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The "primary goal ... is to foster a sense of chaos in the United States," according to The New York Times

By Adam Carlson
March 10, 2020 01:52 PM
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Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

Russia has escalated one front in its ongoing attempts at disinformation and manipulation, “stepp[ing] up efforts to inflame racial tensions in the United States as part of its bid to influence November’s presidential election,” The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The “primary goal … is to foster a sense of chaos in the United States,” according to the Times, which also noted “motivations are under debate and difficult to decipher” but that “some American officials said” any such chaos was thought by Russians to be beneficial to President Donald Trump‘s re-election campaign because he could argue he was the candidate of stability.

Russian measures include “trying to influence white supremacist groups,” “prodding white nationalists to more aggressively spread hate messages and amplifying their invective” and “trying to push black extremist groups toward violence,” according to the Times.

These efforts have relied less on open networks of social-media activity — given heightened scrutiny on how companies such as Facebook and Twitter respond — and moved toward the internet’s closed-off corners: anonymous forums such as 4chan and private social media groups, the Times reported.

The paper cited “seven American officials briefed on recent intelligence” for its latest article.

The Russian government has long denied reports that it interferes in other countries, including in the U.S.

“To put it simply,” FBI agent David Porter reportedly said at an event in February, “in this space, Russia wants to watch us tear ourselves apart.”

The effectiveness of such work is much less clear, however, and by its nature is difficult to comprehensively track.

Further, assessing the spread of Russian influence can risk striking the wrong balance between determining where to be mindful that has tried to infiltrate a given community versus treating it as an omnipotent puppeteer. Experts caution it is not all powerful.

Russia has a long history of seeking to manipulate, coerce and interfere in the domestic affairs of its adversaries (so, indeed, does the U.S.).

According to experts, the country’s focus on this work is not typically the execution of a single, comprehensive plan but rather the result of competing factions and institutions in the country, all ultimately tied back to President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to undercut an international order in which Russia is in the shadow of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Because Russia cannot compete economically or militarily with America and others, it relies on campaigns of confusion and unrest.

Most notoriously, American officials have said that Russia was behind a hack of Democratic Party officials in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election and their interference was part of a larger strategy to support Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.