False Friends

Several news agencies have covered a story that a forthcoming report by the Estonian Intelligence Service predicts that Russia will try to interfere in the 2020 US Presidential election. But this is not saying much. A prediction that Russia will try to influence the 2020 election is a bit like a prediction that the sun may rise tomorrow – we all know that. The key point will be whether the Estonian report contains any detail about how Russia plans to do this. Estonia does occasionally pick up outstanding sources in Russia, but it also sometimes “stirs the pot” because they feel threatened by Russian actions on the border. More detail is needed.

Nevertheless, an attack on the US election is expected. That fact makes it all the more remarkable that an attempt to bring in new procedures to improve the security of the election have now been blocked by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. She may not be paid by Moscow, but she might as well be. It is exactly this sort of partisan action that Russia counts on to aid their influence operations. While Americans are fighting amongst themselves, Russia has a chance to sneak in.

But this brings in another aspect of the story: in order to overcome this kind of political obstacle to improved security, the US intelligence services need to produce first rate intelligence showing in detail how Russia intends to interfere. If the Russian threat can be clearly demonstrated, rather than just rumoured – as in the case of the Estonian report – then even the political partisans will be unable to stop improved security measures. The problem is that the US agencies and their allies are clearly not producing the quality intelligence that is needed. What is not clear is whether this is improved Russian security or poor American offensive operations.

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