Spy novels and James Bond movies; post-war Vienna and East Berlin; Manchurian candidates and Third Men. The pop culture of the Cold War era created a set of stereotypes about hostile foreign intelligence services, especially Russian intelligence services, and they still exist. We still imagine undercover agents, dead drops, messages left under park benches, microphones inside fountain pens.
It’s time to forget all of that, because the signature Russian intelligence operation of the future, and indeed of the present, is not going to unfold in secret, but rather in public. It’s not going to involve stolen documents, but rather disinformation operations designed to influence democratic elections. It’s not going to use cash, but rather open support for candidates who will weaken Nato and the European Union, the two organisations which pose the greatest threat to President Vladimir Putin’s personal power.
Anne Applebaum and Freddy Gray discuss Donald Trump’s Russian connections:
How do I know this? Because this kind of operation has already taken place in several European countries, as I described in this magazine back in 2015: the use of secret tapes and hacked email in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine; bank loans for Marine le Pen in France; even loud Russian media support for Brexit. More to the point, the most audacious disinformation operation ever attempted has been unfolding this week, in the US, at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
This time the goal is to disrupt the American election, discredit the process and, if possible, elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. All available evidence now points to Russian involvement in a thorough hack of the Democratic National Committee. As early as last April, the DNC thought someone had entered their servers; a company called CrowdStrike identified the hackers as Russian. Several others confirmed that assessment and the FBI is investigating.