Russian Midterm Election Hacking: U.S. Takes the Gloves Off

The U.S. government is finally bringing its full force to bear against Russia’s heretofore largely unchecked campaign to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

In the past week, the government has fired off three public broadsides at the Russian government, most notably with the Justice Department’s indictment against Russian woman working for a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors allege Elena Khusyaynova managed a $35 million budget to fund social media trolling operations as part of a years-long campaign to sow discord among Americans. Same as the 13 trolls charged by the Robert Mueller investigation, the operations Khusyaynova oversaw as chief accountant worked both sides of the political aisle as they tried to ramp up distrust of the political system.

The trolls picked hot-button issues like race relations, guns, immigration, women and tried to whip up passions on either side. It’s the same M.O. they use to create resistance against pipeline projects from North Dakota to Florida.

The charge against her, appropriately, is conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Then, the U.S. Cyber Command let it be known that it is identifying and tracking individual Russian trolls with an overseas cyber-operation billed as the first of its kind. What’s interesting is that the government made what should be a covert operation overt. There’s a reason – they want the public and the Russians to know.

The underlying reasons are different, though. For the American public, it’s a way to demonstrate that the government is acting and not sitting back. For the Russians, it’s an attempt at deterrence – warning that there are real-world risks for their online actions against the U.S. And it’s a good start.

Finally, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton fired a shot across the Kremlin’s bow from inside Moscow. During a trip to meet with Russian counterparts, he told a Moscow radio station that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election had backfired by creating distrust of Russia.

Bolton essentially called it a classic case of blowback – when covert operations go bad, they cause the opposite of the intended effect and “blow back” on the perpetrator. In his typically blunt manner, he said: “Don’t mess with U.S. elections.

The sum of all these developments is that it’s clear Russia has not abandoned its plans to interfere with our body politic, the same as it is doing around the world.

So much for the story that there was no evidence of Russian trolling in the midterm elections. We said it back then – a thief changes nothing but tactics.