Home Opinion Russia’s Long History of Election Meddling and Espionage

Russia’s Long History of Election Meddling and Espionage

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By James Lint
Senior Editor for InCyberDefense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

Election meddling by Russia should not surprise anyone. It’s happened before and will happen again. In fact, even as a special counsel delves into Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election, top-level intelligence officials warn that we can expect Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm elections in November.

A recent In Homeland Security article detailed several cases of election meddling. The Soviets used intelligence from their spies in the U.S. as well as from our free and open press to influence the elections of Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. In each of those attempts, the Kremlin failed in its objectives.

To date, we don’t know how successful the Russians were in influencing the results of the most recent presidential election.

Trained intelligence analysts assess a potential adversarial event by a hostile entity by looking for capability and opportunity. Who has the capability to attack or run a sophisticated intelligence operation against us? Who has an adept professional intelligence service? Who has the opportunity created by intelligence agents in place to access the required data?

Russian Espionage Has a Long History

For information operations to succeed, they need input from intelligence. The Russian term “Perception Management” is a better description than the U.S. term “Information Operations.”

In the mid-1930s, Russia began a new agent recruitment strategy. It involved attracting bright young Communists or Communist sympathizers from leading universities in the West, notably Cambridge and Oxford in England.

That was the origin of the Cominform, otherwise known as the Communist Information Bureau. Its mission was to cultivate opportunities to attract newcomers to the Communist cause and publish propaganda.

Soviet espionage targeted the United States from 1930 to the end of the Cold War. Conditions in America made it easier for the Soviets to spy on the U.S. than it was for the U.S. and its allies to run operations against Moscow.

Foremost was the fact that the Soviet Union was a U.S. ally in World War II. The Soviet spy agency KGB was able to install large numbers of spies, posing as various liaison officials, on American soil.

In addition, many Americans regarded their Russian allies as comrades-in-arms who should have access to some intelligence material. In some instances, Americans freely handed over secrets to the Soviets. As a result, Soviet officials in the United States enjoyed considerable hospitality and access to classified information.

Soviet intelligence also benefited from the activities and infrastructure of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).

The CPUSA reached the peak of its strength and influence in American life in the 1930s. The Great Depression and Stalin’s opposition to Hitler and Mussolini convinced many Americans that capitalism was doomed. Americans believed that Russia’s socialist experiment represented the world’s only reliable bulwark against fascism.

CPUSA leaders and some trusted party members gathered political and industrial information, most of which made its way to Soviet intelligence services. But many members became disillusioned and left the party following the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact in 1939.

After World War II, the CPUSA lost much of its allure. Membership dwindled further as a result of a sustained anti-communist campaign, led predominantly by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin).

In May of 1960, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge exposed Soviet espionage against the United States at the U.N. Security Council. To prove his assertions, he produced a wooden reproduction of the Great Seal of the United States. Buried inside was a small listening (capability) and transmitting device (opportunity).

The seal had been presented to the U.S. embassy in Moscow by a group of Russian citizens in 1945. A security sweep of the embassy in 1952 discovered the listening device. More than 100 similar devices were found in U.S. embassies in communist-bloc countries.

It’s hard to imagine how much intelligence the Kremlin gained during the seven years the bugs went undetected. The ability to gain inside information improved the Soviets’ information (and disinformation) operations.

US Missed Opportunities to Gather Intelligence on Foreign Countries

After each World War, U.S. cryptographic and intelligence services were downsized. That created an opportunity for countries with hostile intents to gain valuable intelligence while curtailing the ability for the U.S. to do the same.

The United States Military Liaison Mission (USMLM) has been called the most successful and productive intelligence collection organization of the Cold War era. Established following World War II, USMLM and its members performed a dual mission: liaison between the U.S. and Soviet military forces in a divided Germany and intelligence monitoring of Soviet forces in East Germany.

The USMLM and its Soviet equivalent, the SMLM, gave each country the opportunity and capability to watch for indicators of war or for a buildup of forces by the other side.

Intelligence Services Help Peace Efforts by Ensuring Countries Understand Each Other

Intelligence services can improve the potential for peace by giving their country an opportunity to understand its adversaries. Conversely, the lack of a robust, aggressive intelligence service targeting hostile foreign powers can lead to a nation’s downfall.

Espionage is an enabler for Information Operations, Perception Management and election meddling. To have the capability to meddle, a country must have an intelligence service that is capable of accessing needed information and disseminating information vital to a nation’s survival.

Capability and opportunity may help uncover potential hostile activities.

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 49th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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