Monday, September 5, 2016

Quotable: John Daniel Davidson on Russian disinformation, “active measures,” and the U.S. presidential campaign

Donald M. Bishop, "Quotable: John Daniel Davidson on Russian disinformation, 'active measures,' and the U.S. presidential campaign,"

Davidson image from

Sunday, September 4th 2016
“Recent high-profile cyberattacks are all part of a coordinated Russian effort to disrupt U.S. elections. The ultimate goal isn't to elect Trump, but to undermine Americans' faith in democracy.”  This is the summary subhead of an August 31, 2016, article by John Daniel Davidson (senior correspondent at The Federalist), “Russia’s Cyber Warfare Has Bigger Aims Than Electing Donald Trump.”  Here are key points:

  • As tempting as it is to see Russia as a partisan player on Trump’s side, the Kremlin’s goal isn’t to see a particular candidate win. The goal is much more insidious: to undermine American confidence in our political system. That is, the Kremlin’s real target is liberal democracy itself.

Russian Cyberattacks Follow A Certain Ruthless Logic

  • Whatever emails or documents the Russians release through Wikileaks or other channels, everyone will know the leaked information is legitimate, not fabricated. The next logical step for Russians, having established the veracity of the information they leak, will be to introduce false and misleading information.

Disinformation Is A Weapon Of War

  • Injecting disinformation into the news cycle is a well-established tactic of Russian influence operations, hearkening back to Cold War programs the Soviets called “active measures,” in which secret agents would plant false news stories in the Western press.

  • Disinformation of this kind has long been an important aspect of Russian military doctrine, the idea being that it’s easier, and cheaper, to persuade Russia’s enemies than to kill them.

  • The difference now is that technology makes it possible to coordinate false information and flood news cycles and social media networks in ways that were impossible during the Cold War.

  • . . .during the recent coup attempt in Turkey [there was] . . . a flood of Twitter posts claiming the U.S. airbase at Incirlik had been surrounded by thousands of armed police. The story . . . demonstrates the extent to which Moscow is willing to employ Twitter trolls in coordination with official news channels like and Sputnik, the two main state-controlled media outlets that publish in English, to advance false storylines and distorted information.

Soviet ‘Active Measures’ Are Back

  • Here in the United States, something similar has been underway for months, with suspiciously coordinated social media trolls shilling for Trump on Twitter, amplifying his anti-NATO and anti-Ukraine pronouncements.

  • The Russians have chosen their moment well. American confidence in public institutions is languishing at historic lows, while the vast majority of Americans report anger and frustration at the federal government. That lack of trust has helped propel Trump, a political outsider, to the top of the Republican Party ticket. It fueled the insurgent campaign of Bernie Sanders. Now Moscow is exploiting it in the service of a grand strategy, with far greater implications than a single U.S. presidential election.

  • After all, if Putin can convince Americans that liberal democracy is nothing but a sham, he will accomplish what no leader of the Soviet Union ever could. Decades after we thought it was over, Russia will have finally won the Cold War.

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