U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that the Kremlin’s plan to influence the 2016 presidential election was hatched by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), a think tank overseen directly by President-slash-Dictator Vladimir Putin and staffed with known Russian foreign intelligence operatives appointed by Putin himself.
According to a report by Reuters Wednesday, three current and four former U.S. officials confirmed to them that the RISS created the plan to flip the election in Trump’s favor and undermine the public’s trust in the election.
According to Reuters:
“[The 7 intelligence officials] described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election.”
RISS issued the older of the two documents in June of last year, and it outlined how the Kremlin could use Russian-backed media outlets like Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News to spread pro-Russia propaganda on social media to, “‘encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama,’ those 7 U.S. officials confirmed.”
The second document, circulated in October, warned the Kremlin that, “Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election,” and urged them to modify the operation from one that was Pro-Trump, to one that attacked the democratic process itself. The propaganda supporting Trump should evolve into “messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.”
On March 20th of this year, McClatchy released a bombshell report that described in detail how a complex Russian cyber “bot” operation used phony Facebook and Twitter accounts, fake and alt-right news sites like Breitbart, and an army of paid internet trolls, to spread fake news to unsuspecting but sympathetic users. It is unclear whether this bot operation was part of the plans outlined in this document, or if it was its own parallel operation run by a different branch of Russian intelligence.
More from Reuters:
” ‘Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,’ said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official. Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed,RT,Sputnik, and other news agencies to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.”
For months Trump’s team denied the very existence of any Russian influence on the campaign. Before the election, they said it was made-up by Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration to distract from the damning Wikileaks revelations. After the election, they said it was all just an excuse for Clinton’s poor performance.
After then President-Elect Trump was briefed by the Obama administration in January, where he was presented with proof of Russia’s meddling, he finally, begrudgingly admitted that the Russians had in fact executed an operation to undermine the election. But no one on his campaign had anything to do with Russia,he insisted, and that the operation had no impact on his victory anyway.
Since then, a tangled web of links between Trump associates and Russian officials has been revealed. Michael Flynn was even forced to resign after just 2 weeks as Trump’s National Security Advisor for lying about the substance of conversations he had with Russian officials. Other investigative journalism has reveled deep, financial ties between Kremlin-connected, Russian oligarch billionaires and members of Trump’s inner circle, including his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and his son-in-law turned Senior Advisor, Jared Kushner.
The defense the Trump campaign has fallen back on now is that, while links connecting members of his team to Russian operatives may exist, there is no evidence of collusion or coordination between them on any cyber or propaganda operation.
Former intelligence official Clint Watts, however, poked holes in that talking point when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump had embraced “active measures” by Russian intelligence during the campaign.
“Part of the reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents,” he said.
He went on to explain how, on one day, we saw Russian-generated fake news published and disseminated though the mechanisms outlined in these newly revealed Russian documents, and on the next day, we have Trump citing these fake news stories on the campaign trail and in interviews.
While this does suggest coordination, it does not link the campaign to the Russian operation itself, and neither do the documents reported on today by Reuters. This lack of direct evidence of coordination and collusion is the last talking point left on the list of defenses the President’s men are clinging to.
These documents do prove, however, that the chaos of the 2016 election wasn’t just a confluence of fortuitous phenomena for Trump. It was a coordinated operation that was ordered, planned, and executed at the highest levels of the Russian government.
These documents also show that coordination and collusion were not necessary for the operation to succeed. All the Russians required was a willing candidate desperate enough to use fake news to substantiate his own opinions and appeal to the most fanatical elements of his base.
That they got.
Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.