• Suspected spy socialized with Trump campaign advisor

    J. D. Gordon served for six months as the Trump campaign’s director of national security before leaving in August 2016. In November, after Trump was elected, Gordon was offered a role in the nascent Trump transition effort. Email show that suspected Russian agent Maria Butina communicated during the last few months of the 2016 presidential campaign and socialized in person on a couple of occasions. Noting that Butina networked extensively, Gordon said: “I wonder which prominent Republican political figures she hasn’t come across?”

  • U.S. national security leaders on Russia’s attacks: "Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs”

    In joint press briefing in the White House on Thursday, the leaders of U.S. intelligence and national security offered a detailed and disturbing picture of Russia’s on-going meddling in U.S. politics, and the efforts by Russian government hackers and disinformation specialists to shape the outcome of the 2018 congressional midterms elections. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Russia is engaging in “pervasive messaging campaign to try to weaken and divide the United States.” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said: “Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.” President Donald Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania a few hours after the briefing at the White House, dismissed the judgement of the U.S. intelligence and national security leaders. “In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin. We discussed everything,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “We got along really well… Now, we are being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, okay?”

  • Russia’s influence campaign can “wreak havoc in our society and in our elections”

    On Wednesday, 1 August, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convened an open hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media platforms. “Twenty-one months after the 2016 election – and only three months before the 2018 elections – Russian-backed operatives continue to infiltrate and manipulate social media to hijack the national conversation and set Americans against each other. They were doing it in 2016. They are still doing it today,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), vice-chairman of the committee said. “These active measures have two things in common: They are effective. And they are cheap. For just pennies on the dollar, they can wreak havoc in our society and in our elections. I’m concerned that even after 18 months of study, we are still only scratching the surface when it comes to Russia’s information warfare.”

  • Bipartisan bill introduces “crushing” measures against “Kremlin aggression”

    An influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a package of measures designed to “defend American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO. The bill introduced on 2 August represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress to punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other “malign” activities. “The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said in a statement introducing the bill. “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham said.

  • As midterm elections approach, a growing concern that the nation is not protected from Russian interference

    The United States has done little to protect the country’s election systems against Russian interference – or interference by other foreign state actors. Two years ago, Russian government hackers and disinformation specialists conducted an effective campaign of interference in the 2016 presidential election. Their disinformation campaign on social media — aiming to deepen divisions in American society along racial, ethnic, and religious lines and increase political polarization and acrimony – has never stopped. It is on-going. There is evidence that the Russian government hackers have already began their hacking efforts to help shape the 2018 midterm congressional elections. Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg write in the Washington Post that Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the United States.

  • How the Russian government used disinformation and cyber warfare in 2016 election – an ethical hacker explains

    The Soviet Union and now Russia under Vladimir Putin have waged a political power struggle against the West for nearly a century. Spreading false and distorted information – called “dezinformatsiya” after the Russian word for “disinformation” – is an age-old strategy for coordinated and sustained influence campaigns that have interrupted the possibility of level-headed political discourse. Emerging reports that Russian hackers targeted a Democratic senator’s 2018 reelection campaign suggest that what happened in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election may be set to recur.

  • Social media manipulation rising globally: Report

    The manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms has emerged as a critical threat to public life. Around the world, government agencies and political parties are exploiting social media platforms to spread junk news and disinformation, exercise censorship and control, and undermine trust in media, public institutions and science.

  • Midterms first Kremlin hacking target revealed: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

    In 2016, on orders of President Vladimir Putin, the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence branch, launched a broad and effective hacking and disinformation campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The Kremlin is already busy orchestrating another hacking and disinformation campaign to shape the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections.

  • With hacking of U.S. utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar

    Even before the revelation on 23 July that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer systems of U.S. electric utilities and could have caused blackouts, government agencies and electricity industry leaders were working to protect U.S. customers and society as a whole. These developments highlight an important distinction of conflict in cyberspace: between probing and attacking. The distinction between exploiting weaknesses to gather information – also known as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” – and using those vulnerabilities to actually do damage is impossibly thin and depends on the intent of the people doing it. Intentions are notoriously difficult to figure out. In global cyberspace they may change depending on world events and international relations. The dangers – to the people of the United States and other countries both allied and opposed – underscore the importance of international agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace and the need for clear rules of engagement.

  • Gun play: The rise and fall of Maria Butina's wannabe Russian NRA

    Maria Butina’s motives, movements, and connections have become a subject of intense scrutiny and debate, and have resulted in a diplomatic standoff with Moscow. But her sudden emergence seven years ago — at the age of 22 — as a well-connected gun-rights activist also caught many off guard in Russia, where the gun issue has long been on the political fringe.

  • Senate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Maria Butina's own words belie claim that charges are “trumped up”

    Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, D.C. on 15 July on charges of illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government in a covert operation aimed at infiltrating the U.S. political establishment. According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a 21 July phone call that Maria Butina’s arrest was an “unacceptable act” and the charges against her were “trumped-up.”

  • DOJ releases Cyber-Digital Task Force report

    The Department of Justice last Thursday released a report produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States and details the ways in which the DOJ combats those threats. The first section of the report focuses on what DOJ describes as “the most pressing cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States: the threat posed by malign foreign influence operations.”

  • Why Russian spies really like American universities

    If the charges against Maria Butina are accurate, she’s only the latest in a long line of Russian agents to go undercover on U.S. campuses. Dating back to the Soviet era, Russian spies have sought to take advantage of academia’s lax security, collaborative, global culture, and revolving door with government. Russian intelligence understands that today’s professor of international relations may be tomorrow’s assistant secretary of state, and vice versa. Although cyber-spying and hacking offer opportunities to glean secrets at less personal risk, the traditional strategies of human espionage persist, and sending a spy to school is prominent among them.

  • DOJ’s new initiative: Alerting public to foreign-influence activities targeting U.S. democracy

    The Department of Justice on Thursday announced that DOJ will begin to alert the public about foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy. The new DOJ initiative is aims to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016. The government will inform American companies, private organizations, and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process. “Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda,” he said.