicked up obscures concerns over a real issue. Device and information insecurity, overzealous surveillance by governments — these are real concerns that call for real attention. Yes, we need to have extensive and thoughtful discussion of these topics. But that’s not what the WikiLeaks misinformation campaign has given us.

    Tufekci’s message to journalists:

    My takeaway, as a consume of news is this: be skeptical when reading news reports about a WikiLeaks’ dump, especially in the early part of reporting.


    From The Atlantic Council: Here’s Why You Should Worry About Russian Propaganda

    Speaking of Russian propaganda, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia on RT:

    Edit (4/6/2017)

    Another piece of evidence that Wikileaks is now an extension of Russian disinformation warfare:

    By the way, maybe we should consider sites like wikileaks, entities like bots, and internet trolls as soldiers or weapons in disinformation warfare.

  76. Reid

    To be read later, from the The Atlantic Council: Six Immediate Steps to Stop Putin’s Aggression

  77. Reid

    From Russia’s Plot Against the West. Recommended.

    Here’s one key passage in my opinion:

    Because the European Union and NATO – both of which have welcomed countries once dominated by Moscow – serve as obstacles to the reassertion of Russian hegemony, the Kremlin’s long-term strategy is to undermine and ultimately break these institutions from within, thereby neutralizing the concert of nations that has traditionally been necessary to restrain Russian expansion on the Continent. The Kremlin’s ideal outcome is the “Finlandization” of the West, whereby Europe and America abandon their principles, sacrifice their allies and accommodate Kremlin prerogatives without Russia having to dispatch a single soldier abroad. A West that is divided, inert and unsure of its own basic values is not one that will resist Russia’s revisionist agenda.

  78. Reid

    Russia Laundering Dirty Money

    Anne Applebaum, a historian and WaPo columnist tweeted a link to information on the way Russian government launders dirty money, reported by a group called Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). I never heard of them, but I’m trusting Applebaum here.

    Here’s an easy-to-understand infographic explaining how the process works.

    Reporters can now say that much of the money ultimately found its way to Russian businessmen who own groups of companies involved in construction, engineering, information technology, and banking. All held hundreds of millions of US dollars in state contracts either with the government directly, or with state-owned entities. They are named in this project and their spending sprees on fancy autos, prep school fees, furs, and electronics are revealed.

    and later,

    Money that might have helped repair the country’s deteriorating roads and ports, modernize the health care system, or ease the poverty of senior citizens – was instead deposited in a Moldovan bank.

    Re: Moldova’s investigation into the laundering scheme in relation to their country:

    We have to mention here that our investigation revealed connections between [this] money and attempts to corrupt members of the Moldovan Parliament.”

    Viorel Morari, head of the anti-corruption prosecution office in Moldova, said they had brought criminal charges against 16 judges.

    “We have 14 cases in court. Four of the judicial executors are charged. One is missing and we issued a search warrant for him, too, and two cases are already in court. Seven persons from Moldindconbank are also under investigation,” he said.

  79. Reid

    This McClatchy provides a good overview of the way Russians use bots and trolls to influence elections and even sow confusions. It’s clear to me that this is a real threat. It’s also seems clear to me that we don’t really realize the degree to which this is real threat. And we’re also getting our butts kicked! 🙁

  80. Reid

    I thought American Snoper: Why the Truth Won’t Set You Free, a Medium essay was interesting, written by “the grugq. I don’t know who he/she is, but it was linked in someone I follow in my natsec lists.

    The essay basically analyzes the Russian information attack in the recent U.S. election, and also talks about what’s happening in the upcoming European elections. I like that the author suggests specific ways to combat the attacks.

    (On a side note, I really hope Frontline or other news agencies do a documentary on Russian information war and hyper-war.)

  81. Reid

    From WarontheRocks: Trolling for Trump: How Russia is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy

    Edit (3/31/2017)

    Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking we’re getting our butts kicked. From the Seattle Times: The Information War is Real and We’re Losing It

    Edit (4/1/2017)

    Medium piece by the Grugq: How to Fight Cyberwars

    Edit (4/5/2017)

    This is a compilation of testimony on Russian active measures during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing. Here is the list of experts giving testimony: Eugene Rumer, Roy Godson, Clint Watts, Kevin Mandia, General Keith Alexander, and Thomas Rid. Lawfare blog has taken the 5 hour hearing and whittled it down to 2 hours, taking what they think were the best parts.

