A study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that the U.S. needs to develop a national strategy to counter adversary threats, particularly those from Russia.
In a previous study, CSIS outlined the Kremlin’s strategy of influence that forms part of “a determined assault on Western democracies and their institutions.” This report points out that Russia’s strategy is multi-fold: as well as the U.S. election meddling scandal, the Kremlin has also advanced its strategic influence in Western and Central Europe by gaining influence and control over specific sectors such as energy, banking and finance, real estate, transportation infrastructure, and media.
It also highlights that as recently as Jan. 29, 2018, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said he has “every expectation” the Russians will try to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.
The study highlights how Russian interference in democratic processes is not a new phenomenon but advances in technology have increased the scope and impact of such plans. A critical point that arose for discussion in the report is whether automated bots are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; that is, whether an individual’s right to free speech extends to the output of a computer program that the individual created. “Debate continues about the potential costs of takedowns, in terms of resources and potential infringement of legitimate speech, in contrast to a greater emphasis on transparency and media literacy among the public,” says the report.
The report says that although further investigations into Russian interference are ongoing, enough is known to “provoke a sense of urgency” in establishing a national strategy. “Internet platforms and democratic governments must work together on technological and policy measures to increase barriers to entry for disinformation campaigns and make it easier for citizens to differentiate between legitimate and false information,” it states.
The report also points out that greater transparency with campaign finance would help to stop the spread of corruption. The study also emphasizes that the government must act urgently to protect sensitive infrastructures from interference. It says Congress has the constitutional authority to determine the “time, place, and manner” of federal elections, and should consider leveraging this power “to ensure strong cybersecurity measures and provide additional resources to help states institute necessary protections.”
Ultimately, CSIS says there should be five goals within a national strategy to fight threats against democracy. These include publicizing the extent of interference and increasing awareness of threats, promoting bipartisan action against Russia and its proxies and improving transparency into interference. It also highlights the need to research the extent to which specific adversary techniques work and to engage in a national effort to promote the importance of democracy. “If the administration is not ready to lead development of such a strategy, it must be created and implemented by concerned individuals in Congress, the judiciary, state and local governments, civil society, and the private sector,” the study concludes.