With each passing week, the evidence of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—and in U.S. politics and society more generally—grows. Since at least 2014, in an effort to influence the election and undermine confidence in U.S. democracy, Russia has hacked private American citizens’ and organizations’ computers to steal information; released that information in ways designed to affect electoral outcomes and divide Americans; planted and disseminated disinformation in U.S. social media, through its own state-funded and -controlled media networks and by deploying tens of thousands of bloggers and bots; cooperated with Americans, possibly including members of Donald Trump’s campaign, to discredit Trump’s opponent in the election; and probed election-related computer systems in multiple states. We will never know for certain whether Russia’s intervention changed the outcome of the 2016 election. The point is that it tried.
Today, the Kremlin’s unprecedented efforts to sow and exacerbate divisions among Americans, using many of the same tools, continue. Whereas physical attacks on the U.S. homeland, such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, have brought Americans together in a common cause and led them to bolster defenses, an assault on the American sense of national unity could weaken the institutions and shared beliefs that are critical to enduring security and success. Growing domestic strife and diminishing trust in national institutions represent as great a threat to the United States as any traditional national security concern, with the exception of a nuclear attack.
Russia’s geopolitical challenge to the United States is also growing. Since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, Moscow has invaded and annexed Crimea; occupied parts of eastern Ukraine; deployed substantial military forces and undertaken a ruthless bombing campaign in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad; significantly expanded its armed forces; run military exercises designed to intimidate eastern European governments; interfered in eastern European political systems; and threatened to cut off gas to the most energy-dependent European states. Putin is a career intelligence
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