Russians Meddling in the Midterms? Here’s the Data

We have also identified more than 400 websites that our analysis indicates are likely to be Russian propaganda outlets aimed at American audiences. More than 100 of these websites we have confirmed as under the direction of the Russian government or we believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.

In the month of October alone, we tracked 110,000 social media posts that referenced a United States midterm candidate, topic or hashtag and contained a link to one of these websites. More than 10,000 of these posts contained a link to one of the websites we have either confirmed as Russian-directed or believe to be Russian with a very high degree of confidence.

The top three websites linked to these social media posts are the site of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network (5,275 links); The Duran, a right-wing news and opinion site (1,328 links); and Sputnik, a news and commentary site run by the Russian government (1,148 links).

.. We have also identified 1,451 social media posts aimed specifically at midterm voters from social media accounts assessed with high confidence as belonging directly to Russian influence operations. These posts are largely focused on

  • the geopolitics of the Middle East,
  • the Saudi-assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the
  • Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.

.. Last month, the most-shared article of known Russian origin for the month on Twitter was an article from The Duran purporting to show how groups financed by the billionaire Democratic fund-raiser George Soros “plotted with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to eliminate conservative ‘right wing propaganda.’”

.. The Russia-linked social media accounts were active during the Kavanaugh hearings,
  • drawing attention to sexual and domestic abuse allegations against various 2018 Democratic candidates and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. They have been
  • amplifying anti-immigrant sentiment, including conspiracy theories about the caravan of migrants in Central America, and have
  • promoted the idea that the mail-bomb campaign of the Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc Jr. was a Democratic plot.

.. we estimate that at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions, of United States citizens have engaged with the content of Russian propaganda online.

.. The consensus among academic researchers and Russia experts in the intelligence community is that Russia does not take a timeout from information battles. It considers itself to be in a constant state of information warfare. Its online influence operations are inexpensive and effective, and afford Russia an asymmetric advantage given the freedoms of expression afforded to Western democracies.

The Dangerous Reality of an Iran War

Washington has rejected a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, knowing that Ankara will not tolerate the ISIS capital falling into Kurdish hands either. It’s becoming increasingly likely that the winning formula will see the city and its environs ceded to an authority friendly to the Syrian government, under a Russian umbrella ..

.. Just last week, the UAE reportedly upped the ante by demanding the Saudis abandon their puppet president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi—ostensibly the “legitimate” Yemeni authority the western-backed Saudi coalition was fighting to reinstate.

.. What’s notable is that all of these developments, at face value, serve Iran’s interests in the region and undermine those of U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

.. Iran will also be a useful tool to provoke or cajole traditional U.S. allies like Israel, Turkey, and various Arab monarchies into taking positions favored by Trump.

.. There are whispers of a Saudi-led “Arab NATO” that could partner with Israel to target Iran.

.. Trump’s choices are actually fairly limited.

.. Subversive activities—such as color revolution plots, propaganda, or cyberwarfare—have proven futile given Iran’s historic vigilance on and within its borders. Conventional war would require a substantial Iranian provocation and isn’t likely to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

.. James Mattis, a committed Iran hawk, almost did so several weeks ago when he considered letting U.S. forces board an Iranian ship in Arabian Sea international waters, according to a passing mention of the incident in the New York Times.

.. It has endured an eight-year war with Iraq, which was encouraged, financed, and armed by great powers and regional states alike. The Islamic Republic performed a remarkable claw-back from the assault and went on to amass conventional and asymmetrical capabilities to deter future attacks.

.. When the U.S. is there, Iran’s focus and discipline is better. They’re useful that way. It brings us together, creates support for our security forces, our army, our borders.”

.. because of Wikileaks’ 2010 State Department cables cache, we now know that—in private at least—U.S. officials are also skeptical of their own public charges.

.. “the U.S. military rarely beats Iran in asymmetrical war games unless it cheats or rigs it.”

.. the “Millennium Challenge,” a 2002 U.S. armed forces war game in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. (blue team) and an unnamed Mideast adversary (red team), believed to be Iran.

.. Why are U.S. armed forces in the Persian Gulf anyway?

.. between 1976 and 2010, Washington has spent an eye-popping $8 trillion protecting the oil flow in the Persian Gulf. As of 2010, the U.S. only received 10 percent of those oil shipments. The largest recipients were Japan (20 percent), followed by China, India, and South Korea.