Russia has engaged in a complex, multi-level information warfare attack on Western Democracies, including the United States. The graphic on this page is limited to the top 10 (or so) attacks on the United States. It is based only on unclassified publicly available information. This graphic shows the attacks on three levels, each with a different target.
The first target was to compromise Donald Trump, which is shown as the orange bar at the top. The Russians began by making Donald Trump and the Trump Organization dependent on their funding. They laundered money from Russia through Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus, to finance and purchase Trump Organization properties. They also arranged for the Miss Universe Pageant to be hosted in Moscow, with a $20 Million payment from Russian Oligarch Aras Agalarov.
The next target was to develop multiple points of access into the Trump Campaign as shown in the yellow boxes. Russian intelligence operatives used Carter Page, who had previously worked with them, as one approach. They contacted George Papadopoulos, who has pled guilty and is cooperating. The Agalarov family introduced Donald Trump, Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, who promised information on Hillary Clinton, which led to the Trump Tower meeting. Paul Manafort, who had extensive ties and financial obligations to Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska and is now indicted for conspiracy against the United States, volunteered to serve as Campaign Manager. His deputy, Rick Gates, has now pled guilty and is cooperating with the Special Prosecutor. LTG (Ret.) Flynn, a key campaign advisor who was then appointed National Security Advisor, had accepted $45,000 from Radio Today to attend a dinner where he sat next to Vladimir Putin, was later caught secretly communicating with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn has now pled guilty and is cooperating with the Special Prosecutor. There were also other members of the Trump Campaign, including Attorney General Sessions and Jared Kushner, have also been caught lying about their contacts with the Russian Ambassador. Trump Campaign advisor Roger Stone has admitted to having contact with Wikileaks and Russian hackers and appeared to have advance knowledge of what material was to be leaked.
The third layer targeted the general American population, which is shown in blue. Russia used the site DC Leaks, then WikiLeaks, to conduct strategically timed releases of information which they hacked from Democratic National Committee servers. Using these strategic releases, Russia manipulated the media to influence news coverage. Russia also used a large number of fake “bot” accounts on Facebook and Twitter to conduct a wide-ranging Information Operation campaign to increase the divisiveness within the voting population, and to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy while attacking Hillary Clinton. The Internet Research Agency indictment provides specific examples of actions taken by U.S. persons in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, based on encouragement and guidance from Russians masquerading as U.S. citizens.
The Russian Information Warfare attacks on the United States continue unabated. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated that Russian hackers have gained access to election websites and databases in several states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin. DHS and Intelligence Community have stated that attacks on election offices continue and additional compromises are likely to be achieved. At this point, there has been no coordinated federal response to this threat.
The DHS and the FBI have issued a joint statement on Russian hacking against U.S. infrastructure. Russian hackers have penetrated internal control systems for the U.S. electric grid, nuclear generation plants, aviation industry, and other infrastructure targets. This extensive hacking poses a significant threat to the security of the infrastructure upon which all Americans rely for everyday life. It is important that we take action to defend the security of our infrastructure control systems.
While some of the tools used for this Russian information attack are new, Russia has been attempting to influence the American population for decades. Many of the themes used to increase divisiveness in America have remained unchanged. Russia has used racial conflict, economic inequality, and crime as themes for psychological operations attacks for years. We should consider why these themes were more effective in 2016 than they had been before. There was an existing level of divisiveness which the Russians were able to exploit. Income inequality has risen to a level not seen since before the Great Depression. Uneven economic growth has exacerbated the divide between rural and urban Americans. Our political system has become more polarized due to gerrymandering and the influence of big money in politics. Our response to the Russian attack on American democracy must be more than a technical response. We need to address the underlying issues that made our nation susceptible to this kind of attack.