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Introduction to influence campaigns
In 2017 Clint Watts testified before Congress warning about the danger of foreign influence. This threat, Mr. Watts explained, emerged no later than 2014 – though the evidence would move that date farther back, albeit probably not for the last time. He studied these influence efforts and concluded that the American adversaries had five objectives.
One, undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance; Two, foment and exacerbate divisive political fissures; Three, erode trust between citizens and elected officials and their institutions; Four, popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign; populations; And five, create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction, a very pertinent issue today in our country.
Mr. Watts described the ecosystem he believed was designed to achieve these aims.
From these overt Russian propaganda outlets, a wide range of English-speaking conspiratorial websites, which we refer to as gray outlets, some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing, sensationalize these conspiracies and fake news published by white outlets.
And the stories from these media outlets, websites, and whispers did not spread themselves.
American-looking social media accounts, hecklers, honeypots, and hackers I described earlier, working alongside automated bots, further amplify this Russian propaganda amongst unwitting Westerners.
This new model of influence had reinvented the tactics of the Cold War, and what Mr. Watts had seen left him with a grim impression.
The implications of Russia's new active measures model will be twofold. The first is what the world is witnessing today, a Russian challenge to democracy throughout the West. But more importantly, over the horizon, Russia has provided any authoritarian dictator or predatory elite equipped with hackers and disrespectful of civil liberties a playbook to dismantle their enemies through information warfare. The U.S., in failing to respond to active measures, will surrender its position as the world's leader, forego its role as chief promoter and defender of democracy, and give up on over 70 years of collective action to preserve freedom and civil liberties around the world. Russia's strategic motto for America and the West is: “Divided they stand and divided they will fall.”
The five domains described
The US State Department refers to these five influence strategies as “pillars of disinformation.” Domestic extremist groups and fringe political movements have also adopted these same pillars.