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Burr: Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S.

11 October 2019

A bipartisan U.S. Senate report on Russia's use of social media has determined that a Kremlin-backed "troll farm" sought to boost the campaign of Donald Trump and hurt rival Hilary Clinton, largely backing up the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.

The results of the report are part of an ongoing investigation into Russian election interference first launched by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017.

The new Senate report and the Mueller report described in great detail how the Internet Research Agency (IRA) weaponized social media both to spread inflammatory content supporting now-President Donald Trump and opposing Hillary Clinton - including organizing real-life protests and events.

The report found that the Russians' social media activity was "overtly and nearly invariably supportive" of Trump and was part of a broader attempt to sow discord in American politics by exploiting divisions on social issues.

"By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign created to divide the country in 2016", the committee said, and that no group was targeted more than African Americans.

Burr said in a statement Tuesday, "Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the USA that didn't start and didn't end with the 2016 election".

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"Any solution has to balance America's national security interests with our constitutionally-protected right to free speech", Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement.

"By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russian Federation is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans", Burr said.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden drew parallels past year between the intelligence failures in the lead up to 9/11 and Russian meddling in American affairs through social media in 2016.

The committee's work also affirmed the conclusions of earlier investigations on Russian interference in the elections, including the Mueller report's findings and the January 6, 2017, Intelligence Community Assessment.

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommends that the Trump administration "publicly reinforce" the danger of attempts by hostile nations to interfere in the 2020 election. In fact, you may not have even heard much about the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings because they seem obvious: Russian Federation attacked American elections; Moscow's military intelligence operation relied on social media; and the objective of the gambit was to elevate Donald Trump to power.

Schumer also criticized McConnell for "hindering a full response" to election vulnerabilities ahead of the 2020 elections, saying that McConnell "continues to block a full-throated US response today by burying meaningful election security bills in his legislative graveyard".

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The panel recommended that Congress consider new laws requiring disclosure of who pays for election-related online advertising. "There's no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos", he said.

"The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon - and their techniques will only get more sophisticated".

"It's our responsibility to listen to the warnings of our Intelligence Community and take steps to prevent future attacks from being waged on our own social media platforms", Warner said.

The report detailed efforts by the Russians to exploit tensions in American society, particularly along racial lines.

"Let's be frank: it's time for Trump to stop using Twitter to play into our adversaries' hands", she said.

It also said social media companies, which have come under fire for allowing propaganda to flourish, should share more information about what they find on their platforms. "We can't let that happen again".

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The Senate Intelligence Committee even uncovered evidence that the day after the 2016 election, operatives at the Internet Research Agency "uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne, took one gulp each and looked into each other's eyes". "What we need to do now is address these facts with a common objective - to protect our democracy and make sure our election systems are resilient against future attacks".

Burr: Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S.