Former intel chief: U.S. misses the point on Moscow’s ‘highly effective’ operations

by WorldTribune Staff, August 5, 2016

U.S. politicians and media are seemingly oblivious to what Russia has in its sights – “nothing less than the democratic fabric of American society and the integrity of the system of Western liberal values,” the former head of Estonia’s intelligence service said.

Writing for the European edition of  Politico, Eerik-Niiles Kross, a current member of Estonian parliament, said “the revelation that Russia’s intelligence services hacked the computer systems of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in what appears an attempt to weaken her in the U.S. election against Donald Trump may seem like the stuff of conspiracy.

Reagan got it: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbatchev (foreground, lower L) and US President Ronald Reagan (R) shake hands, 08 December 1987 at the Washington summit, as dignitaries give them standing ovation after signed a historic treaty eliminating US and Soviet intermediate-range and shorter-range nuke missiles, the first treaty of its kind in history. The ceremony was held in the East Room of the White House. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Reagan got it: Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan at the Dec. 8, 1987 Washington summit. Reagan ended the period of containment, saying he had a simple policy objective toward the USSR: “We win and they lose”. /Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

“But the truth is far more alarming. Russia’s activities aren’t part of a conspiracy. They are elements of an openly stated doctrine — a resurrection of Soviet style political warfare, in which intelligence agencies seek to amplify divisions among their enemies, weakening the Western front by sowing discord and dissent whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

Kross wrote that Russia’s moves are an “updated form” of the Cold War “with meaner, more modern tools, including a vast state media empire in Western languages, hackers, spies, agents, useful idiots, compatriot groups, and hordes of internet trolls.”

“The target of the hacks wasn’t just Clinton. Nor is Moscow much interested in supporting Trump (willing useful idiot though he may be).

“Russia is effectively using our democracies and our systems of rule of law against us. The method works like a computer virus. They insert a lie, a false accusation, a fabrication, an illegally-obtained private conversation — some form of kompromat — into our media, competing for ratings and ad revenue, and then they let us tear ourselves apart,” Kross said.

“The hacking of Clinton’s computer systems (and the earlier leak of Democratic National Committee emails) is by no means unique. It is the latest — and most public — in a long line of subversive operations against democratic governments and U.S. allies, including aspiring NATO members and former Russian satellites.

“Leaked tapes in Hungary, Slovakia, Macedonia and Ukraine have contributed to political destabilization. Taped phone conversations by U.S. diplomats about Ukraine were made public at a sensitive time. Similarly, leaked recordings in Poland took down the pro-Western government, allowing the rise of more nationalistic forces less inclined to help lead the European Union through a rocky period.”

Kross continued that there have been several “well-timed leaks by Edward Snowden — now residing in Moscow and recently identified by Russian authorities as cooperating with the country’s security services. WikiLeaks has been openly connected to Russia’s security services as well, serving as a front for dumps of hacked documents.”

“Since 2012, leaked tapes and at times fabricated materials contributed to the fall of pro-Western governments in Georgia and Moldova, forcing Washington and Brussels to endorse oligarchic takeovers to stem further Russian interference.

“These highly effective attempts to create political unrest — only a short selection of a vast array of examples — are connected by two common threads. First, they target Western nations and leaders, aiming to create divisions inside and between them. Second, the West has been slow to stand up for the victims and to identify the perpetrator. Behind all of them — often overtly — is a Russian hand.”

Kross continued: “The West has been slow to see Putin’s reign for what it is: a KGB takeover of Russia. The security services now operate unrestrained. They are the state. In Russia’s modern hybrid warfare, the Russian military, its diplomacy, its intelligence agencies, its state-run media, its state enterprises — even its sports federations — are part of one machine. And the whole state is conducting subversion operations against the West.

“Russia has been using a playbook developed in the KGB’s Andropov Institute and by other intelligence agencies, a set of methods called ‘active measures’ described by KGB defector Oleg Kalugin as follows: ‘Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.’ ”

Kross maintained that “the West has failed to identify the threat or offer resistance because it is collectively stuck, once again, in containment thinking. In the early 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan ended the long period of containment, saying he had a simple policy objective toward the USSR: ‘We win and they lose.’ He inspired a vision that eventually broke the Soviet Union, liberated Europe, and gave Russians a chance to live in a plural, representative democracy where they had the right to determine their own future. They didn’t choose it.”

“It is time to honestly assess the battlefield, identify the enemy and yield a concrete battle plan. There is no choice. Putin is not content to stay in his space: He will even reach into U.S. politics when he sees an opportunity. The first step to creating the antidote is acknowledging the poison. We need a new Reagan, a new Churchill, a new Truman, to wake us from our reverie and prevent the collapse of the system that gives us our comfortable lives.

“There are many of us Europeans, particularly on NATO’s eastern flank, who see this war, and want to fight for what America helped us build in Europe. We have been waiting for a strong American leader to stand beside us. The next American president must have a clear vision for standing with the alliance of free nations against the illiberal values championed by Putin.

“After two Russian wars against Western aspirants, the West is taking its first cautious steps toward containing Russian aggression. Containment is not enough. And now we see why: Putin’s War has quickly struck at the center of America’s democracy.

“The United States has the luxury of being very far from the front. Unfortunately, information war isn’t geographical — so, America, welcome to the war.”