Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's Red Square. Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS via Getty Images

Robert Mueller's indictment against 13 Russians involved with the St. Petersburg–based Internet Research Agency (IRA) reveals that the organization was much more than a social media "troll farm." Rather, it was the hub of a multi-layered, methodical and well-funded intelligence operation against the United States.

Why it matters: The Kremlin, heavily staffed by former KGB and FSB intelligence officers, has adapted its old "chaos strategy" for the digital age. And cyber-fueled political warfare is cheaper, more efficient and far more difficult to contain.

Far deeper than an online disinformation campaign, the IRA's work included extensive research on American politics and society and real rallies on U.S. soil. Its operatives impersonated Americans to dupe an unspecified number of U.S. citizens and Trump campaign staff.

The indictment provides the clearest blow-by-blow assessment of how Moscow has adapted its influence operations for the 21st century. The basic tactics are straight from the Soviet "active measures" playbook: a continuous spread of disinformation during the Cold War to discredit American political leaders (including Martin Luther King, Jr.), fuel ethnic tensions and undermine trust in U.S. intelligence agencies.

In 1976, the KGB launched a smear campaign against the anti-Soviet Democratic candidate Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, armed with forged FBI intelligence. In the post-Soviet era, Putin's advisers have boasted about how they pit different groups against each other inside of Russia. Sound familiar?

What’s next: The coming revolution in AI and machine learning will transform malicious actors’ capabilities to influence democracies. This won’t happen by the fall of 2018, but 2020 will likely usher in even more dangerous forms of political warfare.

Alina Polyakova is the David M. Rubenstein Fellow for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Go deeper

Updated 16 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 13,258,016 — Total deaths: 576,752 — Total recoveries — 7,366,845Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 3,416,222 — Total deaths: 136,319 — Total recoveries: 1,049,098 — Total tested: 41,764,557Map.
  3. Politics: Biden welcomes Trump wearing mask in public but warns "it’s not enough"
  4. Public health: Four former CDC heads say Trump's undermining of agency puts lives at risk — CDC director: U.S. could get coronavirus "under control" in 4–8 weeks if all wear masks.

Bank CEOs brace for worsening economic scenario

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Photo: J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Wells Fargo swung to its first loss since the financial crisis — while JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup reported significantly lower profits from a year earlier — as the banks set aside billions of dollars more in the second quarter for loans that may go bad.

Why it matters: The cumulative $28 billion in loan loss provisions that banks have so far announced they’re reserving serves as a signal they’re preparing for a colossal wave of loan defaults as the economy slogs through a coronavirus-driven downturn.

2 hours ago - Health

Moderna's vaccine spurred immune system response to coronavirus

Moderna's stock rose 16% after hours on this news. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Healthy volunteers who took Moderna's coronavirus vaccine candidate appeared to generate an immune system response to the virus, and there were "no trial-limiting safety concerns," according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Why it matters: The phase one trial is still small and does not definitively determine how effective the vaccine is. But Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, which is running the trial, told the Wall Street Journal that these data make it "pretty clear that this vaccine is capable of inducing quite good [levels] of neutralizing antibodies."