Global democracy faces a new threat. The 2016 U.S. general election marked the first time in history that the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expressed “high confidence” that Russia had interfered in a U.S. election on the orders of President Vladimir V. Putin. In this Leadership Perspectives call — exclusive to GMF’s Alumni Leadership Council members — Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly, founding partners of GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, provide an executive summary of Russia’s disinformation campaign and share strategies to counteract Putin’s malevolence in the future.
Read below for a few of the call’s key takeaways:
- The Alliance for Securing Democracy is a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at GMF that will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.
- Laura Rosenberger is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She served as National Security Council director for China and Korea and chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. She also worked as then-Deputy National Security Advisor Blinken’s senior advisor. Before joining GMF as director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, Laura was foreign policy advisor for Hillary for America.
- Jamie Fly was director for Counterproliferation Strategy at the National Security Council under George W. Bush. Afterward, he served as director of the Foreign Policy Initiative before becoming counselor for Foreign and National Security Affairs to Senator Marco Rubio and serving as Rubio’s foreign policy advisor during his presidential campaign. Jamie is now a senior fellow at GMF.
- In 2013, Russian General of the Army Valery Gerasimov published “The Value of Science in Prediction.” Gerasimov argued that in the future wars will be fought with a one-to-four ratio of military to non-military methods. Less than four years later, the U.S. intelligence community issued a historic joint assessment of Russian interference in the election.
- As a declining power, Russia is seeking to gain relative strength on the world stage by weakening other states through cheap, asymmetric tools. Using a combination of both overt and covert means, Russia is — at this moment — working to influence democracies around the world. Russia believes that their meddling in the United States’ 2016 election was a success and is sure to try it again in the future. This is a completely new foreign policy challenge, and it requires a varied response from a broad range of sectors.
- One of the greatest strengths of the United States and other western nations is their democracy, Lora notes, and Russia is seeking to exploit this system by sowing chaos through disinformation, cyber-attacks on political figures and institutions, assaults on the voting process, targeting of critical infrastructure, support for extremist parties and fringe views, and state economic coercion.
- Putin has no allegiance to any foreign political party, and the Alliance’s focus is to understand Putin’s toolkit and to develop a defensive and deterrent strategy to push back from a united front.
- Partisanship has limited the broader democratic debate and made it harder to deal with the problem of foreign influence in the democratic process. Jamie Fly states that many Republicans doubt Russia had anything to do with the United States’ 2016 general election. He says that even if Republicans did believe Russia played some role in the election, many are not willing to develop any measures to counteract Russia’s actions in the future.
- Jamie fears that by 2018 or even 2020 there might still be a political debate in Congress and media about what actually occurred during the 2016 election with no action taken to prevent Russian interference from affecting the election again. The Alliance is working to combat this and lessen the impact of future Russian interference by making people more aware of where their information is coming from. It is important that leadership outside Washington, DC recognizes threats from Russia and engages with the Alliance.
- It is hard to get a sense of the scale of Russian influence. Putin acts through government officials but also through proxies such as contracted messaging and automated bots. With automation and artificial intelligence becoming cheaper and increasingly advanced, the potential for large-scale disinformation becomes more and more likely.
- In France’s most recent election, Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team actively pushed back against Russian interference efforts by setting up dummy accounts with provably fake data for Russia to hack. This greatly lessened the impact of future leaks.
- There is a general distrust between the government and the tech sector. Incentives for the public and private sectors in combatting Russian interference are misaligned. For example, about 20 percent of Twitter’s users are bots. Getting rid of those accounts would significantly decrease the corporation’s user base.
- The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s Disinformation Dashboard tracks 600 twitter accounts that have been core to the Russian amplification network. The biggest tool for combatting disinformation is promoting robust debate and educating people on how to identify reputable news sources. Suppressing dissent is not an effective solution and would be a grave mistake.
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GMF’s Leadership Perspectives informs leaders about trends that are changing the nature of transatlantic relations. During each call, members of GMF’s Alumni Leadership Council have the unique opportunity to send questions through an instant messaging group and shape content.
Access to GMF’s Alumni Leadership Council is exclusive to alumni of GMF’s leadership programs, including Marshall Memorial Fellowship, Manfred Wörner Seminar, Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network, Asmus Policy Entrepreneurs Fellowship, APSA Congressional Fellowship, and New Länder Fellowship.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.