U.S. Cyber Command is readying options to wage information warfare against Russian officials if the country tries to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The officials would include senior members of Russia’s government as well as Russian oligarchs, stopping short of targeting Vladimir Putin himself. The operation is designed to halt election interference by threatening Kremlin officials with the release of their personal information.
“When the Russians put implants into an electric grid, it means they’re making a credible showing that they have the ability to hurt you if things escalate,” Bobby Chesney, a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Post. “What may be contemplated here is an individualized version of that, not unlike individually targeted economic sanctions. It’s sending credible signals to key decision-makers that they are vulnerable if they take certain adversarial actions.”
The U.S. has used information warfare in the past, including in the Gulf War when the military dropped leaflets over Iraq attempting to persuade Iraqi troops to surrender. The advent of internet technology and social media has expanded the reach of such tactics across the world.
U.S. government agencies have pushed repeatedly over the past year to loosen restrictions on offensive cyber capabilities. Traditional information warfare techniques have also been absorbed by the 10-year-old cyber command.
“It’s a really big deal because we have not done a good job in the past of integrating traditional information warfare with cyber-operations,” Chesney commented. “But as Russia has demonstrated, these two are increasingly inseparable in practice.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken out against possible Russian interference in U.S. elections.
“Interference in American elections is unacceptable and if the Russians were engaged in that in 2020 it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been,” Pompeo told Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov in May of this year.
“We’ve said this not only about the Russians but about other countries as well,” Pompeo said. “Our elections are important and sacred and they must be kept free and fair and with no outside country interfering.”
Russia has denied meddling in U.S. elections despite overwhelming evidence collected by the U.S. intelligence community.