Se­nate urges ac­tion in face of Russian ‘in­for­ma­tion war­fare’

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Craig Tim­berg and Tony Romm

WASH­ING­TON — A bi­par­ti­san panel of U.S. se­na­tors Tues­day called for sweep­ing ac­tion by Congress, the White House and Sil­i­con Val­ley to en­sure so­cial me­dia sites aren’t used to in­ter­fere in the com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, de­liv­er­ing a sober­ing as­sess­ment about the weak­nesses that Russian op­er­a­tives ex­ploited in the 2016 cam­paign.

The Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, a Repub­li­can-led panel that has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing for­eign elec­toral in­ter­fer­ence for more than two and a half years, said in blunt lan­guage that Rus­sians worked to dam­age Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton while bol­ster­ing Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump — and made clear that fresh rounds of in­ter­fer­ence are likely ahead of the 2020 vote.

“Rus­sia is wag­ing an in­for­ma­tion war­fare cam­paign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 elec­tion,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the com­mit­tee’s chair­man. “Their goal is broader: to sow so­ci­etal dis­cord and erode pub­lic con­fi­dence in the ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment. By flood­ing so­cial me­dia with false re­ports, con­spir­acy the­o­ries, and trolls, and by ex­ploit­ing ex­ist­ing di­vi­sions, Rus­sia is try­ing to breed dis­trust of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and our fel­low Amer­i­cans.”

In re­sponse, Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers urged their peers in Congress to act, ex­plor­ing the adop­tion of new reg­u­la­tions that would make po­lit­i­cal ads more trans­par­ent. They also called on the White House and the ex­ec­u­tive branch to adopt a more force­ful pub­lic role, warn­ing Amer­i­cans about the ways in which dan­ger­ous mis­in­for­ma­tion can spread while cre­at­ing new teams within the U.S. gov­ern­ment to mon­i­tor for threats and share in­tel­li­gence with in­dus­try.

The rec­om­men­da­tions for Sil­i­con Val­ley call for more ex­ten­sive shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence among com­pa­nies, in recog­ni­tion of the short­age of such shar­ing in 2016 and also the ways that dis­in­for­ma­tion from Rus­sia and other coun­tries spreads across nu­mer­ous plat­forms — with posts link­ing back and forth in a tan­gle of con­nec­tions.

“The Com­mit­tee found that Rus­sia’s tar­get­ing of the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was part of a broader, so­phis­ti­cated and on­go­ing in­for­ma­tion war­fare cam­paign de­signed to sow dis­cord in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety,” the re­port says. The Russian ef­fort was “a vastly more com­plex and strate­gic as­sault on the United States than was ini­tially un­der­stood ... an in­creas­ingly brazen in­ter­fer­ence by the Krem­lin on the ci­ti­zens and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions of the United States.”

The com­mit­tee re­port re­counts ex­ten­sive Russian ma­nip­u­la­tion of Face­book, In­sta­gram, YouTube, Twit­ter, Google and other ma­jor plat­forms with the goal of di­vid­ing Amer­i­cans, sup­press­ing African Amer­i­can turnout and help­ing elect Trump president. But Tues­day’s re­port, the sec­ond vol­ume of the com­mit­tee’s fi­nal re­port on Russian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, of­fered the most de­tailed set of rec­om­men­da­tions so far in at­tempt­ing to bol­ster the na­tion’s de­fenses against for­eign med­dling on­line — now a rou­tine tac­tic for many na­tions.

While the re­port tracked closely with the previous find­ings of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and sev­eral in­de­pen­dent re­searchers, the com­pre­hen­sive­ness and force­ful­ness of the re­port’s con­clu­sions are strik­ing in light of Trump’s ef­forts to min­i­mize the im­pact of Russian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion that brought him to of­fice.

The White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for comment.

Law­mak­ers de­liv­ered their rec­om­men­da­tions just days after new rev­e­la­tions of pos­si­ble elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence jolted Wash­ing­ton. On Fri­day, Mi­crosoft an­nounced it had dis­cov­ered Ira­nian-linked hack­ers had tar­geted the per­sonal email ac­counts associated with a num­ber of cur­rent and for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, jour­nal­ists writ­ing on global af­fairs and at least one pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s cam­paign.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP

Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee chair­man Richard Burr, right, said Rus­sia is “wag­ing an in­for­ma­tion war­fare cam­paign.”

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