Experts in Russia and cybersecurity revealed that deliberate distribution of false news on social media by Kremlin-funded news source RT was part of Russian active measures throughout the 2016 presidential election. Though an investigation by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is looking into Russia’s interference during this period, active measures go beyond that timeframe.
Fake personas on social media, some operated by bots, were engaged in a major effort to push fake stories to the top of social media trending topics. Clinton Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, March 30 that Russian active measures include cybersecurity hacks and were not limited to the 2016 presidential election.
“We have accounts dating back to 2009 that are tied to active measures,” Watts said. “2016 was the push into the U.S. audience landscape to build audience. ”
Russia developed their influence campaigns in 2014 and began combining “hacking and influence together for the first time, specifically during the [Democratic National Committee] breaches,” Watts added.
Russia also hacked emails of former Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta during the 2016 campaign. Watts said he was also a cyber attack target in November 2015.
Robert Orttung, Associate Research Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, emphasized that the severity of such active measures was heightened due to the current polarization of the American public, particularly during this contentious election season.
While lawmakers from both parties find common ground to further investigate Russian active measures in the recent years, people in Washington D.C. expressed varying degrees of concerns on this issue.