Russia is Still Hacking Us

First, a little background. Vladimir Putin took power in Russia in 1999, and yet he is still in power today, by developing an ongoing sophisticated operation against their democracy, with the help of think tanks and cutting edge psychological warfare. In Russia all institutions serve the government’s ends, in a autocracy there is a singularity of purpose at that level.  The west has severely underestimated their abilities.  Not content with unchallenged power over Russia, Putin has targeted Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia and others at times.  The success thus far in targeting America is remarkable, but it is indicative of the amount of time and resources and technology they have put into it, as well as the lack of integrity of some Americans.  Politico: “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.”  (An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, or hybrid regime, is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties.)

Putin has and does still fear the people revolting against him.  We know now Russia invests millions into Americans betray their country for Russian interests.  They also often hack them and use means of blackmail to control them in a reward/threat system.  But these Americans don’t mostly become spies, many take on various roles as media messengers and promote Russia’s desired messages.  The messages on the surface may not even have anything to do with Russia.  They can be (often extreme) left or right political positions, or expressing favor to candidates that favor Russian interests, third party candidates, or influencing people against NATO or for an “alliance” with Russia (not a thing) and so on.  I expose an example here.

First we must understand our current context.  We have so much proof of Putin seeming to control Trump.  One of the most damning things is that Paul Ryan has, on a leaked recording, warned against leaking the information that Trump is paid by Putin.  Recently the Russian Embassy threatened Trump to lift sanctions and within days the administration was discussing how it might be done.

We don’t know how many investors from the Koch Brothers to various international banks to Russian mafia state figures Trump has.  He seems to be serving many masters.  But Putin seems to have the most control over his actions.  Sure Putin wants to end Russian Sanctions and End NATO, but for Putin to stay in power, he cannot have the USA demonstrating to his Russia how great democracy and free press are.  To paraphrase Politico’s Molly McKew: He needs to show them what he has been saying all along, you don’t want to have what they have in the US, look at their chaos, would you want to live in that? Look at the division.  The result is that Russia does’t have robust debate, and doesn’t have democracy.  Already we have abandoned our role as leader of the free world, enforcer of human rights and beacon of government transparency.  I believe Putin has to be continually evaluating ways Trump can be a means to the end of liberal democracy.

From Molly McKew’s latest:An isolationist America that is softer on Russia and more in favor of authoritarian traits in leaders fits right into the narratives that the Kremlin nurtures and spends billions to promote.”

Consider that Trump is often behaving like a dictator, an autocrat, not unlike Putin.  However he is continually frustrated by checks on his power and his supporters are getting frustrated with democracy as well.  This is by design. Russia has been using Psychological Operations or Psy-Ops to condition them to desire Trump as a cult-like figure who should not be restrained and who can do no wrong.  Psychologists have studied whether there is a part of the brain that can be manipulated to want such a figure, I imagine we are behind Russia in this field, not that we need develop it.  They have been using active measures on Facebook through “Facebook Pages” which pump targeted info into users’ feeds,  These have titles such as such as “I Support Donald Trump,” and “Watch This News.”  Each page like this has 100s of thousands of followers, some go into the millions, Facebook has now refused to moderate them after a brief campaign where they said they were investigating it.  These Pages continually pump news articles into user’s news feeds, and often the articles have no byline credited author and the webpage for the articles have odd titles like patriotnews.com or the thepoliticalinsider.com etc.

You may remember Rachel Maddow exposing this ‘Bernie Sanders’ Facebook Page as being run in Russia, still now well into the presidency.  There are many more of these types of pages that target all kinds of demographics and preferences, yet are built with Russian objectives.    Other ones which may be run by Trump affiliates are still using basic propaganda techniques mixed with cutting edge Russian Psy-ops.

