View Full Version : Russian Subversion in the Information Age

Bill Moore
11-02-2017, 07:30 AM

Russia organized 2 sides of a Texas protest and encouraged 'both sides to battle in the streets'

Russian actors organized both anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a so-called troll farm in St. Petersburg, the Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed on Wednesday.

"What neither side could have known was that Russian trolls were encouraging both sides to battle in the streets and create division between real Americans," Burr said on Wednesday during an open hearing with the general counsels of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Is subversion an act of war? If not, if we don't defend our liberal democracy, what do we really stand for? We love to say our intelligence services and military defend our freedom. A lot of our adventures overseas have little to do with defending our freedom. However, if an adversary uses subversion to target the core of who we are as a nation, a liberal democracy, and it isn't an act of war, then how to we categorize it? How do we respond beyond attacking each other to gain political points?

These types of activities can severely undermine a nation's strength, and for weak nations it cause them to collapse from within. This particular event may seem minor, but it when there are tens of these on a monthly basis over time it can cause a culmination effect where we either destroy ourselves or change our identity over time. Certainly not the same level of physical destruction and death that would be incurred in a major war, but none the less a war like objective achieved short of conventional war. It calls into question whether war is best described by the adversary's means (employ violence to achieve a political end) or his ends (destroy or weaken our nation, but not through the employment of military forces).

I heard of this particular incident on the radio while driving home tonight, and did a search to pull an article to start a discussion on the broader issues associated with this attack. The Congressman added that Russia created this protest for the equivalent of a mere $200.00. How much does one hellfire missile cost? What is its impact relative to a $200.00 troll operation?

Retaliation is complicated assuming we had the will to do so, because the use of decent tradecraft (using cut outs by employing proxies) makes attribution to the level desired to justify a legal response challenging. Additionally, now that the cat if out of the bag, other actors who want to target us, including non-state actors can and will do so using similar methods.

We can elevate this to the next level, which is cyber attacks. An adversary that attacks our power grid has conducted an act of war, but only if we can attribute the attack. What about an adversary, say a rogue state that uses cyber operations to rob banks? We're not exactly going to send the FBI or Marshals to arrest and then prosecute state cyber actors who may reside anywhere in the world, or even if we did, making a case with sufficient evidence would prove difficult, not to mention that nation probably has an army of hackers, so it would make any difference. We would actually have to conduct a significant attack on that country. Would the world condemn a country that conducted a lethal attack on another country, because that country's cyber actors conducted a cyber attack or robbed another country's bank?

Joint Doctrine recently added information as the 7th Joint Function. This is long overdue, but the paragraph that describes it is a bit lame.

The information function encompasses the management and application of information and its deliberate integration with other joint functions to influence relevant-actor perceptions, behavior, action or inaction, and support human and automated decision making. The information function helps commanders and staffs understand and leverage the pervasive nature of information, its military uses, and its application during all military operations. This function provides JFCs the ability to integrate the generation and preservation of friendly information while leveraging the inherent informational aspects of all military activities to achieve the commander’s objectives and attain the end state.”

It reads more like strategic communications or controlling the narrative from our COIN doctrine, than a needed more comprehensive view of information, information technologies, and how to leverage it to achieve tactical to strategic effects.

11-02-2017, 08:33 PM

I posted this yesterday on another thread Russian cyber attacks on the USA:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=16672&page=6 and reflects in part your thoughts.

The full title is 'Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online: Working with Tech to Find Solutions' and the author, Clint Watts (Forum member), gave evidence today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

There is much to learn; this sentence IMHO will resonate with Forum readers:
Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced – silence the guns and the barrage will end.

(He ends with) America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.Link:https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/10/extremist-content-russian-disinformation-online-working-tech-find-solutions/

11-03-2017, 05:02 PM
From Gennady Rudkevich (@grudkev), Assistant Professor in International Relations at Georgia College:

While it’s troubling Russia used social media to interfere in the US election, the claim this had a major impact currently lacks support.

The Russian effect was minimal for 2 sets of reasons: the impact of social media in general and the Russian share of the social media pie.

(This argument is limited to the effectiveness of Russia’s social media campaign, not its cyberattacks or relationships with US officials.)

1. Social media spending by the GOP/DNC was ~$500m. Interest groups added to that tally. Russia spent a few million.

2. Russia's blamed for 80k Facebook posts, many w/o political content. There were 1 billion political tweets in '16.

3. The Russian trolls' main emphasis was inciting communal hatred. Political ads were a small part of that campaign.

4. The largest Russian accounts had 50-150k Twitter followers. Top political influencers (like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter) have millions.

5. The main social media impact is on the same side’s voter turnout (see article). GOP turnout didn’t increase.

6. For fake news: the largest effect is on the converted. The impact would be on turnout. Turnout didn't increase

7. Fake news in general has an insignificant effect. A truly effective fake news ad can increase vote share by 0.01% (same source as above).

8. Social media can influence elections when one of the candidates has low name recognition. Wasn't the case here

9. Social media has no more of an impact than TV ads. The 2 parties spent $4.4 billion on TV ads. Russia did not.

10. Lastly, it's too soon. It takes years to conduct & publish studies. It's irresponsible to make serious claims without serious evidence.


http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7415/full/nature11421.html …

Bill Moore
11-04-2017, 09:47 PM

I missed your post, my apologies for the double post. Nonetheless, it is a topic I want to explore further on this thread over time. The nature of information power in the 21st Century, and how it has evolved from previous decades and even centuries. Using covert influence is certainly not a new statecraft tool for states to employ, but how it is employed now is considerably different.


