Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

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Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

Abstract

Russian individuals and the Russian state interfered in the 2016 US presidential election through leaking of information aided by cyber espionage, hacking the electoral system and overt Russian propaganda. The Russian influence campaign had a significant impact on public opinion and on the American minds before and during the presidential campaign, thus, affecting the outcome.

Keywords: Russia, interference, meddling, hack, leak,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

Since the outcome of the 2016 United States election, there has been a vast array of issues regarding the hacking of election systems and cyber-security versus information warfare and information operations, hacking and leaking of illicitly acquired information versus disinformation and propaganda, paid advertising versus psychological operations and coercive messaging when discussing the meddling or interference by Russia in the 2016 US elections. The chorus sand on many fronts has been that there is no sufficient or significant evidence that efforts by Russia affected the votes of the recently concluded Presidential election in the United States. However, the detailed thirty-seven page indictment issued in February 2018 by Robert Mueller against the Internet Research Agency in Russia, as well as, its leadership and affiliates has changed that perspective. The report provides considerable or detailed evidence about Russian information warfare that specifically targeted the American public, voters included, before and during the election. This information not only disputes the refrain that Kremlin’s efforts were unsuccessful in impacting the American public but also makes it vivid that Russian interference or meddling affected the American mind and the outcome of the election.

Russian interference in the 2016 United States election has been proven by the Mueller Indictment given that it has permanently demolished the concept that the magnitude of the Russian campaign was not significant enough to have any impact on the minds of Americans as Mckew (2018) reports. The fact is the conversation or discourse is no longer about the close to $100,000 worth of advertising that was reluctantly disclosed by Facebook, but millions of dollars spent over the last four years to formulate a wide and intricate system that was utilized to influence American opinion, be it through advertisements, videos, articles and audios that Americans were exposed to during this period. The indictment brings to light a network of authenticated identities for people and groups operating through discordant VPNs and servers. In addition, based on the reports by United States Intelligence officials, Russian hackers made several attempts before and during the election to get into major United States Institutions, including the state department, the White House, campaign officials and national security agencies such as FBI, with most being successful (Harding, 2016). As Harding (2016) further states that US Intelligence officials found that Russian hackers hacked both the computer systems belonging to the Democratic and Republic National Committees, with the state media in Russia continuously portraying Hillary Clinton as a warmonger.Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

The elections in the United States are built on a foundation of democracy, devoid of external interference or meddling. It is for this reason that Americans are wary of the credibility of future elections with the recent acknowledgement of Russian interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election. A poll conducted by SRRS revealed that almost three-quarters of the American people are worried about external or foreign interference in the US elections (Stewart, 2018). The poll further evinces that fifty-eight percent of Americans do not reckon President Trump is treating the investigation into Russian meddling that influenced the 2016 presidential election as serious, with 55% holding the opinion that the president is trying to interfere with the investigation (Stewart, 2018). The principal goal of Russia and particularly Putin was to undermine the democratic nature of the United States elections and create chaos as Harding (2016) reports by peddling discordant types of native content such as visual, text, video and memetic elements designed to push conspiracies, narrative themes and character attacks. Moreover, this native content was designed to appear like it was emanating from authentic American interest groups and voices so as to make it easy for American minds or the American public to believe the message and take it to heart when voting (Mckew, 2018).

“Hybrid threats” is a concept that is not new. Countries and even non-national groups have employed a variety of hybrid threats to influence people. The only new aspect of hybrid threats is the virtual realm that allows for social media to decrease the entry cost for colossal propaganda campaigns and cyber-attacks to strategically release information and discredit certain information. These forms of hybrid attacks are clearly displayed in the Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. The bottom line is Russian sough to undermine the faith of the American people in the democratic process of the US elections and damage the reputation, candidacy and prospective presidency of Hillary Clinton. The influence campaign orchestrated by Russia comprised of three elements, that is, overt Russian propaganda, leaking information stolen by Russian through cyber espionage and hacking into the election infrastructure.Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

Russian hackers undertook cyber espionage operations on critical people and political organizations, particularly the Democratic National Committee (DNC), with the emails of John Podesta and Hillary Clinton being targeted and information leaked strategically to influence popular public debate and undermine the US democratic process. Spreading misinformation was also another effective campaign tool of Russian propaganda utilized to influence voters in the United States. Through trolls and botnets on social media, as well as, novel websites such as Sputnik and RT, Kremlin was able to propagate Russian preferences and concepts to the general public and mainstream media. Finally, the cyber hacking of election infrastructure such as voter databases and voting systems provided Russian hackers with the materials, methods and familiarity with the system of election in the United States that they can utilize in future Russian influence campaigns in the nation. Having established the bottom lines related to the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, it is vital to evaluate the nature and scope of Russia’s interference so as to put these bottom lines into perspective.Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

According to the US Intelligence Community Assessment (2017) report, the Kremlin initiated an influence campaign with three specific objectives, that is, to denigrate Hillary Clinton, impede her prospective presidency and undermine the faith of the American people in democratic process. Moreover, apart from the Kremlin preference towards a Trump presidency, President Putin showed dislike for Hillary Clinton based on his holding of Clinton responsible for facilitating mass protests against him to prevent his reelection. Moreover, the indictment issued by Robert Mueller affirm the influence campaign conducted by Russia featuring overt Russia propaganda, stolen information through cyber espionage and hacks into the election infrastructure; all conducted simultaneously and in a complementary manner. A significant portion of the Russian influence campaign focused on overt Russian propaganda and stealing information through cyber espionage with the aim of weaponizing information for strategic use. Hacking of election infrastructure has not been proven to have any crucial influence in the 2016 US election, but it cannot be deemed inconsequential since it is a harbinger and investment for future Russian meddling in elections.

