Cyber · Information Warfare · Russia

All This Talk About Cyber But That Is Only The Tip Of The Russian Information Warfare Iceberg


Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Rossiya Segodnya. He also serves as deputy director of Russian state TV holding company VGTRK.

This article just doesn’t seem to get it. To the authors, it’s all about cyber.

Apologies to Sonam Sheth and Natasha Bertrand, the authors, but I need to correct you.  Cyber attacks, espionage, and hacking are a very minor part of Russian information warfare. Cyber is new, it’s sexy, and it is ‘crazy misunderstood’.  Cyber, by itself, does and has done almost nothing, especially during the US 2016 election.

  • Yes, you can bring down systems, but the owner/operator is just going to reboot, reload, drink a cup of coffee, and things will go on as before. 
  • In fairly rare cases a system can be wiped out and totaled, as in Shamoon.  That is rare and gains almost nothing for a hacker, so they don’t do that.
  • Cyber can steal information.  That, by itself, accomplishes nothing, as the authors note, the information was then passed to Wikileaks to have an effect.
  • Cyber can alter information but as is being exposed now, 21 US states were targeted and a few voting software makers, with no effects, according to Dr. Sam Liles.  It also takes an extremely talented and professional team, dedicated to just this task, to alter information.  Of all those emails and information released by Wikileaks and there is still yet to be found even one fake report.

As has been said countless times, all this cyber and talk about cyber and it accomplished almost nothing during the election. Yes, cyber is a problem but it was not a significant player during the election, not at all.  Yes, Russia tried, but no, they did not succeed.

Information caused the damage and influenced massive populations around the world.

Russia was doing disinformation, propaganda, and trolling against the US specifically and the world in general, long before this. 

Russia’s stated goals: 

  1. Sow discord in the US and the West
  2. Undermine Democracy and the democratic process of Western countries.
  3. Promote Russian national interests.

Allow me to take one select quote from the article.

“The third [path] was to amplify the propaganda value of the leaked emails with a disinformation campaign waged predominantly on Facebook and Twitter, in an effort to use automated bots to spread fake news and pro-Trump agitprop.”

The release of purloined emails from the DNC server, from Podesta’s email, and others, became spectacular news with the timing.  Because of the lack of information planning at the national level in the US, there are no quantitative methods of measuring the damage caused by Russian-generated propaganda, disinformation, and fake news. This is where the majority of the damage to the US was caused, but without ways to measure the actual impact, we cannot assess if the US election was swayed or by how much. We do know, however, that our faith and trust in the US media, in their trustworthiness, has almost disintegrated.

As for pro-Trump agitprop, I challenge the authors to prove that statement. There is tons of evidence showing anti-Clinton agitprop but none demonstrating Russian trolls, news, or agents generating pro-Trump messaging.  The press made up this little fallacy and it stuck, despite a stunning lack of evidence.

So what caused the actual damage to the US before, during and after the election?  Russian Information Warfare (RIW).

The following is a synopsis of the RIW organization and gives a little insight into the vast program arrayed against the US and the West.

This is an outline of the comprehensive RIW program.  The entire program is overseen by Vladislav Surkov in the Kremlin.

  • Information Warfare Operations Center – Centralized planning and decentralized execution. Guidance sheets aka temniki, are distributed and are very tightly controlled. Most likely co-located with Rossiya Segodnya.
  • National Leadership – Ensures the words uttered by national leaders are the same as in Russian news.
    • Putin
    • Lavrov
    • Peskov
  • Public Diplomacy – Ensures the same words are used by diplomats around the world.
    • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Embassies around the world
    • Diplomats in Russian and other nations, including UN
  • Media – hundreds, perhaps thousand of outlets are being run by this program.  This is where the vast majority of propaganda and fake news is generated.
    • Russian official propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik, all controlled by Dmitry Kiselyov at Rossiya Segodnya.
    • Russian proxy new outletsVery large network of Pro-Russian amplifiers
  • Online – Russian online activity is run by the FSB
    • FSB coordinated trolls
    • FSB controlled hackers
      • Patriotic
      • State-owned
      • Military owned
    • FSB Active Measures. Create legitimate appearing news outlets outside of Russia. Create news generation. Create fake stories which are difficult to tell from the real news but contain information designed to elicit severe reactions from targeted groups.  In the US, blacks have been targeted, so have Democrats, Republicans, Representatives and Senators, police, women, men, youth, elderly, for instance. Aids was attributed, for instance, to the medical research facility at Ft. Dietrich, MD, and was said to target blacks, by Russia. It took decades to gain control of that information.
    • Bots. The vast majority of Russian information warfare on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites was accomplished by bots.  AI and bots have sufficiently matured to the point where they can easily overwhelm a system or they can automatically generate counter messages or they can discourage intelligent discourse and discouage use of comment sections altogether – enhancing frustration.
  • Counter Foreign IW (Counterintelligence)
    • FSB
    • GRU
    • SVR
    • Roskomnadzor
    • Police
  • NGOs – This is not described in detail by Russia, but it appears that some of these “friendship and cooperation” organizations are used to spread the good word of Russia and probably to provide feedback.  Here are some of the more active “friendship and cooperation” organizations in the US but there is no way of telling which ones have active Russian roots. Most certainly the Solntsevskaya Bratva is run as an extension of the Russian intelligence services.
    • Russian International Affairs Council
    • Russian American Foundation
    • United Russian American Association
    • Russia House
    • Russian Brotherhood Organization of the USA
    • The U.S.-Russia Chamber of Commerce
    • Institute of Modern Russia
    • Pushkin House – Home of Russian Culture
    • Congress of Russian Americans
    • US Russia Business Council
    • Russian Brotherhood Organization
    • Mafia – Solntsevskaya Bratva
  • Information Commandoes – Spetsnaz of the military, FSB, GRU, and SVR did the lion’s share of work in Crimea and Donbass, Ukraine and will be the first to be used on the ground in any foreign operation.

While you are reading, here is a nice extra-lite guide to how Russian propaganda works containing a few of their guiding principles.  Russian propaganda over Crimea and the Ukraine: how does it work?

Sonam Sheth and Natasha Bertrand, please consider yourself corrected.

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