A few weeks ago, the U.S. government issued a statement declaring that Russia has been engineering disclosures of communications from U.S. political organizations and operators in an attempt to influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election. This is the first public, official acknowledgment of a long-running information warfare campaign that the statement asserted could have been authorized only by “Russia’s senior-most officials.”
Publicizing Russia’s role and warning the American people undermines Russia’s efforts as the campaign moves forward. In fact, we have already seen examples of public figures, including a prominent Republican politician, trying to push the disclosures from the spotlight as their link to Russia has become apparent.
But it’s unlikely that publicity alone will be enough to check this aggression. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin already has dismissed the attribution as nothing but hysteria. The discussion in the U.S. about next steps has focused on cyber-enabled counterattacks that would expose corruption in Russia or leak information about bank accounts linked to Putin.
Such cyber-enabled disclosures could impose costs on Putin’s regime, and used appropriately, they could be an effective part of a broader response. But we should tread carefully. Part of Putin’s goal seems to be to create equivalency between a supposedly corrupt U.S. system and his government and thereby take away our moral high ground. Creating a tit-for-tat cyber war between two great powers could play into that scenario.
The United States can derail that strategy by doing three things.