Deep State Hard At Work Protecting Free And Fair Elections. No, We Mean It!
Can it be ... Nice Times?
The Washington Post has a new story on all the ways our government is actually doing the work to stop electoral interference. And they're doing it in coordination with social media platforms and local governments. Deep State FTW!
For months American military cyber-operators, aided by intelligence from the National Security Agency (NSA), have been targeting Russian spies to disrupt their plans by repeatedly knocking them off the Internet, confusing their planners and depriving them of their hacking tools. The goal is to prevent them from attacking U.S. voting systems, according to security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.
The effort spans multiple agencies in the executive branch. Most visibly, the State Department revoked visas for Rudy Giuliani's Ukrainian disinformation sources, Andrii Telizhenko and Andrii Derkach, while the Treasury Department put Derkach on the sanctions list, after which Google disabled 14 of his accounts and deleted his YouTube channel.
President Obama, hallowed be his name, failed to take the threat of electoral interference seriously enough four years ago, allowing Russian propaganda to spread unchecked on social media. He also blinked when Mitch McConnell threatened to turn it into a partisan issue if the administration publicly announced that the Russians were working to get Trump elected. Additionally, Republican states were loath to coordinate their election security apparatus with someone they'd demonized for eight straight years. The result was ... this waking nightmare.
Behind the scenes, the NSA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security are now taking a more proactive role. DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has installed malware trackers on every state election network, placing them in each county in some large states like Florida, where some systems were breached in 2016. The agency's Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center was in place to monitor both the overall threat to election security and jurisdiction-level vulnerabilities during the midterms. (Side note: Do you know how hard it is for us to say something nice about that babysnatching POS Chad Wolf?)
Meanwhile, US Cyber Command has massively upped its game to counter the GRU.
"Our goal is to make it as difficult as possible for an adversary to execute an operation that may interfere with some type of U.S. election system or may influence a U.S. citizen or entity," Brig. Gen. Joe Hartman, Cyber Command election security lead, said in an interview, without discussing operations. Hackers need malware, network access and servers, he said. "The ability to take those things away from an adversary prevents them from achieving their tactical or strategic objective."
Cybercom is also helping foreign allies find malware used by Russian and Chinese hackers, then disclosing it. In August, the NSA and the FBI revealed Russian malware used by the GRU. The same month, the State Department's Global Engagement Center issued a report exposing websites and organizations as Russian sites spreading disinformation.
Working with the spooks at NSA, last month Facebook and Twitter took down a Russian influence operation known as Peace Data that recruited western journalists to write articles critical of Joe Biden. (Oh, hey, wasn't that one of the FARA violations they didn't prosecute Mike Flynn for? And wasn't Paul Manafort running a scam just like that?) A similar campaign targeting conservatives was disabled last year before it could catch on. So the GOP may be running around screaming bloody murder about censorship, but the country's intelligence agencies are quietly cooperating with tech companies to throttle the disinformation campaigns before they get off the ground.
Which brings us to the New York Post story about Hunter Biden, which landed like a lead balloon this week. The original hitpiece was immediately throttled by Twitter and Facebook, provoking howls from the usual suspects who went to Harvard Law School and pretend not to understand the First Amendment. Blahblah whatever.
The Washington Post reports that intelligence agencies intercepted Giuliani's communications with Ukrainian/Russian spies last year. Time says that someone was trying to sell the same images and emails on "Hunter Biden's" laptop in Ukraine last year. And a story peddled by Giuliani and Steve Bannon — who was just indicted and spends quite a lot of time chatting up shady foreign nationals who might find themselves on the wrong end of a FISA warrant — immediately tripped the breaker and caused the major social media sites to bring down the banhammer.
And maybe all those things are a coincidence. Or maybe they're not.
Which is a long way of saying, let's all take deep breaths and remind ourselves that this is not 2016. Donald Trump may be out there barfing out nonsense about NO RUSSIA! but at least behind the scenes, our election security apparatus appears to have made enormous strides in the past four years.
Twelve more days. We can make it.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.