by Reps. Michael McCaul and Mark Meadows | Mar 7, 2018, 12:01 AM
The Russians are employing a Soviet-derived disinformation strategy against us. Their latest target? The tragic Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
During the decadeslong Cold War, the Soviet Union spread false information throughout the U.S. to deceive the public about our government. This deceiving tactic was known as “dezinformatsiya.”
Almost 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and many attempts by the U.S. to become international partners with Russia, Moscow is once again embracing its role as an American adversary.
Through the exploitation of social media, the Russian government is recycling yesterday’s tactics with today’s technology. Its goal is to sow discord within our country and undermine trust in our public institutions. By pursuing a strategy of chaos, they are attempting to create division among our people and allies.
This is the same objective outlined in the Department of Justice’s indictment of the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which sought to create internal conflict through information warfare that targeted anyone with a political or social agenda.
Ironically, their conduits were the very platforms we created — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Our efforts to promote an open, secure, and reliable information and communications infrastructure to foster free expression is being abused by a country that espouses the opposite.
In June 2017, the Defense Intelligence Agency issued their Russia Military Power report, a revival of their Soviet Military Power report that was distributed annually in the 1980s. It identified Russia’s updated Soviet disinformation strategy as “information confrontation,” which includes diplomatic, economic, military, political, cultural, social, and religious information arenas to shape perceptions and manipulate the behavior of target audiences.
Russia targets these audiences in cyberspace through the use of bots, trolls, hacktivists, and other malicious cyber actors. This state-backed cyber apparatus also targeted our friends in Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, and others across Europe. More personally, this apparatus targeted our election, our voting systems, and created counter-protests between our people. According to the German Marshall Fund, this strategy was deployed during the impassioned national debate about the NFL anthem protests with the intent to stir national divisions.
The Alliance for Democracy tracks a network of 600 Russian-linked Twitter accounts that have been connected to influence operations in the United States. At the end of January, these accounts were promoting narratives and attacks against the FBI, the DOJ, and the release of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act memo.
Immediately following the recent massacre in Parkland, their Twitter posts included contradictory hashtags on both sides of the gun control debate. They even falsely claimed the shooter searched Arabic phrases on Google before the shooting.
This follows the same pattern of other Russian online activities to stoke public doubt about American institutions like the police, the FBI, our intelligence community, and our media. These are pillars upon which our republic stands, upon which our democracy relies — pillars the Russians are attempting to destroy.
We cannot allow this assault to continue.
Fortunately, we have begun to take action. Last year our election systems were designated as critical infrastructure. This year, the Department of Homeland Security has provided important briefings to state election officials. NATO modernized its command structure to emphasize a greater focus on cyber, and the State Department created the Global Engagement Center to counter state and nonstate propaganda.
These are very important steps, but we must do more to counter Russian and other nations’ disinformation efforts that are attacking our way of life, and exploiting the technology our nation’s ingenuity created.
That is why we as a nation, as a society, must work together to resist this Russian manipulation.
It is quite clear Russia is trying to reclaim its superpower status from the last half of the 20th century by weakening the U.S.
If America is to remain that “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,” as former President Ronald Reagan said, we must do more to promote our values and way of life against the autocratic repression spreading across our globe.
Turning against one another and losing faith in the institutions established to protect us not only weakens our resolve as a nation, but moves us dangerously close to becoming the victims of a poisonous Russian agenda.
Consider the prescient farewell address of President George Washington, in which he warned that “[the agitation] of the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption.”
We must be alert to Russian disinformation. We must be alert to the division and discord it is intended to sow. And we must join together with our European friends to be the vanguard of freedom and prevent Russian aggression from rising out of the “ash heap of history.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican, is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. He represents the 10th Congressional District of Texas. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican, represents North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.