I agree that the impact on the election was minimal, the bottom line is Clinton simply didn't run a good campaign and inadequately responded to allegations about her character. Furthermore, it isn't unusual for Americans to want to switch between a Republican and Democratic President after one has been in power for 8 years.

The real issue is the perception that Russia's information campaign made a difference, and the divisions it is creating in our society. And as you posted, the larger concern is Russia's objective:

The Russian trolls' main emphasis was inciting communal hatred. Political ads were a small part of that campaign.

11-06-2017, 11:13 PM

I agree that the impact on the election was minimal, the bottom line is Clinton simply didn't run a good campaign and inadequately responded to allegations about her character. Furthermore, it isn't unusual for Americans to want to switch between a Republican and Democratic President after one has been in power for 8 years.

The real issue is the perception that Russia's information campaign made a difference, and the divisions it is creating in our society. And as you posted, the larger concern is Russia's objective:


What I find disturbing is that those who supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy have used Russia’s intelligence operations to attempt to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election. Yet, to be fair, had Hillary Clinton won, she would have been embattled just the same and the electorate would be at least as fractious as now.

Few are willing to admit that America’s best and brightest are apparently avoiding public office, and that the absence of an existential threat to the U.S. leaves the field to special interests vying for influence and resources.

Perception is reality, and in that regard the Russian campaign was a tremendous success. Russia is now more salient in the popular American discourse than at any time since the end of the Cold War, and this is in spite of Russia’s linear history of aggression since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, aggression which was restrained more by capabilities than intentions. Yet the Kremlin continues to misunderstand American policymaking and the short-sightedness caused by electoral turnover.

Indeed, Gerasimov’s alleged “doctrine” is actually a description of how Russians believe the U.S. has pursued foreign policy from Operation Allied Force in 1999 to Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. As Western analysts work on countermeasures to “hybrid” or “non-linear” warfare, they either fail to see that this is a counter to a counter, or they are reveling in the attention once gobbled up by CENTCOM’s area of responsibility. Either way, any state would prefer its rivals and adversaries to be kept busy with internal matters, and Russia is no exception. However, there is a danger in enforcing conformity internally to protect against external subversion…

01-28-2018, 05:34 PM
Clint Watts, who used to post here, has been an observer of this theme for a few years now and this article / report. The full title being: So What Did We Learn? Looking Back on Four Years of Russia’s Cyber-Enabled “Active Measures”

He ends with:
The Kremlin’s playbook is in the wild, and authoritarians around the world have begun adopting their techniques in pursuit of domestic and foreign audience manipulation. The world, and particularly the West, must move past the presidential election of 2016, learn from its mistakes, and begin anticipating where the Kremlin will move next. No one has successfully countered Russia’s approach yet, and Putin has no reason to stop. In the absence of resistance, Russia will exploit success, not demonstrate self-restraint.Link:http://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/blog/2018/01/16/so-what-did-we-learn-looking-back-four-years-russias-cyber-enabled-active-measures

03-09-2018, 12:46 PM
Russia trolls US on Twitter. Jocularity within link below.


03-16-2018, 01:34 PM
The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.

United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict.

They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017, after President Trump was inaugurated.


06-01-2018, 03:11 PM
This is a new book by Clint Watts, who once frequented the Forum and the full title is: 'Messing With The Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World Of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News'. In an email his short description is:
....explores how bad actors have come to social media to rally their allies and take down their adversaries. I discuss the tricks and tactics of the Kremlin’s trolls, social media conversations with terrorists, and the future of social media influence. I finish with some thoughts on how countries, corporations and citizens - each of us - can survive in a hyperconnected social media world.

Available via:https://www.amazon.com/Messing-Enemy-Surviving-Terrorists-Russians/dp/0062795988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1520009039&sr=8-1&keywords=messing+with+the+enemy&dpID=41Jommj9gvL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

He was on Bill Maher's show two weeks ago; in an eight minute clip via:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IwdIxhAkBc


08-26-2018, 01:34 PM
Detailed article on the attack on A.P. Møller-Maersk.

In the spring of 2017, unbeknownst to anyone at Linkos Group, Russian military hackers hijacked the company’s update servers to allow them a hidden back door into the thousands of PCs around the country and the world that have M.E.Doc installed. Then, in June 2017, the saboteurs used that back door to release a piece of malware called #NotPetya, their most vicious cyberweapon yet.


10-28-2018, 06:42 AM
The US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) is engaging in a campaign to deter further disinformation operations by Russian operatives—individuals like those employed through Russian companies as part of the "Project Lakhta" program described in last week's Justice Department indictment of Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova—by letting them know that they are being watched. According to a report from the New York Times' Julian E. Barnes, USCYBERCOM has directed operations to identify, track, and directly message individuals involved in disinformation campaigns associated with the upcoming midterm elections.

The Cyber Command operation, described by unnamed senior military officials, is limited in scope and does not involve directly threatening Russian operatives. The measured steps are meant to avoid an escalation of operations by Russia to more serious computer-based attacks on US information systems and infrastructure.