In this millennium Russia’s policy has been of pushing back on its boundaries, warring with Georgia, annexing Crimea and fighting an “undeclared war” in Ukraine. From the Russian standpoint, their actions are aimed at restoring the balance of power, pushing back against the expansion of NATO at its borders and correcting the injustice of what happened in 1991. It’s Russia’s comeback.
In this context the old KGB strategy of “active measures” is getting a closer look. “Active measures” were subversive techniques and policies aimed at influencing people and events in foreign countries to suit Russia’s objectives. Claims of internet-driven hacking and misinformation campaigns by Russia against the U.S. fit well within this Cold War approach.
As described by retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin in 1987, the purpose of “active measures” was “to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.”
According to former NSA analyst and security expert John Schindler, these measures are still in use today by Russia, a country led by the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin.
The practice of disinformation is a key example of such “measures”. It could involve stories planted in foreign outlets – essentially “fake news” that would present “an alluring amalgam of fact and fantasy—much of it unverifiable—designed to confuse readers and shift political discussions,” explains Schindler. For example, Crucifixion in Slovyansk (http://www.stopfake.org/en/lies-crucifixion-on-channel-one/), alleged Kyiv Classification Residents of Crimea and Donbas as Terrorists (http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-kyiv-to-classify-crimea-and-donbas-residents-as-terrorists/) and so on.
Other tactics that are part of what Schindler considers Russia “espionage worldview” include provocations which also work to murky the waters and disorient the enemy to such an extent that they would be defeated before even knowing what happened. Provocations could include planting agitators or even flipping activists to serve your ends. For instance, exacerbation of the situation in different regions of Ukraine (“Mass Riots” In Odessa Turn Out To Be Staged http://www.stopfake.org/en/mass-riots-in-odessa-turn-out-to-be-staged/), stirring up hatered among people (clashes near the monument to the Unknown sailor in Odessa http://en.censor.net.ua/photo_news/435681/six_people_detained_in_odesa_as_russia_supporters_clashed_with_patriotic_organizations_members_during).
Conspiracy which involves recruiting agents and running covert operations is another tactic mentioned by Schindler (http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/24/kremlin-critic-gunned-down-by-russian-agent-ukrainian-official-says/). “Kompromat” which entails using compromising materials is also time-honored KGB staple, used to recruit new spies or agents by blackmailing (http://nv.ua/ukraine/events/agenty-kremlja-chto-izvestno-o-sotrudnichestve-ukraintsev-so-spetssluzhbami-rossii-686716.html).
The same technique is actively used in the conflict in the East of Ukraine. The so called “toolkit” of old KGB methods is cost-effective and generally less risky than a direct military confrontation due to the confusion they cause.
Former FBI agent Clint Watts Watts, who is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute laid out 5 ways in which Russian active measures are designed to topple democracy:
1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance
2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures
3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions
4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations
5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction
Another tactic used by the Russians appears to be the employment of an army of Twitter bots that are spreading fake news. This information was shared by former FBI agent Clint Watts in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Intelligence. He discovered that the bots were pretending to be swing-voter Republicans from the Midwest.
“So that way whenever you’re trying to socially engineer them and convince them that the information is true, it’s much more simple because you see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” explained Watts.
As far as who specifically is guiding these activities by the Russians, Watts says it’s a “diffuse network” with a number of hackers controlled by “different parts of Russian intelligence and propagandists — all with general guidelines about what to pursue, but doing it at different times and paces and rhythms.”
What is a goal of such an information campaign, you ask? The aim is to cause unprecedented chaos within Ukraine and worsen its position worldwide. The question is – how does the international comminity adjust?