While many of these are actually run out of Macedonia, but don’t think Russia isn’t behind this.  From GeekTime “For many in the US Intelligence Community,.. (the responsible party is the Kremlin). The Russian government has conducted similar disinformation campaigns against Western countries with real political consequences.  While the motive reported so far for sites in Macedonia has been generating click-based revenue, it is also true that many trolls generate revenue not by tricking bots, but by getting paid by an actual agency to flood the internet with fake news and run many fake sock-puppet accounts. They do this both for Russia’s own domestic propaganda efforts, and for foreign targets like the US and UK.

As Sweden debated a new military alliance with NATO last year, the country was suddenly flooded with misinformation that NATO would start stockpiling all its nuclear weapons there, or that Sweden would not be able to prevent NATO from using the country as a staging ground to launch a war with Russia  There were even reports that NATO troops would be immune from prosecution were they to commit crimes against Swedish citizens. Experts and Swedish government officials have pointed the finger at Moscow for poisoning the well of public discourse on the issue.”

The Election

If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress on May 8.  He was speaking of Russian attacks and influence through information warfare and the episode he was speaking of was the events of the 2016 election.  You may have noticed our country’s politics have been radically changed.  Russia’s strategy is said to be to amplify voices on the far-right and far-left tomarginalize the center and normal political discourse.  This is aimed at destabilizing our democracy.  The mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, and disregarding of credible sources and outlets is also center in their operation.  McKew elaborates here on where they want us to be: “Truth doesn’t matter. Once we know how we feel about something, who cares what the truth is? And information is just one act of Russia’s shadow war.”

The Free Press

For Putin to stay in power, control of the press is crucial.  In Russia there are websites and newspapers that try to print the truth, but there are also journalists and activists that turn up dead if they go too far.  Putin’s focus in Russia is TV news.  The Kremlin controls television programming in Russia, the premiere channel is called “RT, formerly Russia Today.”  There is a US version of this in the US called RT America.  They feature Putin sympathizers such as Dave Rubin and Larry King.  In Trump, manipulation of the press is already in place, they’ve only joked about using a sword on the press, but have looked into libel laws.  and continually they are attacking any investigative reporting on the White House, the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.  Countless times they have attacked the Times and CNN by name.  They have discredited anonymous source reporting and many times have stated they are waging war on the press, that it is their primary enemy.

Manipulation of Social Media is key to influence and disrupt the mindset of the population.  You may recall this article about Putin spending millions on bots here in America.  And this one where Trump used a tons of data to target swing state voters with fake news.  From Cepa.org:   ‘Increasingly, anti-Western regimes are banding together to create international networks of information-psychological operations.‘  The Russian word for this cyberwar is translated information-ization. Putin actually calls ‘information’ a “formidable weapon that enables public opinion manipulations.”’

One 1998 FBI report warned that Moscow had sought to recruit U.S. congressmen, and might look develop strategies to meddle in elections.  “It is possible that the Soviet Union will institute a new series of active measures operations designed to discredit those candidates who have platforms that are not as acceptable to the Soviet government as those of other candidates,” the report states.   Sound familiar?  Hillary had a platform that was arguably reasonable on a foreign policy level, yet was very far from ideal to Russia, and she had once called out Putin for not having a fair democracy, which threatened his reign.  In response, with Benghazi and the Email non-scandals, Russian and American news sites made something out of nothing and their voice was amplified enough by Russian bots to drown out Trump’s scandals.  This was weaponized information.  Instead of firing missiles they have made the sides our of democracy hostile to one another and made the representations of our parties toxic, to each other’s base.  They have waged war on the free press.

In 2012 Putin publicly accused then Secretary of State Clinton of running a massive influence operation against his country, saying she had sent “a signal” to protesters and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the protests.  This never happened, there was no influence operation, but one of Putin’s absolute favorite tactics to accuse is opponents of the treachery that he himself is about to do.  Trump does that too.  A recent Times article also states that ‘The FBI is investigating Robert Mercer’s data firm, Cambridge Analytica, along with Breitbart News for colluding with Russia to spread misinformation and manipulate the hearts and minds of micro-targeted Americans during the 2016 campaign.’

