There is broad consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, continued its meddling in the 2018 Congressional elections, and will attempt to do so again in the 2020 elections, probably using ever more sophisticated techniques. These recent Russian efforts reflect a long history of influence operations dating back to the 1917 Revolution, and even earlier, to statecraft under the Czars. And while the Soviet Union may have collapsed nearly 30 years ago, Russia believes it is at war with the United States and that the United States is at war with it, even if the war is non-kinetic.
There is, however, one striking difference today vis-à-vis the Cold War era: The partisan divide has deepened in Washington and across the nation to the point that almost every inquiry is viewed as either an opening to attack or a political threat to be crushed. In this environment, Russian adversaries take second place. It is against this background that informal discussions about the pernicious effects of Russian meddling in U.S. domestic politics and society evolved into a day-long workshop to discuss how best to identify, understand, and ultimately respond to Russian efforts to manipulate popular opinion in the United States, erode faith in U.S. institutions, influence U.S. elections, and impact U.S. policy formation.
Brian Michael Jenkins and Robert McCreight organized the May 2nd, 2019, workshop in Washington DC. Most of the participants were veterans of the Cold War with long firsthand experience in this area. They had served in the White House, the State Department, United States Information Agency (USIA), the Pentagon, the Intelligence Community, the FBI, research centers, and broadcasting entities under Republican and Democratic administrations. The resulting report—“AMERICA’S GREAT CHALLENGE: RUSSIA’S WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION”—is intended to summarize the discussions, findings, and recommendations of this May 2nd workshop. Mr. Jenkins prepared this report, with various comments offered by workshop participants.
Note: No workshop organizer, participant or advisor received any compensation – in any form – for their time or effort related to this workshop or the resulting summary report. However, two participants residing outside the Washington area had their travel and accommodation expenses paid.