Information Warfare in 2020 Presidential Election

The thread below by Senator Chris Murphy is the impetus behind this post.

Joe Biden – and all of us – SHOULD be furious that media outlets are spreading what is very likely Russian propaganda. 1/ I’ve seen the intel. The mainstreaming of misinformation is Russia’s 2020 goal. Here’s what we know, and why we can’t take it lying down. 2/ Russia knew it had to play a different game than 2016. So it built an operation to cull virulently pro-Trump Americans as pseudo-assets, so blind in their allegiance to Trump that they’ll willingly launder Kremlin constructed anti-Biden propaganda. Guiliani was a key target. 3/ Andriy Derkach was a top Russian agent. He was unmasked by the Treasury Dept this summer. Derkach and his team recruited Guiliani and have been feeding him info all year. The White House knew this. The White House was warned that Giuliani was target of a Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation to Trump from WaPo 4/ Whether he knows it or not, Giuliani is effectively a Russian asset now. It’s almost certain that any anti-Biden info he has is fed to him by Derkach and Russian intel.This should be patently obvious to any reporter worth his or her salt. Vowing crackdown on Russian meddling, US sanctions Ukrainian lawmaker who worked with Giuliani to smear Biden. from CNN 5/ And you don’t have to believe me. Believe the Department or Justice – Trump’s own FBI is investigating the “leaked” Hunter Biden emails as Russian spycraft.US authorities investigating if recently published emails are tied to Russian disinformation effort targeting Biden from CNN. 6/ Further, media don’t need a Pulitzer to see the whole story as super fishy. A pro-Trump computer repairman mysteriously comes across Hunter Biden’s laptop, copies the files, and guess who gets them? Russia’s top American asset – Rudy! Coincidence!! Meet the computer repairman at the center of New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story from Delaware Online 7/ Why is it important for media to not simply pick this story up and amplify it? Why should we be offended that the VP is being asked about it? Because this is Russia’s bet – that America, and its media, is so hungry for salacious stories that no one will vet their lies. 8/ And American media do have major credibility, for good reason. They do amazing work, and get most stories 100% right. Russia wants to use this credibility to their advantage. And that’s why we all have to be vigilant. Democracy depends on it.

I honestly don’t know where you guys stand on this (and based on what I know, Mitchell likely disagrees), but I totally agree with Senator Murphy. I’ll expand on reasons for this in the first comments post.

5 thoughts on “Information Warfare in 2020 Presidential Election

  1. One big concern I have is that publicity, including asking Biden questions, helps achieve the goal of politically damaging Biden–even if the information is untrue. If we know a hostile adversary wants to inject damaging information into a political candidate (i.e., engage in information warfare), shouldn’t the American press consider this and be very careful when reporting stories like this? Or should they just report them and let voters decide?

    Now, suppose the information about Biden. Should the American press report this, while people are voting and several weeks before the final day to vote?

    Let me give a scenario here as a way to give context to this. Suppose the information is true, and so the press reports it–putting on a lot of headlines, giving a lot of coverage–like Hillary’s emails. But a day or two later, the press gets incriminating conversations between Trump and Putin from an intelligence agency from a U.S. ally. The press doesn’t know if the contents are authentic. Should they report that? Suppose it is?

    Does anyone think this is a good thing? I do not–even if it came from a U.S. ally. To accept this type of information would be opening a huge Pandora’s Box.

    I’m not sure what the press should do, but it seems obvious that they should not participate with information operation from a hostile power–particularly one with a long history of information warfare.


    And that has to change. We know there are actors willing to steal documents, selectively edit them, or even fabricate documents, and then time their release for maximum damage on their target. This target is not limited to a politician. It can be a prominent journalist, key democratic institution (like a news outlet or think-tank, university), etc. To not care about the source of information and their motivations is journalistic malpractice. The internet, social media, mobile technology has been a massive game changer in terms of the public square for democracies and the way information warfare can impact that. I believe the role of journalists have changed–or should change–because of this. We can argue if they should fight against foreign countries utilizing information warfare on our country, but I think we can agree they shouldn’t ignore or be oblivious pawns in these efforts.

    (What should they do if domestic actors engage in information warfare? That is a harder question to answer. Political actors have already been doing that, although again, I think technology has changed the rules and nature of this.)


    by Thomas Rid “is author of “Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare” and a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies., WaPo op-ed.

    Second, the absence of a denial by the Biden campaign or Hunter himself should not be treated as a tacit admission of authenticity. Mixing facts with forgeries has another time-tested effect: It sets a trap for the victim. If Hunter or the Biden campaign started selectively denying pieces of the reporting ostensibly from the laptop, they would give oxygen to the operation, extend its life-cycle and get entangled in a losing battle about discussing what’s fact and what’s not. Verifying large amounts of leaked files, the Democrats learned in 2016, is also hard and labor-intensive.

