Today, the Cold War echoes through the war between Ukraine and Russia. Espionage, propaganda, and election meddling were hallmarks of the conflict with the former Soviet Union, but as Lisa Fletcher found out, what’s old is new again, in growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Hundreds of social media accounts, including this fake Tennessee Republican party Twitter profile, were created ahead of the 2016 elections by Russians intent on manipulating voters, according to federal investigators. They say posts like these contained false information, meant to expand divides among presidential political supporters.
Lisa: How successful has Putin been in sowing disinformation in American society?
Calder Walton: Before the war in Ukraine, we would say very successful, astonishingly successful. At this point, we are all expecting him to try to sow disinformation again in the U.S. One of his close associates said that, “Yes, we have meddled in the past and we will continue to medal in the future."
Calder Walton studies the past and present of interference tactics here at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Walton: There are echoes of a new cold war right now between the West and Russia. And a lot of the trade craft that was pioneered in the 1950s and 60s about spies and spying, espionage and counter-espionage, is still very active today.
Like Russian spy conspirator Anna Chapman, whose cover was a TV personality and catwalk model. Russian agent Maria Butina posed as a journalist but was actually infiltrating U.S. organizations and influential conservative political circles. And fake billionaire heiress Anna de Rothschild, suspected of being a Russian spy. She infiltrated former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and is now being probed by the FBI.
Walton: In the old Cold War, it all seemed very pedestrian. The Soviets would concoct a forgery. They would plant it in some Soviet-friendly press with the aim of discrediting the United States. Well now, with social media, for people that were trained in disinformation, like Putin himself, a former KGB officer, social media was just a golden opportunity, and he exploited it.
Lisa: What gives disinformation the credibility now that allows so many people to buy into it?
Walton: Any kind of covert action will only be effective if it amplifies existing grievances in a society. If you come along and just make up a big lie, generally that's not going to work. It's much more effective to build on existing fears, and it disseminates around the world at lightning speed. The KGB tried to do everything possible to prevent Ronald Reagan getting a second term. They tried to orchestrate rallies against Reagan. They tried to recruit agents in either political parties to run against Reagan. They hated Reagan. They were more scared of Reagan than anyone else on the planet.
Walton says the U.S. has had its hand in meddling as well.
Walton: The U.S. interfered in elections in the past, indisputably. In 1948, the CIA proudly interfered in the Italian elections to prevent, as they saw it, the intrusion of Soviet subversion. They were trying to promote democratic candidates against communist candidates.
But in the war between Russia and Ukraine, the tables have turned. President Putin and his operatives are widely seen as losing the information battle. The U.S. declassified intelligence about Putin’s invasion plans to ward off doubt by U.S. allies and form a united front.
Walton: The U.S. and the British did an absolutely astonishing job of declassifying, in real-time, intelligence that they had about Putin's ambitions for a so-called false flag, an excuse, a pretext, to launch his invasion. And by going public with that they minimized Putin's chances for maneuvering. We kind of inoculated his excuse to go for war, and the information warfare battle space within Ukraine has not gone according to his plan ever since.
Walton says he hasn’t seen anything recently that’s of the scale of Russia’s 2016 meddling in the U.S., but that shouldn’t give anyone reason to relax.
Lisa: How likely is it that there are foreign agents among us actively spreading disinformation to create strife here in America?
Walton: Are there people in the U.S. that are being used by foreign actors — Russia, China, Iran — to spread disinformation? Yes, definitely.
Sharyl (on-camera): What issues do they think that Putin's operatives likely to exploit in the near future?
Lisa: Probably oil and gas. Walton says as inflation bites and oil prices continue to rise, that is going to provide a tinder box for Russian disinformation. It's probably going to go in the direction of us being able to take care of our own, like keeping the heat on in winter.
Sharyl: An old game, but yeah, we're starting to recognize when that's happening.
Watch story here.
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Chris Cooper says
Just spouting off.
The democratic party has been corrupt from the civil war era through the segregation era in the middle 1900's. It is true that this has been mostly in the South, but today it is present in Washington D. C. Congressional democrats who wish to overlook Hunter Biden's laptop display their corruption by trying to steal the truth from the American people. An everyday form of corruption is the vote buying tool that can be found in the democrat's tool box. For instance Biden's attempt to give blacks free farmland was a money and time wasting stunt that he knew would not fly in court. But being the crooked democrat that he is he knew he would influence the black vote. Now here is a better example of a vote buying tool. Covid relief funds distributed by the government were subject to a loss of 191 billion dollars. This was due to fraud, theft, loss, graft, and waste of taxpayer money of which democrats don't seem to care. And here is why they don’t care. Anyone obtaining these funds by fraud, theft, loss, graft, and waste knows that the government is stupid, reckless, naive, careless, inattentive, blind, and any other adjective that indicates irresponsibility. They therefore vote for the party that knowingly allows this to happen. Democrats condone this because they know that anyone getting funds in this way will vote democratic in order to take advantage of the next opportunity to rip off the taxpayer. Hence votes are being bought. And some of this money was even stolen by federal employees.
The Cold War does echo, but the louder voices are calling to us from the 1930s. Our government today on the federal, state, and local levels operates more like two sinister regimes of that era. Unlike Germany and Italy, our country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The current government and their media lapdogs have found delight in persecuting conservatives (like the Communists were attacked) and Christians.