    Edit (4/13/2017)

    Molly McKew recommended this post.

    On Facebook, Russian commentator Igor Eidman draws a sharp contrast between what Khrushchev did so long ago and Safronkov’s antics. Khrushchev acted as he did for “completely sincere” motives, he says. “He thought that was how one had to speak with ‘class enemies’” (

    In contemporary Russian policy,” however, Eidman continues, “everything is a bluff and a lie.” Even what Safronkov did was “a rehearsed spectacle,” one organized because “the Putin powers that be in this way want simultaneously to frighten the world with their inadequacy and look tough before the Russian public.”

    Anyone who doubts this, the commentator says, should remember that the Russian representative wasn’t ad libbing: he spoke from a prepared text.

    (emphasis added)

    This is my impression as well. There seems to be little restrictions on the realms they will use deception and the degree to which they do so. They are clever, even innovative, but it’s completely diabolical. This last point is a huge weakness–if the world comes to understand what they do. At that point, I think Russia will be on the verge of losing.

  82. Reid

    From Foreign Policy: Russia Isn’t Really Interested in Fighting Terrorism by Molly McKew

    There’s a pitch being made by Russia and Trump that Russia and the U.S. should cooperate to fight terrorism, with the implication that cooperation would be a key concession for Russia in order to remove economic sanctions on them. I expect Trump will attempt to find ways to sell this angle to the American people, but here’s something that should be considered:

    Russia does not oppose terrorism and the radical groups that resort to terrorism like the West does. That is, the West rejects terrorism outright–particularly religious extremists. That’s not the case with the Russians– they are willing to use and manipulate–i.e., weaponize–these terrorist groups to achieve their objectives. For example,

    …the FSB has helped recruit fighters for the Islamic State and facilitated the movement of jihadis to Syria. Although some have said this was a “local initiative” to clean up the North Caucasus before the Sochi Olympics, there is reporting that this recruitment was happening via Russian assets across Europe as well.

    This early support yielded clear results for the Kremlin. It is hard to ignore that the first group of Russian-speaking jihadis showed up in Syria at exactly the right time to help turn the war away from Assad and toward Iraq.

    (Note: the FSB is the current incarnation of the KGB)

    Russia will use terrorist groups to achieve their objectives. The U.S. and other Western nations are fighting against terrorists groups, currently the ones with radical Islamists. These are really different objectives–and I would think cooperation would be very limited.

    It’s also crucial to consider that Russia’s overall objective is to weaken NATO, Europe, and the U.S. Again, it seems like the possibility for cooperation would seem very limited, if any. Removing sanctions for cooperation to fight terrorism also seems highly dubious.

  83. Reid

    From Reuters

    The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

    It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

    A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

  84. Reid
  85. Reid

    The U.S. needs a Frontline style documentary about Russian info war, active measurses, etc. If they do make one, McKew should be heavily featured in my opinion.

  86. Reid

    This is What We Must Understand

    From Time magazine:

    Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. “Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it’s becoming easier every day,” says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology.

    I’m uncertain if enough of our leaders really understand this. I’m more certain that many of the general public do not. Gaining this understanding is a important first step in protecting our country and beating back Russia and other hostile foreign actors in the Internet Age.

    Edit (5/23/2017) 6 years

  87. Reid

    This Might Be the Most Compelling Article Suggesting We Are Losing Big to the Russians

    From WaPo: How a Dubious Russian Document Influenced the FBI’s Handling of the Clinton Probe

    Admittedly, I didn’t finish the whole thing, but I felt I read enough to start thinking that we’re really getting hammered by the Russians–and we don’t seem to be very close to even realizing the situation we’re in. I say that based on what I hear from politicians and what I read in the press. Except for a few people, I don’t get the sense our leaders and journalists really understand the situation we’re in.

    Additionally, some thoughts about the way the Russians are really playing us came to mind:

    1. I suspect they’re using partisanship and partisan impulses against us. It’s so powerful that people will place this over the interests of the nation. It’s like we’re bickering siblings that can’t see that the family is being attacked by an outsider–and that outsider is exploiting the sibling rivalry to undermine and destroy the family.

    2. I also suspect the Russians are playing the press–using what they know about what the press does, how they’re need to get scoops and also make profits to manipulate the press and thereby manipulate the American public.

    3. The Russians may also have more granular information about specific leaders and people of influence and try to influence and manipulate them, particularly through the internet.

    How do I know this? I don’t really, but it’s the type of thing I would do if I were the Russians–if I were operating as a extreme Machiavellian.

