In July 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged thirteen Russians and three Russian organizations with conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with United States elections and political processes, wire fraud, and bank fraud. The indictment outlines how the Russian government sought to widen divisions among American citizens and interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Russian subterfuge included, but was not limited to, malicious cyber activity, hacking, covert intelligence, as well as overt methods that included investing millions of dollars in paid advertising and hiring professional trolls.1
These acts, part of a larger strategy aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. presidential candidates and the integrity of the U.S. political system, were calculated and deliberate. A component of Russian Information Warfare, this behavior, shaped by the manipulation and deception of information, is deeply rooted in Soviet and Russian history and has been referred to by many as ‘active measures.’ A report from June 1998, describes ‘active measures” as “A Soviet term that refers to the manipulative use of slogans, arguments, disinformation, and carefully selected true information, which the Soviets used to try to influence the attitudes and actions of foreign publics and governments.”2
Much like their Soviet predecessors, Russia has a history of trying to influence national elections, shape public opinions, and to divide, manipulate, and coerce large populations of people, especially those that do not support the Kremlin.
In January 2017, the United States Intelligence Community released a declassified report entitled Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution. This document refers to Russian activity as an influence campaign and claims that Russia intentionally intended to undermine ‘public faith in the U.S. democratic process’ and that Russian President, Vladimir Putin ‘ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.’ The document further projects that ‘Moscow will use these tactics in the future to ‘influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies’.3
Those who recall the 1998 CNN interview with Maj. General Oleg Kalugin4 (Retired KGB) may be reminded of similar Soviet goals.
“This is the other side of the Soviet intelligence, very important: perhaps I would describe it as the heart and soul of the Soviet intelligence was subversion. Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples”.4
Much like their Soviet predecessors, Russia has a history of trying to influence national elections, shape public opinions, and to divide, manipulate, and coerce large populations of people, especially those that do not support the Kremlin. Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, from 1967 to the 1980s, Yuri Andropov cultivated the use of active measures within the KGB (President Putin’s former employer). Maj Gen Oleg Kalugin further reinforced how KGB programs targeted the global populace and were “often not only sponsored and funded, but conducted and manipulated by the KGB. And this was again part and parcel of this campaign to weaken [the] military, economic, and psychological climate in the West.”4
Following the collapse of the USSR, Russia was ideally situated to inherit the active measure apparatus from the former Soviet Union. Active measures complemented the new Russian international strategy based, on the “force of politics” rather than the “politics of force.”2 With the rise of the Internet, Russia adapted and advanced the practice. Over the last few decades, Russia used active measures consistently either in combination with kinetic warfare (as in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria) or as a tool to advance another political objective. The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a troll factory that operated out of St. Petersburg is one way that the Russians have sought to control the narrative within Russia and shape public perception related to Russian activities abroad. “Trolls” have been used to manage information related to conflict and as part of an effort to influence real or perceived enemies of the Russian state.
Employees at the Internet Research Agency used social media platforms to increase the scope and reach of their messaging. As part of the influence operations against the U.S., the Internet Research Agency used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which provided continuous access to millions of consistent viewers, to deceive and manipulate the U.S. public. Facebook recently reported that it discovered 470 pages linked back to the Internet Research Agency. They indicated that the IRA purchased 3,000 ads that were used to divide Americans and manipulate public opinion. Twitter recently also published tweets that have been attributed to Russian (and Iranian) troll farms. In October 2018, Twitter released 3,841 datasets connected to the IRA with more than 10 million combined tweets, more than 2 million images, videos, and broadcasts dating back to 2009.5
The United States responded to Russia with sanctions, indictments and there have been changes in national strategic language and approach specific to Russia. If according to the Intelligence Assessment of Russia’s activities, this is the ‘new normal, then the United States, it’s organizations and the American people will need to be more vigilant and work together to monitor, assess and minimize outside influences aimed at dividing the nation from within.
- United States of America v. Internet Research Agency, 18-cr-00032-DLF
18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 371, 1349, 1028A (US District Court, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download
- United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations
by the United States Information Agency (1992, June). A Report Prepared on
“Soviet Active Measures in the “Post-Cold War” Era 1988-1991.” Retrieved from http://intellit.muskingum.edu/russia_folder/pcw_era/index.htm
- Office of The Director of National Intelligence. (2017). Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution. Retrieved from https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf
- CNN (1998). Inside the KGB: An interview with retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin. Retrieved from
- Bing, C., Stubbs, J. (2018, Oct 17). Twitter publishes tweet trove from Russia, Iran campaigns, Reuters.com Retrieved from https://in.reuters.com/article/twitter-russia/twitter-publishes-tweet-trove-from-russia-iran-campaigns-idINKCN1MR210