U.S. officials are considering employing a Russian-style misinformation campaign targeting members of the Moscow elite, effectively turning the tables on Russia, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Such disinformation would be designed to exploit rivalries within the Russian government and power elites, WaPo reported, citing current and former officials who came forward anonymously. Officials considered doing something similar in 2016, but the idea went nowhere.
“No one had an appetite for it,” a former senior official told WaPo, referring to an effort from National Security Council aides in the Obama administration to develop cyber options that U.S. Cyber Command is considering.
“There is a night-and-day difference between 2016 and this,” a second former U.S. official told reporters. (RELATED: Here’s How Misinformation About A Viral Russian-Based App Triggered DNC Officials)
One option would target senior leadership but would stay clear of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move officials believe would be too provocative, the report noted. The goal would be to send a pointed message: Personal data can be hit if interference in U.S. elections does not end.
“It’s sending credible signals to key decision-makers that they are vulnerable if they take certain adversarial actions,” Bobby Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told reporters.
Russia’s aim has always been to shove the U.S. electoral system into disarray, according to reports. “It’s always been about exacerbating fault lines in our society,” one senior U.S. official told reporters.
Cybercom’s ultimate decision would build on an attempt to rebut Russian’s potential interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
Cybercom used emails, pop-ups and texts to target internet trolls who worked for the Internet Research Agency, a private company controlled inside Russia. Cybercom also messaged hackers and Russian intelligence officers, warning them that their identities could be publicized, reports showed.
Much of Russia’s reported interference in 2016 took place on the internet, in particular on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, among other social media.
American intelligence officials, in fact, routinely warned social media companies and political campaigns about foreign interference, particularly in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The Russian government was held responsible for spreading “fake news” to users on a variety of websites at the time.
Still, Russia is constantly changing its methods, analysts warn.
Facebook reported in January, for instance, that Russia might be using its state-run media to create fake posts that appear to emanate from real newsrooms elsewhere. The company nixed 364 pages and accounts from the Baltics, central Asia, the Caucasus and other countries in central and Eastern Europe.
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