    Quickly, here are some solutions to those three things, off the top of my head:

    1. Need to start creating a narrative and focus on unifying themes–like our form of government, Bill of Rights, freedom adn the history and heroes that brought these things about. We have to look to them to find inspiration. In the narrative, the villain is autocracy or illiberal democracy. Putin is the Loki-like figure;

    2. Public funding or a strong funding source to the press. This will not only give them more resources to do a better job of reporting, but also this may free them from vulnerabilities created by the need for profits;

    3. Don’t know about this third problem, except that individual leaders and people of influence have to be aware of the potential for being manipulated.

  88. Reid
  89. Reid

    Suggestions on How to Identify a Bot

  90. Reid

    From Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab, a Medium piece, Blowing the Whistle on Sputnik, by Ben Nimmo. The article focuses on whistleblowers of Sputnik and RT.

    Edit: Another article supporting my feeling we’re getting our butts kicked

    From Politico: Russia Escalates Spy Games After Years of U.S. Neglect

    Edit (6/1/2017)

    From New York Times: How Twitter is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation

  91. Reid

    Putin is the Loki of world leaders.

    Edit (6/8/2017)

    Former Director of National Intelligence under the Obama administration (and actually served administrations going back to the JFK administration) gave a speech in Australia yesterday. An excerpt:

    There is well-founded concern here about our current administration and its emerging foreign policy generally, toward this region, and specifically toward Australia. And that is one reason I wanted to come here, and one reason why I want to speak publically. It is, in fact, quite liberating to be free of the government “harness”.

    Some truth in advertising at this point is appropriate: I have toiled in the trenches of US intelligence for every President since and including John F. Kennedy; 34 years of that were in the US military, and, in a variety of civilian capacities since I left the military some 21 plus years ago. My professional instincts have always included loyalty to the President, particularly in his capacity as Commander-In-Chie, whoever it has been, above all else. I have served as a political appointee in both Republican and Democratic administrations. So, it is not easy for me to be critical of a president, but as I said in a CNN interview a couple of weeks ago, now as a private citizen I am very concerned about the assaults on our institutions, coming from both an external source (read Russia), and an internal source (read the President himself).
    So let me speak briefly first about the source of the external assault:

    Russia embarked on a campaign to interfere with our presidential election, which was unprecedented in its directness and aggressiveness. The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections — theirs and others. They have tried to interfere in ours going back to the sixties, but let me stress, never like this. Apart from the infamous hacking of the Democratic National Committee, their campaign had many other dimensions: social media trolls planting false information; orchestrated “fake news” which many other news outlets picked up (either wittingly or unwittingly); and a very sophisticated campaign by the regime funded propaganda arm RT, against Hillary Clinton, and for Donald Trump.

    Their first objective, though, was to sow doubt, discontent, and discord about our political system. They achieved, I am sure, beyond their wildest expectations. Given their success, they have only been emboldened to be even more aggressive in the future. This is not, let me emphasize, “fake news.” The Russians are not our friends; they (Putin specifically) are avowedly opposed to our democracy and values, and see us as the cause of all their frustrations.

    I would also point out some things about Russia that many in the United States have not kept in perspective. The Russians are embarked on a very aggressive and disturbing program to modernize their strategic forces — notably their submarine and land-based nuclear forces. They have also made big investments in their counter-space capabilities. They do all this — despite their economic challenges — with only one adversary in mind: the United States. And, just for good measure, they are also in active violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

    Interestingly, every one of the non-acting Prime Ministers of Russia since 1992 has come from one of two domains:

    the oil and gas sector, or
    the security services.
    To put this in perspective, and as I have pointed out to US audiences, suppose the last ten presidents of the US were either CIA officers, or the Chairman of Exxon-Mobile. I think this gives you some insight into the dominant mind-set of the Russian government.

    As a consequence of all this, I have had a very hard time reconciling the threat the Russians pose to the United States—and, for that matter, western democracies in general—with the inexplicably solicitous stance the Trump administration (or at least, he himself as opposed to others in his administration) has taken with respect to Russia.

    Let me move to the internal assault on our institutions I will share two examples, among many.

