Academic journal article Parameters

Countering Russian Meddling in US Political Processes

Academic journal article Parameters

Countering Russian Meddling in US Political Processes

Article excerpt

In early 2018, the Justice Department Special Counsel indicted 13 individuals and several companies associated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency LLC. The parties allegedly interfered in US political processes as part of a Russian scheme to create chaos, inflame emotions, and polarize a divided public. (1) The effort also sought to discredit Hillary Clinton, whom President Vladimir Putin expected to win the Oval Office. (2)

The Special Counsel charged the accused with stealing identities, using PayPal to transfer money and to purchase Facebook ads, and falsely claiming to be US activists who contacted Donald Trump's campaign. The United States also said the accused made illegal campaign expenditures, failed to register as foreign agents, used false statements to obtain visas, and committed wire fraud. The most notable accusations involved organizing phony rallies, mounting a massive social media campaign to influence behavior, and paying Americans to carry out their objectives. It bears noting that many Western commentators presume that Putin directed this action. In our system, however, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Likewise, George Beebe, the respected former head of the Central Intelligence Agency's Russia analysis, stated the Internet Research Agency may have conducted this activity independently, without Putin's involvement. (3)

The Kremlin's strategy is to spread chaos for strategic effect, in order, as Peter B. Doran and Donald N. Jensen declared, "to confuse, distract, and disrupt." (4) Three premises underlie this strategy. First, an authoritarian regime can conduct cohesive information warfare or cyber warfare. Second, the regime can cope better with chaos, and thus advance its agenda. Third, weakening other nations strengthens the regime's power at home. While the United States views national security as protecting the nation, Putin sees it as ensuring his political survival.

Stopping Russian meddling requires an approach capable of developing strategic appreciation, forging and implementing a strategy, and anticipating effects and consequences. First, the best mechanism to forge and implement strategy must be established. The "team-of-teams" concept that General Stanley McChrystal used in Iraq seems optimal, especially when the team is fully empowered to act through the National Security Council. Since national security is at stake, military leadership with bipartisan congressional oversight seems ideal for building trust and credibility. Once established, the United States should employ active defense to discredit and to delegitimize Russian actions. America then should engage in a strategic offense to "extract a cost from Putin that outweighs the benefits" and to persuade him to shift his efforts from US politics to shoring up his own. (5)

Russian experts interviewed for this commentary emphasized the importance of framing any national security plan in the context of the Kremlin, not Russia or Putin. (6) Given Putin's unpredictable, distrustful nature, attacking him personally could escalate matters. Characterizing Russia's actions as Kremlin activity makes the point with fewer downsides.

Team of Teams

A team-of-teams approach can leverage the unique resources and authorities commanded by the US presidency to forge and implement strategy. The public spokesperson for such a team should be a military professional such as Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the commander of US Cyber Command and director of National Security, or General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (7) The team should include nonpartisan and bipartisan national security experts with extensive knowledge of the political aspects of the team's efforts.

Such a diverse team would communicate collaboration and integrity to audiences who need to believe our nation's leaders are speaking the truth in today's polarized political environment. …

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