“There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” — Vladimir Putin
One of the most sobering comments that Robert Mueller made when testifying before Congress is that Russian interference with the 2020 election was taking place, “as we speak.” Russia backed Donald Trump as the chaos candidate in 2016 and they’re putting all their chips on the same bet this time as well. Just Security:
Putin will continue to attack, namely because his objectives haven’t changed and the United States has not done anything to defend or deter him from this course of action. The only difference this time around is that, after four years of Trump, generating chaos will be even easier to achieve, as Trump and his surrogates have adopted the same playbook. Republicans know they are working in parallel with Russian intelligence, even if they are not working hand in hand. Republicans may insist to themselves there is a difference, but practically speaking, there isn’t. The only way to neutralize this threat is through public awareness of Russia’s tactics and increased civic participation: To that end, read on. […]
Russian intelligence ran a further influence campaign using social media, trolls, and bots to amplify the propaganda and to influence individuals to take actions in the United States, including hiring actors to portray Hillary Clinton in a mock jail cell on the back of a pickup truck at rallies. Russians with links to the Kremlin infiltrated conservative groups, such as the National Rifle Association and American evangelical organizations, and made various approaches to the Trump campaign. Russian intelligence also stole Republican Party material which it has yet to weaponize.
Trump declared a free press “the enemy of the people” way back and Bill Barr has been playing the press recently. The Washington Post broke a story saying that Barr was distressed about Trump tweeting “commentary” at him and that he was thinking of resigning. A few hours later the Department of Justice tweeted a response to the “Beltway rumor” and stated that Barr had no intention of resigning. Logical assumption? Barr is gaslighting people by leaking one version of the facts and then publicly announcing another. The idea is to discredit top tier news sources and augment the narrative that the press is out to get Donald Trump and cabal. As long as there are dual narratives of everything happening in the country running simultaneously, disinformation and chaos thrive.
As such, we can be confident that the 2020 election cycle will provide the Kremlin opportunities to pursue further subversion, disinformation, and deception. We should expect to see a barrage of disinformation, from fake think tanks, fake media outlets, false social media accounts, false identities, trolls, and bots to launder fringe narratives into the mainstream and hijack the public discourse. Lies will target the Democratic nominee (as the corruption conspiracy about former Vice President Joe Biden shows, this step began long ago), as well as seek to divide the Democratic vote.
While we are more aware of the existence of this manipulation than we were in 2016, it will remain difficult to separate fact from fiction and to critically assess information. Russian disinformation efforts will be hidden amidst the flood of angry partisan wrangling spread organically by Americans. Even Fox News has internally raised a red flag that its own commentators, like Sean Hannity and Joe diGenova, are actively using their platforms to spread disinformation. Furthermore, Trump proved willing to accept Russian help last time around. He is sure to welcome it (or even solicit it, in the case of Ukraine) again now, meaning the convergence of foreign interference and Trump’s disinformation apparatus will be complete.
And then we get to the giant issue here, the elephant in the room — or perhaps we could characterize it as the bear in the room, since it’s coming straight from Mother Russia. In the event of a close election and given the fact that Trump has already sewn the seeds of distrust in election outcomes, not to mention the understandable paranoia when the Iowa debacle took place — will anybody accept the results of the 2020 election? Particularly if it is close?
A tight election result could easily lead to drawn-out fights over who is the legitimate winner. And the conditions are right for neither side to have full confidence in whoever is ultimately declared the winner. In a worst-case scenario, this could make a peaceful transition of power difficult.
That situation is ripe for the covert actions of a hostile actor. Putin does not care if Trump wins. He simply wants to weaken the U.S. Making the country question the outcome of the most sacred part of democracy is a good way to do it.
This is what we’re up against. The most important safeguard is a reliance on provable fact and checking and double checking all of our systems. And per usual, getting out the vote is the most important factor of all. Start working on that and keep working on it every day from now until November 3 because literally, this time around, democracy depends on it.