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Russia's takeover of US political groups is a serious problem

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According to a federal indictment unsealed in Florida last week, Russian intelligence services have launched a “malicious influence campaign” to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in U.S. elections. As part of this, they have manipulated and recruited multiple U.S. political groups.” As a former intelligence officer, I am aware of this tactic, and I am aware of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and U.S. assistance to Ukraine. portends a potential increase in hostilities, which Moscow has undoubtedly doubled. This is a covert operation in the field, as opposed to bots and far-flung hackers.

This tactic is not new to Russian security services. They have been using it since imperial times and are often referred to as “social engineering” or Zbatovsina. The technique was adopted as part of the Emperor’s efforts to undermine revolutionary groups. Zubatov’s agents covertly infiltrated revolutionary groups, manipulated their discourse, and used funds to direct their activities. Now, according to this federal indictment, Russia is doing it on U.S. soil with U.S. political groups. Left unchecked, it can have serious consequences.

Russia turned to these technologies in difficult times. By the time Zbatov launched his covert action campaign, the Tsarist Empire was reeling from a number of important security incidents. Did. In 1881, the so-called Liberator Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. After the emperor’s assassination, his successor, Emperor Alexander his III, employed a number of aggressive techniques before setting his sights on Zbatovsina in the early 20th century.

The Russian leadership arguably sees the present as a difficult time. Plans for victory in Ukraine have been foiled by unexpected and deadly resistance, leaving it a pariah of a struggling international community under a mounting sanctions regime. And imagine the conclusions Putin must have drawn from the intelligence reports he undoubtedly received at his morning coffee on January 7, 2021.

Zbatovsina did not save Tsarist Russia from revolution, and there is no reason why US support for Ukraine should be reduced. But the US national security apparatus needs to carefully consider the extent of hostilities that currently exist between Moscow and Washington, which unfortunately resemble the hostilities of the early Cold War.

George Kennan, an American diplomat who advocated a policy of containment to limit Soviet expansion, warned that if the Soviet Union became more hostile, the United States would have to adapt. As Kennan explained in 1948, “The Kremlin’s acts of political warfare have become the most sophisticated and effective in history. It has been handicapped by a general attachment … Being involved in the full force of the Kremlin’s political warfare, we cannot afford to leave our resources unmobilized for covert political warfare.”

Lieutenant General James Doolittle, who received the Medal of Honor for leading the daring Doolittle raids against Japan in World War II, agreed with Kennan that the United States would engage in more aggressive covert operations techniques to survive. concluded that it must. Doolittle recognized that many Americans would object to his proposal, but thought it essential, and he concluded:[h]The norms of human conflict that have hitherto been tolerated do not apply. For the United States to survive, it must rethink its longstanding concept of “fair play.” We must develop effective espionage and counter-espionage, and learn how to destroy, sabotage, and destroy our adversaries. This is a more subtle, sophisticated and effective method than the one used against us. It may be necessary to make the American public aware, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy. ”

The memory of the Cold War need not guide all our responses or provoke rash actions. usa. Unfortunately, we may have to revisit Kenan and Doolittle’s fundamentally repugnant philosophy.

Michael Richter is a former Intelligence Officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence and is now an attorney in private practice. The views expressed here are his own.