Hello, World! Russia Here!

The Russian destroyer Udaloy I forced the USS Chancellorsville to maneuver to avoid collision in the Phillippine Sea today. They were sending a message – look at the guys sunbathing on the flight deck.

The maneuver was planned and approved by the fleet. Probably at the suggestion of Vladimir Putin, or certainly to please him.

If the ships had collided, Russia would have screamed that it was all the fault of the American ship.

The Russian government has been cranky this week over the observances of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Allied landings on Normandy beaches were the beginning of the end of Germany’s Western Front.

Russia would like to have a word about that. Russia defeated Germany’s Eastern Front, at enormous cost. The message the Russian government was trying to get out was that it was the eastern front that was really the defeat of Hitler. Further, Russia is owed bigtime by the rest of Europe for that.

The Russian role in World War II is often minimized in Western versions of the defeat of Hitler. Russia suffered enormous losses.

But the Russian role is not unambiguous. In 1939, the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to fight together with Germany and divide up the parts of Europe between their then boundaries after the victory. That assured Hitler that he could concentrate on the Western Front and invade France and adjacent countries while bombing the UK. Without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and with the USSR solidly standing with the rest of Europe, Hitler would have had to think twice.

Hitler double-crossed Stalin, of course, by invading Soviet territory in 1941. That forced Russia to fight on the side of the Western allies. Russia could have put up a better fight if Stalin hadn’t purged the generals in 1937. The Soviet military was in disarray, allowing the German army almost to reach Moscow.

Meanwhile, bombing on the Western Front weakened Hitler, and American Lend-Lease strengthened the Soviets. But a competition remained: Soviet spies were sending the plans for American nuclear weapons to Moscow, and there was a race in the Far East to occupy Japan first.

But Russia wants the story to be of the damage it survived and went on to help the Allies win. That is true, but it is only part of the story. Adam Elkus says what I’ve just said with more snark in a Twitter thread.

For the past couple of weeks, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been, to use Adam’s word, shitposting, like this

The anniversary of D-Day is the immediate cause, but the problem goes deeper. Russia, particularly Vladimir Putin, wants to be treated like a great power. Further, Putin has a few problems at home. His popularity is down. There are fights about provincial boundaries in the North Caucasus. People are demonstrating against accepting Moscow’s garbage in landfills in the North. He needs something to get people behind him, and what better than American hostility.

If that hostility can be combined with dissension among Americans, so much the better. So Moscow released a facsimile of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact a couple of weeks ago, for the first time. Moscow has refused to discuss the Pact in the past. They aren’t saying much now, but its release could spark strong feelings among Americans whose background is in the countries that suffered from the Nazi and Soviet invasions, along with western controversies associated with those Soviet actions.

Add in some dissing of D-Day to fan other fires. The mixture doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t have to; all it needs to do is rile Americans up an several sides of several issues. And irritate them at Russia, so that they will generate commentary that can be used to show the Russian people how Americans hate them.

The propaganda game was largely being ignored, so some escalation was necessary, hence the incident in the Phillippine Sea. This is genuinely dangerous because it could result in a collision and perhaps escalate further. The sunbathers are essentially offering a middle finger to the United States. Putin’s, perhaps.

The incident should be demarched, but who knows what Donald Trump and John Bolton are likely to do. We could engage Russia on extending the New START Treaty. That is undoubtedly one of the things irritating Putin. Extending New START would be a good thing for both countries and the world. Negotiating a treaty with lower limits on nuclear weapons and better verification would be better, but the base we are working from is hoping that Trump and Bolton won’t withdraw from the treaty altogether.

Russia will continue its propaganda drumbeat. The purpose is to fan division in the United States and to provide material for Putin to try to ramp up his popularity. The best way to respond is to avoid division and call out trolls when they appear.








Information Warfare: The Florida Election Hack

Election hacking in Florida, municipality hacking in Baltimore, and President Donald Trump’s handing of classification authorities to Attorney General William Barr share some characteristics. Our strategies lag behind the realities of dealing with information in the age of the internet. We need to start thinking differently about how we handle information; when to withhold it and when to share it.

I’ll write three posts on ways to think about those situations. We have to find better ways to deal with information and its misuses.

It has taken some time for the story of voter record hacking in Florida to come out, and we still don’t have most of it.

Russian hackers accessed voter data in two Florida counties, but, according to federal authorities, did not change the vote count itself. They may have taken data on voters, which seems to be public. The method of attack was spear phishing, in which an email contains links that install a trojan horse on the target computer. (Reminder: Don’t click on links in suspicious email.)

On May 14, federal officials  briefed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on the hacking. DeSantis says that he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prohibits naming the counties. This is not unusual when someone without a clearance is allowed access to classified information.

But why is this information classified, and what exactly is classified?

If Florida election officials are to provide a secure election next year, they need to know

  • which parts of their system were accessed and how
  • what the hackers did with their access
  • how hackers might affect vote totals
  • what steps to take to avoid these problems

This information will be useful to election officials in other states too. And the general public has a right to know what happened in 2016 and may be happening today.

There are two reasons for not making that information public. First, it is likely part of the counterintelligence investigation complementing Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and may need to be kept quiet to protect that investigation. Second, the FBI and DHS, the investigating agencies, claim that making it public will impact their sources and methods. This is a common claim of intelligence agencies, probably too common. More on that later.