    Then President-elect Trump disparaged the Intelligence Community’s high-confidence assessment of the magnitude and diversity of the Russian interference by characterizing us as “Nazis”. This was prompted by his and his team’s extreme paranoia about, and resentment of, any doubt cast on the legitimacy of his election. When he made this absurd allegation, I felt an obligation to defend the men and women of the United States intelligence community, so I called him on 11 January. Surprisingly, he took my call. I tried, naively it turned out, to appeal to his “higher instincts” — by pointing out that the intelligence community he was about to inherit is a national treasure, and that the people in it were committed to supporting him and making him successful. Ever transactional, he simply asked me to publicly refute the infamous “dossier”, which I could not and would not do.

    When I later learned that the first place he was going to visit after the Inauguration was CIA, I thought — again, naively — that perhaps I had gotten through to him. For the intelligence community (not just the CIA) the wall in the front lobby at CIA Headquarters is hallowed, with over 120 stars commemorating CIA officers who have paid the ultimate price. He chose to use that as a prop for railing about the size of the inauguration crowd on the Mall, and his battle with the “fake news” media. His subsequent actions — sharing sensitive intelligence with the Russians, and, compromising its source reflect ignorance or disrespect — are likewise very problematic.

    Similarly, the whole episode with the firing of Jim Comey a distinguished public servant. Apart from the egregious, inexcusable manner in which it was conducted, this episode reflected complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the FBI, our premier law enforcement organization. (Again truth in advertising, Jim is a personal friend and personal hero of mine.)
    So, as I said, I worry about these assaults on our institutions.

    Finally, as long as I am into controversial things, I do want to say a word about China, since I realize it is much more of a pre-occupation here than Russia is, but I see some striking parallels between what our two countries are experiencing at the hand of these two countries.

    (The link also contains a transcript of a Q&A session with reporters as well.)

  92. Reid

    Two Men Charged Over Refugee Home Bomb Attack Received Russian Training

    This happened in Sweden. The two men were neo-nazi that just received military training in Russia.

    Edit (6/12/2017)

    Gerasimov doctrine

  93. Reid
  94. Reid

    From Defense One: The U.S. Government is Still Installing Russian Software on its PCs (Just skimmed it.)

    Edit (6/21/2017)

    Edit 6/24/2017

    From Wired: How an Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab for Cyberwar

    Edit (6/26/2017)

    From WaPo: How Europe is Combating Russian Information Warfare by Dana Priest.

    The article creates the impression that Europe is so far ahead of how to deal with information warfare than we are here in the States. We need to get on this, pronto.


    From The Atlantic Council: Why Talk About Disinformation Now:

    The Oxford Internet Institute defines computational propaganda as “the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks.” In a series of recent case studies, the Oxford researchers warn that “computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy”—originally developed by state actors with resources to devote to maintaining whole troll factories and media networks, it is now used by state and non-state actors to intentionally manipulate the online information environment. And as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation technologies have grown, they’ve also become much cheaper. As our interactions and information consumption shifts to the digital space, our societies become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation.

    It’s no longer just the Russians who are playing in this space, though they certainly lead the pack. Extremist and terrorist groups, other authoritarian states like China, and opportunists are using these tools to influence our politics and manipulate our attitudes. As these technologies evolve, so does the threat posed by malign actors who co-opt and deploy them on democratic societies. And while the time horizon in the digital world is short and technological advancement is fast, our capability to respond is still far too slow.

    The threat is imminent and real. To get ahead of it will require the efforts of governments, civil society, tech firms, and individual citizens. We will need to work together to identify vulnerabilities, test solutions, and ultimately build long-term resilience. This war for our information security, our democracies, and our values will not be won quickly or easily. But the free world is worth fighting for.

    Edit (6/27/2017)

    WaPo op-ed by Molly McKew: A Killing in Kiev Shows How the West Continues to Fail Ukraine


    From The Miami Herald: Russian Official Linked to South Florida Biker Club Spent Millions on Trump’s Condos

    Corruption is a major problem in Russia, sparking massive opposition-led protests in March. And South Florida figures big as a hiding place for mysterious funds. Russian organized crime groups are known to operate in the region.

    “If a person needs to hide dirty money, my bet is that this person is going to South Florida,” said Shumanov of Transparency International. “It is an ideal place for … laundering money through luxury real estate. The prices are rising, the investment is protected and there are dozens of ways to hide the beneficial owner of an expensive condominium, house or villa.”

    Also interesting is Russian biker clubs–one in Russia (“Night Wolves”) and one in Florida (“Spetnaz”). The article alludes to military personnel being heavily involve in biker clubs, but doesn’t address whether the Florida group is made up of military personnel. It does mention one law enforcement officer, though.

