In an encouraging development that the U.S. is toughening its response to Russian provocation, the U.S. Cyber Command blocked the operations of Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency during the 2018 midterm elections.
“They basically took the IRA offline,” one official told the Washington Post.
The Internet blockage extended took place on Election Day 2018 and for a day or so afterward, to guard against any disinformation campaign that would call into question the integrity of the results.
Russia’s recent interference and sabotage operations have targeted not just elections but a host of U.S. commercial interests — from agriculture to cargo shipping — and taking particular aim at the fast-growing U.S. energy sector which directly threatens the backbone of Russia’s economy.
U.S. response to Russia’s provocations has been relatively tame, with private social media firms being slow to suspend accounts or step up disinformation detection efforts, and President Trump downplaying the Kremlin’s role in any election meddling. Last fall, one sign of a more aggressive posture emerged when the New York Times revealed that Cyber Command had been “direct messaging” IRA trolls and hackers to send a warning that they were known and being watched. Other not-yet-public responses by U.S. intelligence and military agencies may be underway.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a businessman and restaurateur known as “Putin’s chef” and the alleged financier behind IRA, was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last year along with other IRA-connected individuals and entities.
Amid the wider Mueller probe, however, public attention on the scope and severity of Russia’s interference in the U.S. has been intermittent at best. It’s time Congress and the Trump Administration step up actions to punish Russia for its past disinformation operations and deter future ones.