    Rid’s points here are interesting in light of the portions of the Tucker Carlson interview I watched of Tony Bobulinski. My memory is foggy now, but I recall him raises the point about why the Biden’s don’t deny claims. To address this issue, besides saying the whole thing is baseless, is to give oxygen to the story, and that, by itself, is what leads to politically damaging Biden.

  2. I’m surprised you’re using the thread reader app. Did you request the first unroll or did someone get there ahead of you?

    I don’t know which part of this you think I’d disagree with. I saw the initial stories about the Biden emails in Google News, but the link went to the New York Post and I do not, as a matter of principal, ever click a New York Post story no matter how credible it looks or which of my credible friends is sharing the link. I have no respect for the Post and neither should anyone else. I’ll go out of my way to admonish friends for sharing links from the Post. Red flag number 1.

    I watched coverage of this story pretty carefully, and noticed immediately that the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal weren’t even mentioning it (at first). Red flag number 2.

    Later, in a recap of the NBC town hall this week, I read a mention of it in the Washington Post, but the WaPo was very clear in expressing that it was unable to verify independently the Biden email story. This is the way good journalism is supposed to work. That’s not just a red flag for me, but it tells me the story is almost surely BS. With the resources it has, if it can’t verify the a report that the New York Post broadcast, I won’t give it any notice.

    Chris Murphy is right, and I can’t think of a time in my life when I would have disagreed with him on this. They teach you this stuff in Journalism 101 (which I took and got a C in).

  3. These days I feel more uncertain about the way people think about news and political coverage, and it really feels good to hear your reaction (that we’re on the same page.) (And no, I didn’t request the thread roll app, but you must have not seen the other times I’ve used it in a post, because this isn’t the first time.)

    I wasn’t sure about your confidence in the story. Your post above suggest you’re highly skeptical about its veracity. That is, you might have thought there was enough substance that journalists should cover it and ask Biden about it, in spite of indications that its part of a Russian information operation.

    I think I was also conflating this post with the recent post I put up in the “Should social media be regulated” thread. Is it no concern of the government or a democratic society whether social media companies publish the NY Post story and adjust their algorithms to either increase or decrease the spread of such stories?

    Also, would you reaction be different in the Bidens’ emails were accurate? That is, would you want coverage at that point, regardless if Russia stole them and was using it as part of information warfare?


    If Murphy is correct about any journalist worth his salt would know the Post story is likely Russian disinfo, then is Joe Biden’s reaction appropriate? Does Erickson’s question fall below journalistic standards?

  4. Giuliani’s crazed looked here matches the contents of what he says in the article. (Note: I think the image changed, because that’s not the image I remember seeing. Anyway, the one I see now does look crazed.)

    For example,

    Sure, the U.S. Treasury Department may have declared one of his former associates—Ukrainian parliamentarian Andrii Derkach, who worked with Giuliani on his hunt for dirt on the Bidens—to be an “active Russian agent.” But that’s some Deep State talk, he added. “The chance that Derkach is a Russian spy is no better than 50/50.”

    “My guess is that George Soros is behind this counter-offensive… because he wants to create a socialist country,” Giuliani baselessly alleged. “He’d like to see us collapse and see us taken over by the international… whatever.” Giuliani said that Derkach’s eventual sanctioning was the result of “an intelligence ploy to try to create problems for Trump—because Derkach could probably bury Obama.”

    Imagine saying the chances I’m cooperating with an al Qaeda operative is no more than 50/50. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s less different than some may think.

    And Giuliani claims Trump knows all about this:

    “Sure, sure. The president knows all about this,” Giuliani said, adding that he had briefed Trump on the “general” parameters of the files.

    This is not surprising, nor is it surprising that Trump hasn’t put a stop to this. Actually, him stopping this would be the surprise.

    Also, Giuliani claims that top congressional Republicans have been informed too:

    But the Hunter Biden material, Giuliani also revealed, wasn’t just pre-screened with Trump. He also said that top Republicans on Capitol Hill had been looped into the matter. he president’s lawyer said the computer store repairman who claims to have received Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2019 alerted several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and others. “Jim Jordan. People like that,” Giuliani said, adding that he “believed” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) had also received the materials. “But we’re the only ones that got all of it,” he said.

    Again, this is not surprising, but still incredibly awful. Giuliani, Trump and Republican members of Congress are likely cooperating–i.e., colluding–with a Russia, whose goals are to undermine and discredit our democracy and widen existing divisions, in addition to helping Trump and harming Biden. Would traitorous be an inappropriate adjective to describe these Americans?


    Tucker Carlson says they no longer have the explosive documents relating to Biden’s corruption. He’s claiming they mail was opened en route.

  5. A comment on this tweet:

    I agree with the tweet, especially blaming or attributing domestic problems to hostile foreign actors. I don’t think adversaries like Russia cause those problems. At the same time, suppose large numbers of Americans underestimate or don’t understand the threat these adversaries pose. The challenge is to raise the alarms so people take the threat serious, but not overestimate or misunderstood the outside influence. That’s a difficult tightrope to walk.

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