Given the change in events in the election period, Russia adapted by altering its approach based on its own discernment of the potential outcome of the election. Thus, determining the objective of Russia was difficult even though tarnishing the image of Clinton and discrediting the democratic process in America were evident from the start. It is only in the late stages that Russia’s preference for Trump became clear. Based on this understanding, it can be deduced that the actions of the Kremlin were not disruptive, but had specific political objectives. This is because contrary to Putin’s denial, the hackers involved in conducting the cyber-attacks and cyber espionage enjoyed the support of the Russian government (Higgins, 2017). The cyber-attacks undertaken by the Russian hackers took the form of leaks and hacks. More specifically, in 2015 and 2016, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and Hilary Clinton were all targets of the Kremlin sponsored cyber espionage operations. FancyBear and CozyBear; the two hacker groups involved in the 2016 US presidential election have also performed similar cyber espionage operations in North America and Europe and utilized the same modus operandi (MO) previously utilized against other foreign states and agencies. The documents obtained through these cyber espionage operations were shared through personal profiles and websites such as Wikileaks and those formulated by the Russian government, for instance, DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0.

Russian intelligence was able to gain access to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Hillary Clinton’s network through FancyBear and CozyBear hacker groups from June 2015 until June 2016 (Alperovitch, 2016). Clinton’s campaign manager Podesta received an email from Google that notified him of an attempt to access his email. When this email was forwarded to IT as a legitimate email and the password changed, Russian hackers were able to have full access to his private Gmail account and read all his emails which were later published by Wikileaks. Data from the DCCC and Podesta’s email account were continuously leaked and published by the personal profile Guccifer 2.0. However, what is most notable of the leaks following the hacking of the DCCC, the DNC, Podesta and Hillary is their strategic timing. This is evident in the leaking or releases of the information stolen DNC emails by Wikileaks three days before the commencement of the Democratic National Convention. This ensured that the emails were the main content that occupied mainstream news as the convention was underway. The objective of the released emails was to cause disarray in the DNC by publishing emails that evinced outright favoritism of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders which resulted questioning of the legitimacy of the candidacy of Clinton and increased calls for top DNC officials to resign. The released emails continued to fuel the inferno started by Russian propaganda.

The media outlets in Russia, particularly those targeting global audiences played a crucial role in the nation’s influence campaign. These media outlets served as an outlet for the damaging messaging devised by the Kremlin during the 2016 US presidential election. In an interview with Reuters (2016 23), Putin asserted that his emphasis on information operations was for the purpose of breaking the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams. Paid human trolls, botnets and Russian news websites such as Sputnik and RT all contributed in propagating the Russian preferences and concepts to online viewers. Given the wide coverage and reach of social media and mainstream media outlets, the Kremlin utilized these platforms to maximize the impact of its operations. For instance, Russian state media often portrayed Trump in a positive light contrary to Hillary who was portrayed as a warmonger. Moreover, fake news emanating from Russian sources incessantly trended on discordant social media outlets throughout the period of the 2016 US presidential election. For example, in august 2016, Twitter began to trend news relating to a Turkish protest permeating the United States airbase in Incirlik. However, as Watts and Weisburd (2016) report, a protest did in fact occur in Turkey, but it was not as big as reported by Sputnik, RT and Twitter and it did not surround the Incirlik base. Reports also emerged of Hillary’s degenerating health which was spread in a similar manner with news outlets and social media channels claiming that Hillary had Parkinson’s Illness. With these examples in mind, the ability of Kremlin to spread factually false news and obtain, as well as, facilitate significant online and media engagement over legitimate sources is proof of the Russia’s and the Kremlin’s robust and overt propaganda network that influenced public opinion in the United States. Facebook has recently been called to answer to its role in influencing public opinion in the 2016 US presidential election through low entry cost for colossal propaganda campaigns and cyber-attacks aimed at strategically releasing information and discrediting certain information. Facebook and Twitter may have fortified their efforts in cracking down on the fake accounts and stories on their platforms, but their efforts are mostly reactive rather than proactive.Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign also took the form of covert cyber hacking of election infrastructure. In as much as the magnitude and effect of these hacks are not as critical as the spread of fake news and propaganda and leaked documents, the information, methods and familiarity acquired by the Kremlin as a result of the hacking efforts render the United States electoral system more susceptible to future influence campaigns orchestrated by Russia. In May 2016, Arizona’s voter registration system was taken offline for some days after a cyber-threat was detected by FBI. A month later, the hackers successfully gained access to the Illinois Board of Elections. While various electoral systems were hacked successfully, there is no significant evidence that points towards tampering of vote count. There is immense evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, but what is more prominent is its impact.

