In an assessment of Russian activities related to the 2016 presidential election, members of the the U.S. intelligence community1 found that:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.2
The report concluded:
Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.3
1 In this case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.
2 Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, Intelligence Community Assessment,” January 6, 2017, p. ii, available at: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf. Boldface text is original to the document.
The report also stated that the agencies “assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton
Social media companies later reported that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian state operatives had purchased large numbers of online political ads targeting narrow segments of the American population. Facebook provided Congressional investigators with information regarding 3,000 paid ads linked to Russia.4 Twitter identified hundreds of Russian accounts and revealed that the Russian RT news site had purchased $274,100 in online ads in 2016.5 Google also identified Russian-bought ads aimed at influencing the 2016 election on YouTube, Gmail, and other platforms.6
In October 2017, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,” stated that when a “country can . . . interfere in another country’s elections, that is warfare.” Misinformation creates a situation where “democracy shifts [away] from what the people want. We didn’t just see it here. You can look at France, and you can look at other countries. They [Russia] are doing this everywhere. This is their new weapon of choice. And we have to make sure we get in front of it. . . . Our Intelligence agencies
and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence;” that “Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency;” that “further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals;” that “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’ Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin;” that “Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties;” and that “We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks . . . Russia’s state-run propaganda machine contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.” (See pp. ii-iii).
4 Shane, Scott, “Facebook to Turn Over Russian-linked ads to Congress,” New York Times, September 21, 2017.
5 Dwoskin, Elizabeth, Adam Entous, and Karoun Demirjian, “Twitter Finds Hundreds of Accounts Tied to Russian Operatives,” Washington Post, September 28, 2017.
6 Dwoskin, Elizabeth, Adam Entous, and Craig Timberg “Google Uncovers Russian-Bought Ads on Youtube, Gmail and Other Platforms,” Washington Post, October 9, 2017.
As political scientist Francis Fukuyama noted in a report to the U.S. Department of State, “the speed and scale of today’s ‘weaponization of information’ is unprecedented . . . falsehood often travels faster than truth, leaving context and provenance behind. The traditional answer to the spread of bad information has been to inject good information . . . on the assumption that the truth would rise to the top. . . . In a world of trolls and bots, where simple facts are instantly countered by automated agents, this strategy may not be adequate. It is unclear how effectively democratic societies can continue to deliberate and function, and how hostile foreign actors can be identified and neutralized.”9
7 Haley, Nikki, panel with Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. The panel was part of a forum titled “The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In the World” focused on freedom, free markets, and security and hosted by the George W. Bush Institute in New York City on October 19, 2017. Video of the panel is available at: https://www.c-span.org/video/?435568-3/ambassador-haley-secretaries-albright-rice-discuss-us-role-world&start=1885.
8 More recently, James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, remarked, “As a private citizen, it’s what I would call my informed opinion that, given the massive effort the Russians made, and the number of citizens that they touched, and the variety and multidimensional aspects of what they did to influence opinion . . . and given the fact that it turned on less than 80,000 votes in three states, to me it exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election. And it’s my belief they actually turned it.” See Sargent, Greg, “James Clapper’s Bombshell: Russia Swung the Election. What If He’s Right?,” Washington Post, May 24, 2018.
9 U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, Can Public Diplomacy Survive the Internet? Bots, Echochambers, and Disinformation, edited by Shawn Powers and Markos Kounalakis, May 2017, available at: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271028.pdf.
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