In the two years since Russia made headlines for targeting an American political organization – the Democratic National Committee – and undermining Hillary Clinton’s race for the presidency, Russian information warfare tactics have come a long way. That includes using more subtle means of hiding their traces. Recently, Microsoft announced that it had detected Russians targeting conservative think tanks.
The Russians are not just aiming to influence political activities in the U.S. Rather, it’s extremely likely that they will soon target American civic society. They’re the local sports teams, charities, Kiwanis and Lions clubs, churches and even community groups like the Boy Scouts. Those are the groups that knit together a community and a society, providing connections that keep legitimate disagreement from exploding into acrimony and sharp divisions.
It may be hard to imagine Russia going after the Boy Scouts. But consider how Russia is seeking to sow social disconnection and mistrust in Europe. The Kremlin uses disinformation campaigns and other disruptive tools to “sow discord among European Union member states [and] destabilize European polities,” according to a 2016 Atlantic Council report. For instance, a deliberately false news story planted by the Russian government claiming that an Arab migrant had raped a Russian-German teenager exacerbated tensions over Germany’s immigration policies.
Russia is trying to create similar social tension in the U.S. – because an America that is tearing itself apart will be unable to contest Russia internationally.
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