A leak says that Washington County was one of the counties hacked by Russia’s GRU, the military intelligence agency. It’s likely that we will hear about the other. A strong statement from the investigating agencies on what they found would be the best way to bolster confidence in the electoral system. Legislators have expressed concern about the secrecy, and we can hope that they will press for more information to be made public.

Making this information public could also serve as a warning to the hackers: We know what you are doing and are watching out for you. This message is in the news already, but giving specifics would make it more credible.

 

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.

 








Has No One Ever Heard of a Disinformation Campaign Fer Fuck’s Sake

You’d think with the 2016 election being recent history, people would recognize what is going on. I mean, fer fuck’s sake, everyone and their brother has heard of gaslighting by now. Apparently not, though:

THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT BARR WANTED. The reason he sent the initial letter was sent by Barr WITHOUT RELEASING THE REPORT is so that useful idiots and hacks could run around and make statements about how Trump was totally cleared, and then by the time the actual report was released the waters would be sufficiently muddied that it didn’t matter what the actual report said because now there could be a debate about it. It’s what they fucking do with everything. It’s why corporations spend so much money funding alternative studies debating shit that is undebatable, like climate change or whether cigarettes are addictive and on and on.

The media didn’t intentionally misrepresent the report- Barr did and misled the media. That was his intent.








Let’s Try Again

A while back, I posted on the similarities between Donald Trump and dictators past. Not exact parallels – history doesn’t give us those – but enough similarities that we should be very concerned about the direction of our country. Here’s a good article that says some of the same things. My question continues to be whether we can turn it around.

Because there is no single moment – no coup, declaration of martial law, or suspension of the constitution – in which the regime obviously “crosses the line” into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.

It’s important to recognize those similarities (not exact parallels – I’m emphasizing this for the pedants in the jackaltariat). My bolding:

A comparative approach reveals how elected autocrats in different parts of the world employ remarkably similar strategies to subvert democratic institutions. As these patterns become visible, the steps toward breakdown grow less ambiguous –and easier to combat. Knowing how citizens in other democracies have successfully resisted elected autocrats, or why they tragically failed to do so, is essential to those seeking to defend American democracy today.

There are two big steps. We failed the first by electing Donald Trump.

How serious is the threat now? Many observers take comfort in our constitution, which was designed precisely to thwart and contain demagogues like Trump. Our Madisonian system of checks and balances has endured for more than two centuries. It survived the civil war, the great depression, the Cold War and Watergate. Surely, then, it will be able to survive Trump.

We are less certain. Historically, our system of checks and balances has worked pretty well – but not, or not entirely, because of the constitutional system designed by the founders. Democracies work best – and survive longer – where constitutions are reinforced by unwritten democratic norms.

Republicans have been eroding those norms since at least the mid-90s. And they are doing nothing to enforce the checks and balances. Some are helping Trump avoid the checks and balances.

We don’t yet know how the story turns out for America.

The last time I wrote about this, a troll disrupted the comment section. Trolls can’t do that unless jackals fall for the trolls’ tricks. Another of my continuing themes is information warfare. Remember what they say about troll nutrition.

 








The Coming Information War

The Mueller investigation was primarily into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Much of the discussion in the report about that interference is redacted.

We can expect the same in the runup to the 2020 election. That means starting now.

What Russia is doing cannot entirely be dealt with by those in political power (those who want to, anyway) or those in network power (same). And it’s not just Russia, it’s China, North Korea, Iran, and some 400-pound dude in his mother’s basement. We all have to be responsible consumers and distributors of information on the internet.

This is going to be one of my themes. Today I found a particularly good Twitter thread, which I’ll put into a more narrative form. The thread has gifs that I won’t drag in, so if you like that sort of thing, check out the link.

1/ Finished Reading the . I want to highlight 3 things in the report and how they relate to the IRA (Senate data set) investigation that I was part of last year:

2/ #1 In the “Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency” report, it was important to me to focus on the *infiltration of movements & activation of Americans* who were identified and targeted. The Mueller report does that as well, noting repeated outreach via Messenger.

3/ From both far-left/far-right press there’s been an ongoing “haha it was just some stupid memes” line.

No.

The IRA went far beyond what a “social media agency” does. It leveraged techniques used by intelligence pros to target Americans, develop trust, get ppl to take action.

4/ When we think about how disinformation will spread in 2020, this kind of engagement with real, aligned Americans will likely be a big part of it. It’s hard to identify this kind of activity.

7/ There were dozens of formal FB Events but they also occasionally put random event promos into Insta posts. There were tons of community events promoted on Black-community targeted FB pages. Instigating in-the-street action is another thing I would expect more of for 2020;

8/The Mueller report did a great job describing how the IRA prioritized getting people out into the street, carefully monitored results, had ppl take photos, etc. That’s bc it’s an important part of their operation. News coverage + incendiary images lead to emotional engagement.

9/ Point #3: Influencer manipulation. This is another tactic we wrote ab in the Tactics & Tropes report. Many Trump campaign accounts retweeted IRA sockpuppets. Not mentioned in the Mueller report: the celebrity accounts, journalists, etc that also retweeted this stuff.

14/There are still ppl who don’t believe Russia did anything, or can’t separate “interference” from “collusion”; maybe the will help them accept that the GRU hacks & IRA influence op really happened.

They did.

And whatever party you are, that should make you mad

15/ Thanks for reading this thread that was actually very short compared to other threads. 420.