The active measures are not targeting the military and political system in isolation, but as part of a broader effort to subvert Western institutions including the news media, financial markets and intelligence agencies. Because of its multidimensional nature and use of unconventional tactics the U.S. government has struggled to effectively combat the effort. “This is obviously a really difficult challenge and a lot of people are worried that our response to date hasn’t been effective,” said one expert on active measures who recently testified on the issue before Congress.
And rather than abating after the presidential election, these campaigns have only continued to get more brazen, according to Strategic Cyber Ventures CEO Tom Kellermann, who has watched them closely.
In May and June of 2015, Kellermann, who was then the chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro, said the firm warned the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that Kremlin hackers had drawn up a list of 2,300 people comprising the most powerful leaders in Washington and New York along with their spouses and lovers to target with a concerted hacking campaign. Kellerman said he does not know whether the government acted on the tip, which warned that the hackers had the ability to turn on microphones and cameras on the personal devices of their targets to obtain sensitive information about their personal lives. But he believes the campaign has successfully compromised American leaders, emboldening the Kremlin. “When you wonder why certain people act certain ways,” he said, “You have to remember these people have been warned that their dirty laundry could be aired.” (Spokespeople for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI declined to comment.)
Perhaps this explains why certain Republicans and media types are so hesitant to admit publicly that the election was hacked by the Russians, and why they keep coming to Trump's defense in spite of all the damaging information that has come to light recently.
That sentence at the beginning of this post is referring to a strategy directed at military members and their families on social media to feed them disinformation and even compromised pro-military websites and turned them into propaganda outlets for the Kremlin:
Putin has made the creation of a pro-Russian “alternative media ecosystem” to, in his words, smash “the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the information stream” a top priority of his foreign policy. A significant prong of those operations is aimed at the American military community, and the Russian activity has ramped up in recent years as tensions have increased over sanctions, the annexation of Crimea and the expansion of NATO.
Veterans Today is a homegrown American site that was founded in 2003 in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and soon began publishing wild conspiracy theories. Before it partnered with Russia’s New Eastern Outlook in 2013, it had forged ties with Iran’s state-backed PressTV and counted among its editorial board of directors a former head of Pakistan’s intelligence services, publishing headlines like, “Israeli death squads involved in Sandy Hook bloodbath” and “Water Terrorism by India to Overawe Pakistan.”
New Eastern Outlook “chose to work with VT after following us for a while and seeing us for the unique platform that we are,” Veterans Today managing editor Jim Dean explained in an article about the arrangement. He described it as a “marriage made in heaven.”
That "marriage made in heaven" allowed the Russian media to overwhelm the Veteran focused website and essentially turn it into a red, white, and blue version of Pravda.
In October 2013, at the same time that Veterans Today began publishing content from New Eastern Outlook, its sister site Veterans News Now began publishing content from the Strategic Culture Foundation, a Moscow think tank run by Yuri Profokiev, a former head of Moscow’s Communist Party and member of the Soviet Politburo.
In October 2015, Veterans Today also partnered with a slickly designed, anonymously authored military affairs website called South Front that had been registered in Moscow that April just as Russia was ramping up its influence operations in response to Western sanctions.
Since then, the site has consistently published articles that push the Kremlin party line, both from its Russian partner and its own contributors.
Also keep in mind that the Russians did not only target the military, conservatives, and powerful Americans, but also targeted those on the Left, especially the so-called Bernie Bros and those on the far left fringe who were already suspicious and critical of Hillary Clinton.
This was a concerted effort that reached deep into America's social media and shaped opinions all over the political spectrum, while also compromising those who may have had the resources to expose them.
To be clear this means that so many of the things that we all saw on our Facebook feed attacking Hillary Clinton, talking about third party candidates, or the failures of Democratic policies to meet the needs of progressives, may very well have come to us directly from Russian disinformation sites determined to undermine our faith in the Democratic candidate and the political system as a whole.