The Russians – Again – Still
US Government International Media Information War: Lost #ReformBBG
By The Federalist
Yes, the Russians.
Remember what Winston Churchill said in defining Russia and the Russian people:
“…a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
That may have applied during the Soviet era but much less so in the 21st century. Perhaps some demystification of the Russians might be helpful.
The most important guiding principles:
Never underestimate the Russians.
The top priority of the Russian state is its own agenda.
Cooperation and other considerations apply only in limited circumstances, such as if the Russian state is threatened or in a temporary position of weakness. In these circumstances, the Russians may be more inclined to operate in a deal-making posture. But it rarely lasts for long and comes with a payback at some future moment.
Under Vladimir Putin, the Russian state has embraced a sense of national purpose and Russian destiny.
Putin is willing to gauge the fears and weaknesses of other nation states and act to expand or project Russian interests: in the Republic of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine more recently as two primary examples. Putin believes that the Russians can tough it out. That doesn’t mean that this posture doesn’t come at a cost. But Putin believes the Russian state and Russian people can endure.
The Russians will run their playbook until the West can stop it.
You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure this out. It is as common as what opposing high school football coaches face during the football season: you run your offense and force your opponent to stop you.
We don’t want to understate or trivialize the complexities of statecraft in dealing with the Russians. However, sometimes it is helpful to reduce things to certain fundamentals. It works for us to understand the basics first.
Here is something useful to add to your read list:
The Darkening Web The War for Cyberspace
By Alexander Klimburg
420 pp. $30
(Reviewed in The Washington Post, Sunday, August 6, 2017 by Gordon M Goldstein, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations)
Here’s an interesting passage from Goldstein’s review:
“Applied domestically as an instrument of political control and internationally to advance a strategy of destabilization, Moscow’s doctrine of cyber-dominance is ominous and increasingly effective. Klimburg cites a study concluding that ‘Russian Internet users have become so inured to the Kremlin narrative of the Internet as a tool of Western powers that two out of five Russians distrust foreign media and nearly half of Russians believe foreign news web sites need to be censored.’ (emphasis added)
Here we have an important takeaway:
Putin’s Russians distrust Western media and think it should be censored.
The latest Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) boondoggle, “Current Time” as a Western media project is no match for RT or even such opposition Russian websites as MEDUZA. Putin’s Russians most certainly are rolling over the BBG, the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
And spending more money on the BBG is not a solution to this dysfunctional agency’s mission failure.
Although reviewer Goldstein labels it “pedantic,” Klimburg makes what we see as a telling observation:
“I have become increasingly doubtful that the Smith-Mundt Act – which has been amended a number of times since the 1950s – was really a bulwark against propaganda that could also inadvertently be consumed by US persons.” (emphasis added)
While our focus is generally focused on Smith-Mundt in terms of US Government broadcasts, as a general, overall observation, Klimburg is undeniably correct. The Smith-Mundt Act has been overtaken by technology and the reluctance of the US Government to censor or block foreign media propaganda directed at the US — some of which, we might add, seeps from time to time into VOA and RFE/RL programs because of inexperienced and incompetent management by the BBG.
Indeed, some sources inside the Cohen Building point out that much of the agency’s “audience” for English-Language content and a significant portion of online traffic for some of the VOA foreign language programs is in North America, since agency programs are available online: English and the 40 or so websites of the various VOA language service websites. These programs evidently are not getting through to the intended target areas in any meaningful way in countries that practice online censorship, such as Iran and China, and even countries that currently still don’t, such as Russia.
Thus at present the advantage rests with the Russians. While such advantage may not be an absolute, for now they’ve got it and they are playing it for all it’s worth – typical of the Russian strategic, operational and tactical style when they are on the offense.
Below is an interesting timeline of Russian cyber warfare activities. As one can see, they have been on their game for some time and getting bolder and more sophisticated in terms of targets on all levels of the triad: tactical, operational and strategic:
The Russians have demonstrated the willingness and ability to attack a broad array of targets: political, economic, financial, military and infrastructure. Even when the attacks are unsuccessful, it gives the Russians added knowledge and expertise in terms of future planning.
And you can be sure that the Russians are planning and refining their capabilities constantly.
The 2016 Election
The NBC article states that president of Russia Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win the election. A broader perspective would be that Putin wanted anyone to win other than former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
We return to an article by Masha Gessen, briefly chief of the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that appeared in the Washington Post (“Five Myths About Russia,” The Washington Post, October 9, 2016):
“Myth No. 1
Russia is trying to throw the election to Donald Trump.
…the fact is this: Putin would rather see anyone but Hillary Clinton become president. He has blamed her personally for inciting the Russian protests of 2011-2012 saying that ‘she set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal’ that caused the demonstrations. But he is not exactly a fan of Trump, contrary to the billionaire’s own perceptions: Putin has called Trump ‘colorful,’ not ‘brilliant,’ and has mentioned him only twice.”
This observation from Gessen was about one month prior to the US national election.
This is consistent with the view that Putin’s interests are Russian national interests. It doesn’t matter who sits in the White House. The objective is to gain an advantage.
It certainly didn’t hurt to advance those objectives by making use of non-state actors in the cyber realm. This would include people inside Russia unofficially working for the Russian government and individuals like Julian Assange, a narcissistic anarchist who delights in revealing confidential, classified or secret documents almost exclusively from Western governments.
And let us not forget that Edward Snowden who betrayed America’s secrets has been also accused of working for the Russians.
The Russians and probably many others attempted to hack into electronic electoral systems in the United States. And try they did. But at the end of the day, there are safeguards and mechanisms in place, including if necessary hand counting ballots, to search out electoral discrepancies. To date, nothing has yet been determined a material connection to the election result.
