Russia & U.S. electionsFuture mischief: Russia’s disinformation campaign will continue after elections

Published 8 November 2016

The continuing dumping of e-mails which Russian government hackers stole from the Clinton campaign has led U.S. intelligence officials to worry that Russia will escalate its disinformation campaign after Election Day. A senior U.S. intelligence official said that Putin is not interested only in discrediting the legitimacy of Tuesday’s elections, but is eager to undermine the effectiveness of the next president, regardless of who he or she is. “Don’t think that the Russian activity was solely about the election, or about Trump,” the officials said. “It wasn’t. It was about their agenda, what they are trying to accomplish” in expanding Russia’s power and influence around the world.

Fiona Hill, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for the United States and Europe, and a Russia expert who is the author of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin(2015), said that the latest publication of hacked DNC e-mails – this time, 8,000 of them — is an example of how the regime of Vladimir Putin intensifies active state-supported measures on the eve of an election

Talking with NBC News, she noted that recentelections in several countries – Ukraine, Montenegro, and Georgia – saw eleventh-hour propaganda campaigns and Russian military aggression.

Hill said the daily stream of e-mails stolen by Russian government hackers, and the dispatching of a Russian aircraft carrier to Syria, are in keeping with the pattern of Russian escalation just before a major event.

He is trying to reset the relationship in a very confrontational way by kicking us when we’re down, and piling everything on at the weakest and most vulnerable moment,” Hill said. “There is a longstanding and very clear pattern of this, and cyber is just one of many weapons he uses.”

Hill noted other examples: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s “exclusive” pro-Russia interview with Russian media outlet RT; reports of fake tweets and documents; news stories discrediting the U.S. election process, and intensified Russian propaganda campaign claiming that the United States was behind the hacking campaign.

Hill said that Russian meddling in the elections of other countries offers evidence that Russian attempts to manipulate the outcome of elections by tampering with Internet and social media platforms could be very disruptive. This is especially the case when such meddling takes place in real time when the information being manipulated matters the most.

A coordinated disinformation campaign would happen quickly through use of trolls and digital [troll] farms all over the world,” Moira Whelan, a former senior strategic communications official at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, now with BlueDot Strategies, told NBC News. “With some states having just hours to cast their votes, any effort that may keep someone from a polling place or change their mind can have an impact.”