    Edit (6/28/2017)

    Worth watching:

    About the 3:00 minute mark, the comment is made that “people don’t like being manipulated,” so once you can inform the public that Russia (or another hostile actor) is doing that, then people instantly become more cautious. This resonated with me, as I believe this to be the case. The clip includes other ways Russia has tried to manipulate public perceptions in Europe and also briefly touches on ways to counter this. Worth watching.


    On digital disinformation:

    Edit: Misinformation, Disinformation, and Propaganda (6/29/2017)

    Edit (6/29/2017)

    File under stories that sound kinda nutty, so I keep it at arm’s length away from me, but I can’t dismiss completely because it comes from a reputable source (as far as I know):

    From The Daily Beast: Top Trump Ally Met With Putin’s Deputy in Moscow. The ally is the NRA, which, according to the report, contributed $30 million to the Trump campaign.

  95. Reid

    From The National Interest: a long piece, not about Russian information war, but ways we can understand Russia better to resolve conflicts with them: To Deal with the Russians, America Must Think Like the Russians

    Edit (7/6/2017)

    From Bloomberg News: Hacking in 12 Nuclear Power Plants–Russians Suspected

    Edit (7/11/2017)

    Edit (7/15/2017)

    From New York Post: No One Truly Retires from Russian Intelligence, opinion piece by Ralph Peters, retired Lieutenant Colonel.

    (One question I wonder about: does this apply to those who have become American citizens? One of the key people that Peters is indirectly referring to is Rihat Ahkmetshin, who is former Russian military/counter-intel officer, who is now an American citizen. Do his claims apply to a person like that? I’m a little uncomfortable going that far with someone who is now an American citizen.)


    Edit (7/19/2017)

    To be read later:

    From Meduza: Moscow’s Cyberdefense: How the Russian Government Plans to Protect Their Country from the Coming Cyber-War (Retweeted by Michael McFaul).

    Edit (7/20/2017)

    From JustSecurity: The Making of a Russian Spy: A Roadmap for the FBI to Solve Russiagate by Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

    Edit (7/22/2017)

    Conversation with Rolf Mowatt-Larssen

    Edit (7/25/2017)

    From The Atlantic Council: Why the US Keeps Losing the Fight Against Disinformation

    Edit (7/25/2017)

    From National Endowment for Democracy (NED): Forum Q&A: Philip Howard on Computational Propaganda’s Challenge to Democracy recommended by Anne Applebaum

    Edit (7/28/2017)

    Edit (7/29/2017)

    Two village-idiots threads:

    If Russia Interfered in Our Elections Before, What Made 2016 Different?

    Meeting Between Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, Kushner and Russian Lawyer Natalia Velnitskaya

    Edit (8/2/2017)

    Securing Democracy is a site that tracks Russian propaganda activity on twitter. (Referred by Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under Obama).

    From Cipher Brief, excerpts from an interview with Bill Evanina, the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (which is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of the U.S. intelligence agencies).

    In his position, Evanina drives counterintelligence and security issues across government and at Five Eyes and NATO, where he represents the U.S. on CI. A few years ago, he’d go over to NATO and hear stories from Baltic states about Russian propaganda — “I’d be like, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Evanina recalled.

    “Until now, when we see it and the results of it, in the last year or so — now, your eyes are wide open and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve heard about this the last three years in Eastern Europe, and they’ve been living with this for decades. We are just now getting in the game. And we are decades behind,’” he said. “The government, private sector, and most important, the media, is not experienced in this. They don’t know how to differentiate between what’s fake news, what’s not fake news, what’s a botnet. Eastern Europeans know the difference. We have a lot of growing to do as a country.” (emphasis added)

    Edit (8/3/2017)

    Newsweek: How Linkedin and Other Becoming Battleground for Information War

    To bolster their credentials, most—even current and former U.S. national security officials—post detailed résumés and recommendations from their colleagues. That provides fodder for Russian intelligence to gather detailed information on its most formidable critics and cast doubt on the truth of those accomplishments.
    “The Russian special services are for sure exploiting LinkedIn to gather personal information on certain targets and possibly recruit and blackmail them,” says a close Kremlin watcher at a university in a former Soviet satellite state, asking for anonymity to protect himself. “They operate under fabricated identities and credentials, while the Russian propaganda and trolling campaigns are widely applied on the platform.”

