Interconnectivity has made it easier than ever—but recent meddling has precedentby Calder Walton / December 23, 2016 / Leave a comment
When, during his election campaign, Donald Trump publicly called for Russia to hack into Hilary Clinton’s emails, he became the first presidential candidate in American history to invite a foreign intelligence operation on a rival candidate.
There are now growing reports that Russia’s intelligence services, it seems with approval of Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin himself, interfered with last month’s US Presidential election. Russian hackers reportedly launched a cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), obtained damaging information on Clinton, and then leaked it to outlets like Wikileaks with the aim of assisting Trump’s candidacy.
Even before the election, in October, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, stated that US intelligence was “very confident” that Russia was attempting to influence the US election—which for anyone who knows the field’s usually conservative language, was a forceful comment. Now, the CIA and FBI have concluded that it did. At his final end of year press briefing, Barack Obama stated that, based on uniform US intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC, and added that he had personally told Putin to “cut it out.” The US president has ordered a review before he leaves office next month.
The news has understandably been greeted with public alarm. There is, however, a long history of Moscow directing its intelligence services to interfere in US presidential elections, which makes recent news less surprising—though no less alarming. In order to understand Russia’s apparent cyber-warfare campaigns today, it is important to understand their background.
This is revealed by the extraordinary archive of Soviet foreign intelligence records secretly obtained by a senior KGB archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin, at enormous personal risk, and smuggled to the west in the early 1990s. Mitrokhin collaborated with the world’s leading intelligence historian, Christopher Andrew, to publish the Mitrokhin Archive, some of which has, since 2014, been made publicly available.
The archive shows that during the Cold War, the KGB did not just gather intelligence—invariably in line with what Moscow wanted to hear—but it also undertook a wide variety of what it called “active measures” (aktivinyye meropriatia). The aim here was to influence…