Senate Intelligence Committee: Russian Operatives Backed Trump And Smeared Hillary and His GOP Opponents In 2016 Primary

October 9th 2019

 
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit ( Kremlin.ru )

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit (Kremlin.ru)

By Dartagnan (of the Daily Kos community)

Daily Kos

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its report this afternoon regarding Russian interference and manipulation of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce points out, the significance of this report is that it is the work product of a Republican-dominated Senate Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Russian ratf*cking in the 2016 election was released on Tuesday and it didn't tell us much we didn't already know, or hadn't already intuited, but it told us a lot more about what we already knew or already had intuited.

What the report reveals, but hadn’t received much attention up to this point, is that the Russian effort to see Donald Trump installed as president was not limited to its targeting of Hillary Clinton in the general election. In fact, Russia had selected their man well before the Democratic nominee had been chosen, with Russia’s “Internet Research Agency” troll farm carefully targeting Trump’s more viable opponents in the Republican primary.

The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin. The Committee found that the IRA targeted not only Hillary Clinton, but also Republican candidates during the presidential primaries. For example, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were targeted and denigrated, as was Jeb Bush. 

Pierce offers a chilling observation.

The details throughout make it clear that this was no beta test. It was a full-blown, balls-to-the-wall intelligence attack. And it wasn't just aimed at the election itself. It was designed to create a cultural and political context, especially online, wherein the election of Donald J. Trump as president was not as ridiculous a prospect as it obviously was.

The report is comprehensive and disturbing, portraying a staggering degree of election interference to satisfy Russian interests, and to deliberately harm the prospects of those perceived to have anti-Russian views or potentially anti-Russian policies, as this example shows.

As Clint Watts, a former FBI Agent and expert in social media weaponization, testified to the Committee, "Russia's overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views towards the Kremlin." IRA operators sought "to impact primaries for both major parties and "may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed."

Nor was the effort limited to manipulation of social media through the Internet Research Agency. It was a multi-pronged attack that involved all aspects of the Russian intelligence services:

The Committee found that the IRA was not Russia's only vector for attempting to influence the United States through social media in 2016. Publicly available information showing additional influence operations emanating from Russia unrelated to IRA activity make clear the Kremlin was not reliant exclusively on the IRA in 2016. Russia's intelligence services, including the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), also exploited U.S. social media platforms as a vehicle for influence operations. Information acquired by the Committee from intelligence oversight, social media companies, the Special Counsel's investigative findings, and research by commercial cybersecurity companies all reflect the Russian government's use of the GRU to carry out another core vector of attack on the 2016 election: the dissemination of hacked materials.

Importantly, the report removes any doubt that, as hard as Russia worked to help Donald Trump get elected, it also worked in tandem to ensure that Hillary Clinton would not be elected:

[T]he Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign.

The attacks on the Clinton campaign are exhaustively documented, indicating, in part, just how nimbly the Russians could to take advantage of fast-breaking news stories. 

The IRA's information warfare campaign also responded to real-world political events. For example, the IRA promoted multiple stories and narratives calling into question the state of Hillary Clinton's health after she fell ill at a September 11 memorial service in New York City in September 2016. IRA influence operatives posted phrased content on Twitter using hashtags that made the content easily discoverable to other Twitter users searching for content related to Clinton's health, including #HillarySickAtGroundZero, #ClintonCollapse, #ZombieHillary, and #SickHillary. According to researchers at Clemson University, IRA accounts tweeted these hashtags hundreds of times. As one of those researchers~ Darren Linvill, points out:

You can see the peak times they tweet. You can see that they shift from hour to hour. One hour, they ‘ll tweet their left-wing accounts, and the next hour they 'll tweet their right-wing accounts . . . You can see very clearly that it is one organization, and it has applied human capital as is needed, depending on what's happening politically, what current events are. 

African Americans were prime targets of the Russian effort, which (as had been noted in prior investigations) sought to inflame negative attitudes against African Americans by white Americans, and also to skew the views of African Americans against Hillary Clinton, with a goal towards depressing their voter turnout, to the benefit of Trump. The report notes that “By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016.” Other divisive, hot-button issues such as Second Amendment rights were also emphasized, all to further divide Americans.

The worst aspect of all of this, of course, is that the Russians were successful. They got the man they wanted in place—a willing stooge who would favor their geopolitical and strategic interests.

And they’re going to try to do exactly the same thing next year.

Read more on the report from Kerry Eleveld here.

Posted with permission