Tag Archives: Kremlin Playbook

Assault On America

Even if this is only partially true we need to pay attention:

“We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn’t even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary. The Russians wanted to undermine the confidence Americans had in their elections? We made it pretty damn easy to do that.”

Perhaps we might approach the problem by classifying our voting system as a matter of infrastructure. Critical infrastructure.  Such as designation came only after the 2016 election. We might have saved ourselves some distress if we’d done this a bit sooner.

We’d not tolerate a foreign adversary attacking 39 dams, or 39 bridges, or 39 tunnels, or 39 points on our electrical grid — but there is now evidence that the Russians hacked into various points of our electoral system in 39 states:

“Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.”

One of the things that might have saved us is the decentralized voting systems in the 50 states.  While that might make us feel better, being honest requires acknowledging that there are only 50 states, not an overwhelming number for a small army of dedicated “patriotic Russians” who just happened to be interested in our elections.

There are several layers to this attack, all of which deserve far more attention than we are currently bestowing on the subject.

(1) Disinformation is part of the Kremlin Play Book.  The trolls, bots, propagandists, and other associates made their appearance known in 2016, [pdf Senator Whitehouse] and we ought not conclude that this is the full extent of the Russian interference in the last general election.  The Russians appear to be making use of the distrust of the media engendered, and perhaps inflamed, by right wing messaging that disparages mainstream media outlets.  This distrust can be easily weaponized on both ends of the political spectrum.

We’ve moved past the era in which disinformation was primarily disseminated via chain e-mails from Uncle Fred and friends, in an age of instantaneous social media there’s a greater need to provide news “consumers” with information not only about the veracity of the “news” but the origin as well.  There are some pieces of useful advice, for example “How to Recognize a Bot,” “How to Spot Social Media Bots,” and “The Fake Factor,” (identifying bogus Facebook accounts.)  Institutional responses are helpful, but we can amplify the response to attacks by being personally informed about how to spot the phonies.

(2) Adequately funding voting systems at the state level.  Inadequate funding breeds more problems — the lowest software bidder may not always be promoting the most secure product, the lowest bid for voting machines may not be the safest machines.  What states should be looking for is the BEST product, which may not always be the cheapest.   The funding should also include audits.  Voting officials should conduct regular, and thorough, audits of their systems — registration, data transfers, and compilations.  We should have Zero Tolerance for any attempts to manipulate any and  all voting data.

(3) Focus.  Too often the voting security discussion centers on cries of alarm about voter impersonation — an extremely rare event — and places too little emphasis on vote suppression and vote tampering.  Nothing serves the Russian purposes better than having us questioning our voter registration, data collection, and voting processes.  Tangential discussions which dismiss attention to these foreign threats as the function of unsatisfactory election results aren’t helpful.

Consider what is possible if a foreign adversary were to tap into the possibilities of the CrossCheck program.  What chaos could be caused by changing selected addresses, something as simple as altering a house or apartment number? Or, changing the middle initial of a registered voter? Or, changing a name from George to Jorge?  We need to attend to the problems arising from these kinds of manipulations.

Consider what might result from a direct hack into voter registration files.  Again, with the same kinds of alterations mentioned above.  We need to secure our voting data with the same attention we apply toward securing our physical infrastructure and national security apparatus.

Consider what might happen were a foreign power able to breach our vote tallying systems?  Unthinkable?  Probably not. In short, our voting infrastructure should be carefully audited at every single level.   At no point should we smugly assume that our decentralization and current systems make us impermeable to foreign assault.

Estote Semper Parati

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Speculation and Speculators

So, the President of the United States delivered a lecture to the members of NATO today about “paying up,” and focusing on global terrorism.  Fine and dandy…members who can pay, should pay and there is a need to address incidents of global terrorism.  That said, one of NATO’s prime reasons for existence is as a North Atlantic counterweight to RUSSIAN incursions into Europe.  And we have a President who seems preternaturally incapable of making strong comments about the Putin Regime.  Since everyone else is piling into the discussion, DB will add some questions to the combination Mare’s and Hornet’s nests.

How did characters like Flynn, Manafort, Page, Sessions et. alia. get involved in the efforts to effect the election of Donald J. Trump?  We all know they had contacts with Russians.  Some contacts were reported, others were not.  Mere contact with Russians doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious purposes, but the context and timing of some contacts is certainly open to question.  Investigations and inquiries will add to the chronology and context, but that doesn’t serve to shed light on WHY this cast of characters was drawn to the Trump Campaign.

Are there among us those who would do the Kremlin’s bidding? For purposes of their own, or at the behest of the administration?

What is it that the Kremlin wants?  The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued its Kremlin Playbook in October 2016, with the announcement that in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria:

“This research determined that Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across the region that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decisionmaking. This web resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”

How the Russians proposed to do this is summarized in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s prepared remarks for the May 8, 2017 session on Russian Interference in politics. (note: PDF)

What elements might create the confluence between Russian interests and American politicians and political campaigns?   There are as many possibilities as there are individuals involved, perhaps ranging from personal animosities to broader financial entanglements.  Nor should we dismiss the possibility of a combination of motives.

One avenue of inquiry might be the financial relationship between the Trump business operations and Russian funding. Trump’s “comeback” from financial disaster in the 1990’s has been cited as evidence of a shift from American banks to a reliance on Deutsche Bank.  Evidence unearthed thus far doesn’t substantiate claims of Russian financial entanglement, however there is much to be said for the Deep Throat (Mark Felt) advice during the Watergate investigations — follow the money.

We know from the CSIS study that “Using shell corporations and other devices, Russia establishes illicit financial relationships to develop leverage against prominent figures, through the carrot of continued bribery or the stick of threatened disclosure.”

What might we learn as investigations of the connections between Trump businesses and shell corporations continue?   Would this explain the attraction of the ‘cast of characters’ to the Trump campaign and administration?  Would this help explain the use of other Russian tactics — propaganda, fake news, bots, and Internet Trolls? Hacking and theft of political information?  Timed leaks of damaging materials?

There are two courts in play in these controversies — the judiciary and the court of public opinion.  While it may be difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a proximate cause of Trump’s pro-Putin stance is financial entanglement in a court of law, it’s far more likely that the political court of public opinion will find Trump’s proclivity toward pandering to the Russian Bear ever more unpalatable.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long and sometimes tedious ride.

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