    The pro-Moscow campaign has recently expanded—and, in some cases, gone offline—allege some American LinkedIn members who have been criticizing Russia’s covert attacks on the West. A few days before Malcher was approached in a London pub in March, a former U.S. national security official who had been contesting Kremlin propaganda on LinkedIn says he was assaulted near his retirement home in France. “I was shopping at the local supermarket when I was stung on my lower-right thigh by something, probably with an umbrella,” Giles Raymond DeMourot tells Newsweek. An hour later, he says, a doctor extracted bits of “what seemed like a wooden needle” from the wound. Lab tests determined it was “impregnated with carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa,” a potentially lethal “superbug,” he says, and he’s had to make several visits to his doctor for treatments.

    Edit (8/4/2017)

    From The Dallas Morning News: Tangled Web Connects Russian Oligarch Money to GOP Campaigns

    Edit (8/15/2017)

    Edit (8/16/2017)

    Edit (9/6/2017)

    Report from Facebook about Russian sites purchasing ads on Facebook:

    In reviewing the ads buys, we have found approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000 ads — that was connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies. Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.

    We don’t allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook, and as a result, we have since shut down the accounts and Pages we identified that were still active.

    • The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.
    • Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.
    • About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016.
    • The behavior displayed by these accounts to amplify divisive messages was consistent with the techniques mentioned in the white paper we released in April about information operations.

    Also: Molly McKew’s new piece on Politico

    Edit (9/7/2017)

    Edit (11/2/2017)

    From PBS: The Election is Over But the Russian Disinformation Hasn’t Gone Away

    From AP News:

  96. Reid

    Some Challenges Dealing With Russian Information Warfare

    When people speak out against those pushing Russian propaganda, one way Russia seems to be pushing back against this is to accuse these people of McCarthyism. This is shrewd tactic for a variety of reasons. McCarthyism–or the Red Scare–is seen as a dark moment in U.S. history. No one wants to be labeled as a McCarthy-ite, and we don’t want to return to the approach–specifically, making baseless accusations about individual Americans cooperating with an adversarial nation. This is a real possibility, and we should be wary of it. The challenge is distinguishing good faith criticisms and opinions versus promotion of Russian propaganda can be extremely difficult.

    Nevertheless, in my view, that is the challenge we have to face–because I do believe Russia will actively promote propaganda and disinformation to undermine the faith in democratic institutions and government, while also attempting to widen existing divisions.

    How do we identify and limit this, without returning to McCarthyism? That’s one of the challenges we face.

    I also wanted to mention something else to keep in mind–namely, that we need to consider the interests of those who are speaking out against Russian propaganda. Specifically, I’m thinking of those who either come from or who have helped nations that are most threatened by Russia. Reasonably, they don’t want to be dominated or invaded by Russia, and they have incentives to cast Russia in a negative light. This depiction may be accurate, but the incentives have to be kept in mind. At the same time, one must also be wary of those who will bring up these incentives as a way to discredit and dismiss these voices as well. Dismissal on these grounds is also a danger. One person I follow, Molly McKew, is an American, but has worked as an adivser to Georgian government and another government in that region (can’t remember the name right now). What she says resonates with me, but I think it’s important to keep in my mind who she’s trying to help and what her motives are. What I will say is that the interests of those nations that Russia poses a threat to probably align closely with the U.S.’s. However, it’s important to remember that’s not always the case.

  97. Reid

    Connections Between Russia and the Alt-Right/White Supremacy/White Nationalism/Neo-Nazis

    I’ve seen articles like this before, but held them at arm’s length. I’m starting to consider the connections a bit more seriously. To be clear, the assertion isn’t that Russia created these groups. The point is that Russia is supporting them as a way to create internal strife in the U.S. and Europe.

    Here’s one article from Business Insider. I’ll try to post more later.

    Edit (8/16/2017)

    Thread on this, recommended by Anne Applebaum:

    Edit (8/23/2017)

    From CNN: Could Charlottesville Open the Door for Russia?

    Edit (8/26/2017)

    About botnets. (I’m not sure if this is referring to the bot nets that promote Russian propaganda in general, the one that attack propublica, or both.)

    Oh, here’s a piece on Medium about it:

    Edit (8/29/2017)

    From The Daily Beast: The Day an Army of Bots Turned on Bot Researchers

    Edit (9/28/2017)

    From Foreign Policy: Russia’s Hybrid Warriors Are Coming for American Civil Society

    Edit (10/23/2017)

    From Politico: This Myth About the Great and Horrible Putin

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.