PSY-OPS

Trump’s twitter feed itself is a Psy-Op often at times.  Like any good disinformation agent, Trump is often steering his followers to not trust the MSM, or intelligence agencies, but instead trust only him, Putin/Russia, or Infowars.

Cepa:If Putin succeeds, then the age of information will truly have become the age of disinformation. In this way, the Kremlin is not so much conducting an information war as it is waging a “war on information.”  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.”  They have had help in this effort.  This all goes back to Rush Limbaugh’s attacks in the 90s on mainstream media, and the bumper sticker/mantra, “I don’t believe the Liberal Media.”  As well as Reagan’s repeal of fair reporting laws that allowed Fox News to start. This has destroyed the concept of reality for many to the point only of trusting Breitbart, Infowars, conspiracy theories, clickbait articles, overt propaganda, and Facebook Page news.  Some will get to the point where they no longer trust news of any kind.  This is the case for many in Russia.

Hacking the Internet

American forces have been aiding in this as well.  See the Guardian’s piece on Silicon Valley and Mercer’s help here. Time magazine’s piece elaborates on it here, “That’s where the algorithms come in. American researchers have found they can use mathematical formulas to segment huge populations into thousands of subgroups according to defining characteristics like religion and political beliefs or taste in TV shows and music. Other algorithms can determine those groups’ hot-button issues and identify “followers” among them, pinpointing those most susceptible to suggestion. Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior.”

Facebook’s algorithm identifies what country you are in and if you are susceptible to conspiracy theories or clickbait.  Often that’s not even needed.  Clickbait articles are mixed in with the propaganda.  You share the clickbait, your friend sees it, he or she likes the page, and now they get propaganda in their news feed as well.  It sounds far fetched that it would impact their psyche, but consider the level of effort that has gone into this with psychology experts, millions of dollars invested into think tanks.

Trump has now have gotten to Google as well.   “Trump’s data team has weaponized information, and for about a year now has been slaying American brains: Trump supporters’ brains. It started with the election, then died down, but now it’s coming back, vengeful and desperate.”  (If you only click one link I give here, the above Google bit is recommended.) 

“As a result, we’re at a pivotal point not just in the life of our democracy, but in how we think, read, and make choices. Selective information is being presented to us in a way that encourages selective reading and offers psychological and social rewards for, to put it bluntly, being stupid and submissive and spreading stupid to others.”  I’d like to mention currently you can use Duckduckgo.com instead, it doesn’t track you as well.

Consider that they are conditioned to like Putin and hate liberals. Just so happens that Putin wants to destroy what liberals stand for and end liberal democracy everywhere.  Most recently they are unopposed to so-called archaic elements of the constitution and so-called liberal judges.  This is by design.

In October 2005, Nikolskiy defined the principal object and meaning of IW to consist of “a disorganization of the structure of society and distortion of public consciousness, as a result of which society loses moral- psychological and scientific- technological potential and thereby is deprived of the capability to wage armed warfare.”  That’s the long game.  Obviously a puppet in the White House is an accelerate.  Nikolskiy defined information threats as “ideological-religious, scientific-technological, and emotional- psychological.” He argued for viewing the world as an aggregate of specific properties of systems.

Various kinds of active measures have tapped into our psyche, continually reinforcing the idea that Trump is the only one that will stand up to Washington and be a voice for them.  Their ability to tap into depths of racism either suppressed, or newly awakened, has let them conflate Barack Obama with Russia’s own bleak definition of what liberalism is.

For white supporters with they are tapping in to a phenomenon called “tribalism”, in this case white tribalism, where he is the only figure that will stand for white values.  This creates the ideal circumstance where any threat to remove him will cause their outrage.  Ironically many of these sites aren’t even run by Americans.  When he says he is a law and order President this means to them that he will ensure the law is used to enforce a social order (built on race and class) and he is promising them a place in that order.  Even if he doesn’t deliver, the promise of this bears significant mental weight on them.

