Moscow exploits internal White House strife to further divisions
A former FBI special agent-turned disinformation expert says a propaganda tracking tool he helped develop took less than a week to pinpoint evidence of Kremlin efforts to exploit current White House political divisions at the highest levels of national security.
The tracker developed by Clint Watts and a bipartisan group of U.S. information operatives found that Russian-backed social media campaigns played a critical role in amplifying a conservative whisper campaign demanding the dismissal of former Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. McMaster was accused of purging hawkish members of the White House staff, including former senior director of intelligence programs Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and Mr. Trump was forced to issue a public statement supporting Mr. McMaster late last week.
The tool — a web dashboard named “Hamilton 68” after Alexander Hamilton’s essay warning in “The Federalist Papers” against foreign influence in American elections — monitors Russian online influence campaigns in the United States and abroad, with a specific focus on Twitter. It also aims to alert journalists to Kremlin disinformation campaigns as they’re underway.
“The dashboard displays the content and themes being promoted by Russian influencers online, including attributed sources such as RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik, as well as Twitter accounts that are involved in promoting Russian influence and disinformation goals,” the site says.
The dashboard was developed by Mr. Watts; International Center for Counter-Terrorism fellow J.M. Berger; Center for Cyber and Homeland Security fellow Andrew Weisburd; CEO of New Knowledge AI Jonathon Morgan; and the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy director Laura Rosenberger, which provided significant logistical and funding support.
Russian manipulation of social media has long been a focus of the probe looking into the Kremlin’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign. Last month at the Aspen Security Forum, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said during a rare public appearance that Russian meddling was a historic trend.