US Cyber Command is targeting individual Russian operatives to try to deter them from spreading disinformation to interfere in elections, telling them that American operatives have identified them and are tracking their work, according to officials briefed on the operation.
The campaign, which includes missions undertaken in recent days, is the first known *overseas* cyberoperation to protect American elections, including the November midterms.
Defense officials would not say how many they were targeting & would not describe the methods used to send the direct messages to the operatives behind the influence campaigns. It is not clear if the info was delivered in an email, a chat or some other electronic intervention.
Senior defense officials said they were not directly threatening the operatives. Former officials said anyone singled out would know, based on USG's actions against other Ru operatives, that they could be indicted or targeted w sanctions.
Even the unstated threat of sanctions could help deter some Russians from participating in covert disinformation campaigns, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former intelligence official now with the Center for a New American Security.
The Cyber Command operations appear relatively measured, especially in comparison with the increasingly elaborate and sophisticated efforts by Russia to use disinformation to sow dissent in the United States.
The US campaign in response to Russia’s information offensive is limited in large part to keep Moscow from escalating by taking down the power grid etc that could trigger a bigger clash. Compared w trad'l armed conflict, the rules of cyberwarfare are not well defined.
Cyber Command was founded in 2009 to defend military networks but has also developed offensive capabilities. It shares HQ and leadership w NSA which collects SIGINT. A joint Cyber Command-NSA team has been working on the effort to identify/deter foreign influence campaigns
American officials also said the campaign is one aspect of a broader effort, which includes purges by social media companies of fake accounts that spread propaganda, to fight Russian intrusion in democratic elections.
Cyber Command has also sent teams to Europe to shore up the defenses of American allies and partners so they can combat Russian intrusions on their own government networks, according to defense officials.
American intelligence officials have concluded that Russia is unlikely to try to hack into voting machines or directly manipulate voting results this year. On Friday, DNI said that state/ local govts have reported attempted intrusions into their networks, but no penetration.
Almost all of the Russian disinformation efforts, according to current and former officials, are aimed at sowing dissent, polarizing the political parties and setting the stage for the 2020 presidential election.
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