The Indictments by Mueller evince that Russian agents and accounts achieved more than creating tensions and divisions with their propaganda, hacking and leaking of information. These messaging utilized employed by the Kremlin and the Russian state was more intricate in that some Americans took action. For instance, Mckew (2018) states that there were various demonstrations and events organized by Russians with American pseudo identities on social media. These events, demonstrations or campaign were aimed at mainstreaming a concept, that is, moving it from the fringe status to the mainstream and in the process making it seem like it is more widely held than it is in reality.

Despite the continuous suspicion and later confirmation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election, President Trump has in many occasions cast doubt on the United States intelligence community’s evaluation of the meddling by Russia in the election. President Trump has dismissed the investigation into whether Russia conducted an influence campaign to impact the minds of American voters and whether or not his campaign worked hand in hand with Russian as “witch hunt,” “fake news” and a “hoax” (Turner, 2018). Through his tweets and Facebook posts, President Trump has refuted the claim that Russia had a hand in influencing the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. His main argument has been that such allegations are merely fake news peddled by the media and an attack on his presidency with the aim of tarnishing his ascension to the presidential position of the United States. Moreover, President Trump has denied having any ties with the Russian government and instead accused the Democratic National Committee of hacking itself and releasing opposition research on him and the Obama Administration of failing to report any cases of Russian hacking and only bringing the matter to the public after Hillary’s lose (Turner, 2018). In addition, the Kremlin has come out strongly to deny any form of interference of the 2016 US presidential election by Russia even after the indictment of three Russian entities and thirteen Russian nationals. The Kremlin maintains that there is no significant evidence of interference by the Russian state and Russian citizens in the 2016 US presidential election and that the allegations of Russian state involvement are baseless and unfair (Ellyatt, 2018).Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

As established in this paper, the Mueller Indictment has permanently refuted and defeated the claim that the magnitude of the Russian campaign was not significant enough to have any impact on the minds of Americans as repeatedly stated by President Trump and the Kremlin. As Turner (2018) reports, President Trump has slightly changed the tone of his message or his argument after the federal grand jury indicted three Russian entities and thirteen Russians for allegedly waging or orchestrating information warfare against the United States. Through his Twitter handle, President Trump acknowledged that Russia did in fact wage information warfare against the United States for a period of more than a year (Turner, 2018). While it still remains to be seen if President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, what is clear and proven from the report given by Mueller is that Russia influenced the American public and consequently, the presidential election through its acts of cyber espionage, Russian propaganda and information warfare. This proof delivered by Mueller after a protracted investigation outweighs any claim of non-interference by Russia or interference that is inconsequential since the evidence shows how the American minds and their opinions were influenced by misinformation strategically spread by Russia.Essay on Russian Interference in 2016 US presidential election

Based on the information provided by the United States Intelligence officials since 2015 and the recent indictment issued by Mueller, there is no denying the fact Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential election. Whether it is through leaking information with the help of cyber espionage, hacking electoral systems or overt Russian propaganda, Russia influenced American minds in the period before and during the 2016 presidential election. Attempts to refute Russian meddling by stating that there was no sufficient evidence have been demolished by the Indictment by Mueller. It is important to note that the intelligence reports only provide certain evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election and the real impact could be far reaching.

 

References

Alperovitch, D. (2016). Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee. Crowdstrike.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.crowdstrike.com/blog/bears-midst-intrusion-democratic-national-committee/

Ellyatt, H. (2018). Kremlin says there’s no significant evidence of Russian meddling in US election. CNBC. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/19/kremlin-on-mueller-report–no-significant-evidence-that-russia-meddled-in-2016-u-s-election-reuters-reports.html

Harding, L. (2016). What we know about Russia’s interference in the US election. the Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/16/qa-russian-hackers-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-us-presidential-election

Higgins, A. (2017). Maybe Private Russian Hackers Meddled in Election, Putin Says. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/world/europe/vladimir-putin-donald-trump-hacking.html

McKew, M. (2018). Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable. WIRED. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.wired.com/story/did-russia-affect-the-2016-election-its-now-undeniable/

RT International. (2013). Putin talks NSA, Syria, Iran, drones in RT interview (FULL VIDEO). RT International. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.rt.com/news/putin-rt-interview-full-577/

Stewart, E. (2018). Most Americans are worried about Russian election meddling and think Trump isn’t taking it seriously. Vox. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/27/17057764/poll-trump-election-meddling-russia-interference

Turner, A., & Desai, T. (2018). Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on Russian interference in US politics – until now. CNBC. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/16/trump-has-repeatedly-denied-russian-interference-in-the-us-election–but-not-today.html

Watts, C., & Weisburd, A. (2016). How Russia Dominates Your Twitter Feed to Promote Lies (And, Trump, Too). The Daily Beast. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-russia-dominates-your-twitter-feed-to-promote-lies-and-trump-too