But again, in terms of Russian strategy: “expect more, get more.” They are looking for vulnerabilities to exploit and they do not care one way or the other, Democrat or Republican candidate. Anyone is fair game.
In addition to the activities of the Russians, there were any number of alleged “news” websites making outrageous claims and allegations from the far Left and far Right.
Here’s a takeaway from the 2016 election to consider:
Objective, fact-based journalism is all but dead in the United States. In its place is exploitative advocacy, playing on the biases of viewers and audiences. Exploitative advocacy was the big winner in the 2016 election: if you want to call opening Pandora’s Box and preying on people’s biases a win.
Here’s one example of the consequences:
The election of Mr. Trump goes down as one of the great electoral upsets of all time in American politics.
For 12 to 18 months prior to the election, Hillary Clinton was being anointed as the presumptive heir apparent to Barack Obama. One poll after another claimed that Clinton would win by a
The Voice of America was among these media outlets that misread the evidence and misled their audiences.
Segments of the news media pounded on this point relentlessly up to and including the evening of the election. VOA’s politically biased and clueless management and editors did not even bother to prepare a Donald Trump bio for the election night. For the first time in VOA’s history, there was no pre-written bio of one of the major presidential candidates. The Voice of America made sure instead to have not one but two “Clinton Wins” programs pre-written and ready for broadcast. You could sense the shock in the VOA studio when it became likely that there would be no victory for Hillary Clinton.
When that didn’t happen, the American Left went berserk diving headlong into deep rage and psychosis, looking for anyone and everyone to blame other than the Clinton campaign or the candidate herself. While they are never likely to admit it, the Left became the victim of its own rhetoric or brainwashing, depending on your point of view.
In turn, this gave impetus to a strategy of resistance to the Trump administration intending for all practical purposes to eject Trump from the White House, encourage defiance within the Leftist elements of the Federal civil service all facilitated and enabled by rhetoric from Democratic political office holders in the Congress and fed daily by the US Left-wing media, no doubt fueled in part by the fact that they called their “done deal” projection of a Clinton victory wrong (keeping in mind that many “journalists” made donations to the Clinton campaign).
In turn, this has led to a fixation on what the American political Left has decided as the most likely conclusion:
Specifically: collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
Part of the collusion narrative is being fueled by Trump himself. Clearly, Trump does not like being perpetually under attack 24/7 by elements of the news media. His impulsive reaction is to grab his cellphone and send out tweets: constantly, daily. Doing so interferes with governance, not solely his political outlook, but the more practical business of running the broad expanse of American government and being fully invested in a wide range of issues domestically and internationally.
In short, Trump is his own worst enemy: behavior not uncommon among people commanding enormous wealth seeing themselves as a force of nature unto itself.
But things don’t work well that way. In today’s world – in any world – success is often built on alliances both domestic and international to keep things moving forward and not coming unraveled.
Thus, we now find a number of people under investigation clustered around a belief or allegations (not yet an established fact) of collusion with the Russians.
These investigations, by special counsel Robert Mueller, a grand jury, and committees of Congress, are a grinding, laborious process. One should not expect snap judgments. They consume time, energy, resources and attention.
Similarly, depending on how these things are reported, they can produce misperceptions, particularly foreign misperceptions. Adversaries of the United States might feel emboldened to act, particularly after reading descriptions or speculative scenarios of the White House as Trump’s “collapsing presidency,” as appeared recently in a report by one of the Voice of America (VOA) White House reporters.
Returning to the subject of “collusion:”
People of enormous wealth operate globally, not locally. Their interests are spread around the planet, including Russia and China. You may have heard of US-Russian investment funds, US-Russian business councils, US-Russian organizations to promote entrepreneurship. It may surprise some to know that a one-time member of the BBG Board was involved with several of these institutions, while others have done corporate business and made profits for their US corporations in Putin’s Russia and in communist China. It may also surprise some to know that one former BBG Board member claimed to have stayed at a Putin seaside dacha. Some of them served on the BBG Board when in 2008 the BBG unilaterally ended its direct broadcasts to Russia and shortly thereafter the Russians attacked the Republic of Georgia. At least one Democratic BBG member who did business in Russia voted in favor of ending the VOA Russian on-air radio and TV broadcasts. A former BBG Board Democratic chairman has done a multimillion dollar corporate business deals in China. Family of a top VOA official is doing business in China.
And what about the Clintons, and President Obama’s “Reset” with Russia? Below is an article from the New York Times which may deserve examination:
“Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal” | The New York Times, April 23, 2015
Do these examples whether relating to Trump, Obama, the Clintons or others, rise to the level of “collusion?” By themselves, these business deals may be perfectly legal, but should BBG Board members and top US government agency officials have significant corporate, personal or family investments in Russia or China?
As we have noted, the top priority for the Russians is the Russians, whether it be for present or future gain.
Americans are particularly vulnerable, especially wealthy ones, who believe that they can influence Russian behavior.
This would be a serious error in judgment.
More often than not, they are being played.
It’s a perennial chess match. The Russians think several moves ahead. Americans tend to think in the moment and whatever they feel is expedient or perhaps self-aggrandizing. In any case, events have demonstrated that our government officials, past or present, are not up to this game.
The Russians most certainly put Russia first.
You can be assured that Mr. Putin believes in making Russia great again.
The Russians respect strength and toughness. Playing hardball with them is not a negative if done intelligently and rationally.
It is a necessary part of the US playbook. Ignore it at our own peril.
Photo: Voice of America Studio on 2016 Election Night (41 Live Facebook Views) when it became obvious that Donald Trump would be the winner.