Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the West has believed that the Cold War, with its overarching threat of nuclear annihilation, was over. Russia’s Vladimir Putin knew better.
He is waging Cold War version 2.0 to return Russia to its former status as a superpower. The battlefields are blue screens, eyeballs and American minds.
In July, special investigator Robert Mueller’s team handed down a 29-page detailed indictment of 12 Russians for hacking Democratic National Committee emails and the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In October, the Justice Department charged seven Russian military intelligence officials with cyberattacks on international anti-doping agencies.
Now, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation reports that two years after the 2016 elections, more than a million tweets a day are still being published based on phony news reports. Most of those reports can be traced to as few as 10 sources, amounting to a coordinated campaign to continue to spread chaos on the American political landscape.
In the face of clear evidence that the sources of these cyber versions of warfare are Russian operations, U.S. elected officials, who swear an oath to protect and defend the United States, are doing practically nothing to either become engaged themselves or to alert the American people to the threat.
Private companies like Facebook have announced ramped-up efforts to thwart bad actors. The deployment of federal resources has been anemic at best, nonexistent at worst.
Make no mistake. This is a war between liberal democracy and an authoritarian dictatorship. The president of the United States and the Republican Congress are ignoring an enemy that holds the long view and has spent the better part of a decade perfecting highly sophisticated cyber weapons and tactics.
The Trump administration should make a concerted effort to engage the public in the truth about Russian hacking and use of social media. In the absence of an ability to have Russian operatives extradited, the Justice Department should at least issue a public statement on the solidity of its evidence supporting indictments. Congress should light a fire under the states, adding resources and a sense of urgency to their currently underwhelming attempts to defend local voting equipment and data.
Russian interference in who is president or how partisan Americans are as voters should be upsetting. Because this is just politics, most people’s reaction is “meh.” Russian bots and social-media boiler rooms now have been accused of spreading fake bad reviews of the latest “Star Wars” movie. Maybe that will make us mad enough to fight for our screens, eyeballs, minds and democracy.