Dec 25, 2017 - Politics & Policy

A look inside Russia's disinformation campaign

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse speaks at a hearing on Russian and the 2016 election. Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Russia's success in waging its disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election stemmed largely from a web of government bureaucracy that placed too much confidence in American standing and institutions, according to The Washington Post.

Why it matters: Russia's success in influencing the 2016 election came as government officials couldn't agree on a legal, satisfactory course of action or counterattack — and, for the most part, they still haven't. That leaves the critical 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election similarly open to foreign targeting and disruption.

If you read only one paragraph: "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin's ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn't appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions."

The big trends from WaPo's report:

  • Everything stems from the end of the Cold War, when American officials believed that Russia would be a friend going forward. And when relations later foundered, Russia was simply dismissed as a "third-rate regional power."
  • European nations had long warned of the Russian disinformation threat but were largely ignored. European representatives reacted with bemusement to a presentation by American officials on Russian disinformation at NATO headquarters shortly before Trump's inauguration.
  • It's not about supporting President Trump. Instead, Russia's goal is all about sowing discord in American society in order to distract the United States from reacting to Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions.
Go deeper