Russia’s likely Democratic National Committee email hack and subsequent Wikileaks release employs the same information operation strategy it has used to interfere in European elections for years.
Russia has morphed old school soviet “active measures” with cyber spying, to create one of the most effective tools in its hybrid warfare arsenal. A retired KGB general defined active measures as driving “wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people.”
Putin’s objective is to restore the power of the former Soviet Union, which he called a “catastrophe” in 2005. Putin has opted to adopt a world view that see’s NATO and the EU as existential threats to Russia’s goals.
U.S. intelligence agencies now report with “high confidence” that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email server. The release of the leaks is viewed as a “weaponization” of information gathered for intelligence purposes. Such a breach and release of information to influence U.S. elections surpasses any actions of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
“Russia has a long history of active measures in the US and Europe,” Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation For Defense Of Democracies, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Zilberman elaborated, “During the Putin era, they have actively supported political parties across Europe, which held views favorable to the Kremlin and its policies.”
Maria Snegovaya, an expert in Russian information operations, concurred with Zilberman’s assessment telling TheDCNF, “Russia has repeatedly supported different far-right and far-left candidates all over Europe.” She emphasized, “Here Trump is no exception, he is a typical far-right candidate, and his announced policies will be much more favorable for Putin than Hillary’s prospective policies.”
The Budapest-based Political Capital Institute has found definitive connections between Russia and 15 far right parties in countries like the U.K., Denmark, Italy, and Austria. Zilberman also pointed to the distinct ties between the Kremlin and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party. Le Pen’s party calls for a total cessation of immigration into France, and exit from the European Union. Le Pen’s party was approved for a 14-million-dollar loan from a Kremlin-backed bank in 2014.
Today’s Russia’s intelligence apparatus has applied active measures tactics to cyber space. “While the very concept of information warfare is quite old, today’s Russian theorists emphasize the influence of the 21st century changes,” Snegovoya said. “Today’s Kremlin policymakers make a special emphasis on the use of the internet.”
Snegovaya noted in a report for the Institute for the Study of War that Russia’s cyber information tactics cause, “a stronger adversary voluntarily to choose the actions most advantageous to Russian objectives by shaping the adversary’s perceptions of the situation decisively.” She elaborates that the aim of information operations is “to take advantage of pre-existing dispositions among its enemies to choose its preferred courses of action.”
A new study by researchers at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic noted that the Kremlin has been engaged in a long term campaign to sow distrust and disbelief in the integrity of the EU. One of the report’s authors stressed in a June 16 interview with Radio Free Europe that Russia’s propaganda is focused on “framing the debate” in a way that pushes the population to sympathize with Russia’s goals.
The report noted the proliferation of media organizations in the Czech republic tied to the Kremlin. The same campaign that resembles Russian operations throughout Western Europe. Russia operates english language sites like RT, Sputnik International News, and other media organizations to frame western news in a Kremlin friendly way.
In the Netherlands, Russian media organizations heavily hyped anti-EU activists calling for a national referendum on an EU-Ukraine trade deal. Russian media organizations, along with far-right parties tied to the Kremlin, heavily energized their base of voters and defeated the trade deal in April 2016. The referendum was not binding, but was hailed the Kremlin for exposing rifts in the EU’s pro-Ukraine stance.
President Barack Obama denied official confirmation that Russia was trying to influence the election in an interview with NBCNews Wednesday saying, “Anythings possible,” but acknowledged that Russia has long been engaged in trying to influence European elections.
These tactics may be at work in the U.S. presidential election. The DNC email leak has roiled the internal party structure, forced the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, and proven quite conclusively that DNC staffers tried to subvert Bernie Sanders presidential nomination. This revelation could hurt Clinton in the general election, which may help the Kremlin’s likely goal of a Trump presidency.
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