In 2016, Russia takes the Gold Medal for Most Effective Power in Cyberspace

In 2016, U.S. politics was characterised by a whirlwind of accusations, email leaks, orders for reports on purported foreign interventions, and Donald J. Trump. Yet, while 2017 has seen the swearing in of the 45th American president, it has also shed light on a distinctly Russian (and quite possibly election-winning) influence in the U.S. presidential elections.

Russian revelations — The latest

The House Intelligence Committee has been conducting investigations regarding the extent to which Russia influenced the elections. It has heard numerous reports over the last four months.

The committee released four key questions to be addressed in their hearing on the 30th March:

“What Russian cyber activity and other active measures were directed against the United States and its allies?”
“Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. Persons?”
“What was the U.S. Government’s response to these Russian active measures and what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future?”
“What possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community Assessment of these matters?”

FBI’s claims

On the 20th March, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the Russians had in fact been carrying out an “influence campaign” to support Trump’s election campaign. Comey’s role in the elections as a whole is akin a double-edged sword. The director was arguably instrumental in exposing Clinton’s own skeletons during the elections and fuelling the fire between the presidential candidates. However, his quest for truth has been compounded with this confirmation, and investigations into Russia’s covert actions with the Trump campaign.

His claim acknowledges the “high confidence” expressed by the FBI and Department for Home Security within their December 2016 report on Vladimir Putin’s supposed involvement in such campaigns.

One can side with the evidence put forward by the FBI, and their impartiality in the wider scheme of things seems to be quite apparent. But these claims do give rise to the titular question: What role did these Russian operations play in the 2016 United States elections?

The evidence, put forth by Kings College London’s very own Thomas Rid at the latest Select Committe Hearing, suggests a deliberate targeting of America’s “polarised and vulnerable society” that left behind both clues and traces of a Russian disinformation programme.

“Evidence strongly implicates Russian intelligence agencies in the 2016 active measures campaign.”

“Between 10 March and 7 April, GRU targeted at least 109 Clinton campaign staffers with 214 individual phishing emails.” These information leaks, among many others, aligned almost perfectly with those published on DCLeaks.com.

Russian intelligence agencies demonstrated the reusing of common collection methods, including implants, command-and-control infrastructure and encryption keys. This evidence strongly implicates Russian intelligence agencies in the 2016 active measures campaign.

It is impossible to claim that these operations influenced the ultimate outcome of the U.S. elections. Yet, it is equally impossible to deny their collective power in utilising hacked information to delegitimise Clinton’s capability to act as the leader of the United States of America.

Florence Bertoli-Hart is currently reading a Masters in Intelligence and International Security at King’s College London (War Studies).


From Russia with Love: How did Cyber-Ops impact the U.S. Election? was originally published in Wonk Bridge on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.