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Top Senate Democrats sound alarm over Russian interference in 2022 midterm elections

Leading Senate Democrats are sounding the alarm over Russian interference in the 2022 midterm elections.

A group of 17 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Rules Committee and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged some of the best in the military, intelligence and national security of the country. officials to remain vigilant against interference in a new letter obtained by Insider.

“As the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in Russian disinformation and warnings of potential cyberattacks, we urge you to ensure that your agencies are prepared to quickly and effectively counter Russian influence campaigns targeting 2022 elections,” the senators wrote Thursday. letter.

The letter also cites an insider report from March on how Putin’s missteps in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which firmly united the West and bolstered the NATO alliance while isolating Moscow economically and politically, could incite the Kremlin to redouble its efforts to undermine Western democracy. through cyber-hacking and disinformation operations that cost far less to wage than a ground war on the scale of invading Ukraine.

“Social media manipulation is incredibly inexpensive compared to javelins and ammo,” Chris Rouland, CEO of Phosphorus Cybersecurity, told Insider. “If anything, Russia would become more aggressive in its manipulation of social media because it’s almost free compared to a tank.”

Former NSA hacker David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, told Insider that “Putin and the intelligence agencies will look at how to cause as much damage as possible” through cyber operations.

He added that the United States in particular is a “ripe target” for continued Russian interference efforts because of the major impact Russia had on the 2016 election.

Russia’s successful history of interfering in the United States “underscores the urgency” for 2022, the senators say.

In 2016, Russia’s campaign of interference included hacking into Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee to obtain damaging internal emails, attempting to compromise the state’s voter registration databases and the use of bot and troll farms to spread misinformation about candidates and sow division and anger among the American electorate on social media.

“Russia’s history of interference in our past three federal election cycles underscores the urgency of the current warnings,” the senators wrote in the letter.

As other pundits have noted to Insider, Russia’s primary goal in interfering in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections was not to bolster President Donald Trump, but rather to sow fundamental distrust and to undermine faith in democracy and American institutions.

“Our democracy has been a shining beacon to the world and as we continue to assist Ukraine and our European allies, we must also be vigilant to guard against threats to our own system of government,” Klobuchar and Reed wrote. . “With the primaries underway for the 2022 midterm election cycle and preparations underway for the general election in November, it is vital that the federal government does everything in its power to ensure the integrity of our elections against foreign threats.”

As fighting rages in Ukraine, Russia is waging an information war both at home and abroad.

Putin has gone to extraordinary lengths to control the flow of information into Russia amid the war in Ukraine, vying to keep Russians in the dark about what is really going on in Ukraine. Moscow has effectively eliminated the independent press in Russia while criminalizing opposition to war. Those who speak out against Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine could face up to 15 years in prison, based on a law Putin signed banning the spread of “false” information about the Russian military.

Meanwhile, Russian state news constantly peppers the Russian public with outlandish and misleading allegations about the war. Pro-Kremlin propagandists peddled a series of conspiratorial narratives to legitimize the invasion, falsely telling the Russian public that Ukraine is a Nazi country and that World War III has begun. Russian state news also claimed that atrocities apparently committed by Russian troops, including the Bucha massacre, were staged or fabricated by Ukrainian forces.

A feedback loop has emerged between Russian state media and right-wing media in the United States.

Right-wing figures in the United States, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have echoed Russian propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine. Russian state television has recycled and applauded Carlson’s commentary, which reaches millions of Americans, he hosts the most-watched show on cable news in the United States.

As Russia gathered tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border in preparation for the invasion in late 2021, Carlson replicated Moscow in blaming NATO for assaulting Putin on Kyiv. Carlson said NATO only existed to ‘torment’ Putin, saying the authoritarian leader ‘just wants to keep his western borders secure’. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was ultimately an unprovoked assault on a sovereign nation, which is why much of the world rallied behind Kyiv and against Moscow.

After the invasion, Carlson also pushed a discredited Russian conspiracy theory that the United States was funding the development of biological weapons at labs in Ukraine. The fake bio-labs story has also found an audience on far-right social media in the US, among other platforms and forums, highlighting the myriad ways misinformation can spread in today’s world. today.

“People ask if the far right in the United States is influencing Russia or if Russia is influencing the far right, but the truth is they influence each other,” said Johns University professor Thomas Rid. Hopkins and Russian disinformation expert. the New York Times in March, adding, “They’re pushing the same narratives.”

There is no indication that the war in Ukraine will end at any time in the near future. As the conflict continues and the economic consequences are felt more acutely by Americans, the circumstances could provide an ideal pathway for the proliferation of Russian disinformation in the United States, sowing further discord across the country in the future. middle of a period of historical political divisions.