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The Russian connectionRussia’s broad cyber campaign to undermine Western democracies

Published 8 September 2017

Russia was successful in its disinformation and hacking campaign to help Donald Trump win the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, but the Alliance for Securing Democracy notes that the Russian subversion of the U.S. electoral process was only one of many such attempts, and that it offers an example for the challenges global democracy faces. Russia has interfered in the affairs of at least twenty-seven European and North American countries since 2004, using cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to subvert and undermine the political systems of these countries.

Russia was successful in its disinformation and hacking campaign to help Donald Trump win the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, but the Alliance for Securing Democracy notes that the Russian subversion of the U.S. electoral process was only one of many such attempts, and that it offers an example for the challenges global democracy faces.

Russia has interfered in the affairs of at least twenty-seven European and North American countries since 2004, using cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to subvert and undermine the political systems of these countries.

The countries targeted by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence branch which has been coordinating the Russian subversion campaign, include: Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the United States.

Laura Rosenberger, Jamie Fly, and Filip Vojvodic-Medic write in a blog post on the Aliiance’s website that the 2016 U.S. general election marked the first time in history that the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expressed “high confidence” that Russia had interfered in a U.S. election on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin. In their blog post, the three founding partners of the Alliance for Securing Democracy provide an executive summary of Russia’s disinformation campaign and share strategies to counteract Putin’s threats to democracy in the future.

American and European followers of the alt-right dismiss the importance of Russian meddling, and say that Russia’s actions are similar to efforts by the U.S. government to promote American interests abroad.

Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism specialist who has focused on the Russian use of the Internet to spread propaganda and disinformation, said the idea that the U.S. engages in such activities is preposterous.

“When did we hack 4,000 people of a foreign country and dump all their information on the Internet?” Watts said in an interview with USA Today, referring to multiple intrusions of U.S. government and military computers that have been attributed to Kremlin-directed hackers.

The goal of Russia’s efforts in the United States and Europe “is to make the institution of democracy look not credible,” said Watts, who is now a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Either the institutions are corrupt, or you can’t trust the vote.”