From Politico

(Psy-ops or Psychological Operations are also known as Psychological warfare.) “Psychological warfare, in this context, refers to information and disinformation that targets our values and beliefs. “Active measures” is a Soviet term for manipulation or political warfare—psychological or informational tactics that aim to achieve specific outcomes. Reflexive control is a type of information warfare that aims to condition us to react to certain types of information in specific ways, in particular by shaping our perceptions so we voluntarily make decisions favorable to our enemy.

These are complicated concepts that military and intelligence experts spend careers trying to learn and identify. This is not “fake news,” although our increasing tolerance of disinformation gives them power. This is an elaborate, sophisticated operation constructed within American society and media that we still do not see clearly. It is designed to inject ideas into our information environment in ways we can’t control, and to undermine the idea that there is objective truth.”

From the Observer.com

“It’s worth looking at what is going on elsewhere before we castigate our own government. At the national level, several European countries have established units to examine Russian Active Measures, to use the proper Chekist term. In some cases, they are engaged in counter-propaganda, debunking noxious lies emanating from Moscow which aim to dissolve the bonds of democratic societies. Having just witnessed France’s successful effort to defeat Russian spy-games designed to manipulate their presidential election, European eyes have now turned to Germany, which has national elections in September. Whether Berlin will be as adept as Paris at blunting Putin’s lie machine remains an open and very important question.

In some countries, citizens have taken it upon themselves to fight Kremlin trolls and bots online, pointing out their blatant social media falsehoods and deceptions, often with mockery. In the Baltic states, on the frontline of NATO’s efforts to deter Russia in all arenas, from military to information, patriots amusingly calling themselves “elves” have taken the fight to Twitter, Facebook, and VKontake (Russia’s version of Facebook). Self-starting Baltic elves, without government backing, have made a serious dent in Kremlin efforts to destabilize their small countries through disinformation.

It would be tempting to place this debacle at the feet of President Donald Trump, who can’t seem to criticize anything his Russian counterpart does, even when Putin threatens the West, but that’s hardly the full story. In truth, this rot in Washington, a basic unwillingness to fight Russian Active Measures, traces back to Trump’s predecessor, who allowed the Kremlin to run roughshod over American democracy.”

From Pomerantsev, “Unplugging Putin TV: “At a moment when Western societies are unsure of their own message, Russia is putting forward a well-coordinated, well-financed information campaign. Worse, it is inspiring copycats. Around the globe, it is apparent that other authoritarian powers and rogue groups are adopting—and even improving upon—Russia’s information war techniques.  This can be seen in China’s concept of “Three Warfares,” which uses a mixture of media, legal and psychological warfare to stamp its authority in Asia. ISIS’s use of media has transformed the Middle East.”

This link details further how the leaked DNC emails were part of ‘Reflexive Measures

Going Forward

We didn’t see Brexit coming or Trump winning because we didn’t prepare for the worst.  We must avoid accepting conspiracy theories as truth, but also never underestimate our opponents, lest we be lulled to sleep.  We must be ready to march and continue to call our Senators often and make campaigns to help others vote.

We are not going down without a fight.  But when you have honorable Generals throwing away their credibility lying on television to the American People about the normalcy of using the Russian Embassy, we have to prepare for the worst.  The cover up continues and also the GOP doesn’t to be afraid about losing their seats as they rob us of healthcare because they trust in dark money via Citizen’s United and Trump’s control of the base through social Media.  That is horrifying.  What else are they planning?

From Politico “Putin tries to define recent history as an anomaly — where the world built with American sweat and ingenuity and blood and sacrifice, by the society founded on American exceptionalism, is a thing to be erased and corrected.” The Russian version of exceptionalism is not a reflection of aspirational character, but a requirement that Russia remain distinct and apart from the world. Until we understand this, and that America is defined as the glavny protivnik (the ‘main enemy’) of Russia, we will never speak to Putin’s Russia in a language it can understand.”

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