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.

Mike Flynn’s Promotion of Nuclear-Plant Project Went Deep Into the White House

Project backers drafted memos for President Trump and Flynn allies continued to push the plan after the Trump security adviser was ousted

Private-sector backers of a controversial Middle East nuclear-power plan worked with former national security adviser Mike Flynn to promote it inside the White House, to the point of sending him a draft memo for the president to sign authorizing the project.

At issue was a proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors, billed by its backers as a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East.” Before joining the White House, Mr. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, had advised some of the U.S. companies involved in the plan in his capacity as a consultant.

.. The plan was projected to generate $250 billion in revenue for U.S. companies
.. Evidence now is surfacing about how far it progressed inside the administration, and how Mr. Flynn’s former staffer continued to promote it after Mr. Flynn left office in February.
.. Since his resignation, his former private-sector colleagues have continued to lobby various federal agencies about the plan and recently met with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser.

.. In early January, Mr. Flynn talked favorably about the proposed deal with Mr. Trump’s friend, real-estate magnate Thomas Barrack Jr.
.. Mr. Flynn arrived at his National Security Council job with a group of people who felt the Obama administration had been too soft on Iran. They believed the nuclear-power plan, which envisioned building and operating dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East, would strengthen Iran’s rivals.

.. One of the people Mr. Flynn brought with him, former Army Col. Derek Harvey, said at a meeting during the first week of the new administration that Mr. Flynn had told him to develop a regional economic and energy plan for the Middle East. When staffers pointed out there was an NSC office that handled economic and energy issues, Mr. Harvey said Mr. Flynn had directed him to take the lead on the issue.
.. After Mr. Flynn was ousted, Mr. Harvey pushed NSC colleagues to continue working on the nuclear plan. The private-sector group still promotes the deal and holds weekly meetings.

How Trump Can Harness the U.S. Energy Boom

The embrace of new technologies to extract oil and natural gas at an unprecedented rate has transformed one of America’s enduring vulnerabilities into a strategic asset. Thanks largely to fracking — hydraulic fracturing of rock — the United States is now the largest producer of oil and gas combined in the world. America consumes large quantities of energy, so this expanded production has not yet made the country energy independent. But it has greatly decreased its dependence on foreign energy: About a decade ago, the United States imported nearly two-thirds of the oil it consumed; that percentage is now closer to one-fifth.

..  an improved trade balance and a stronger economy. The boom has also improved the country’s sources of soft power, in part by underscoring America’s enduring edge in innovation and ingenuity.

.. American producers of oil from shale rock have introduced a new business model to the scene: Small investments in exploration and production can bring oil to the market quickly. This weakens OPEC, by making it more difficult for its production cuts to result in sustained increases in oil prices. For the first time in more than a century, the market determines the price of oil with much less influence from any cartel, commission or band of big oil companies.

.. The energy boom has also weakened many of America’s competitors, particularly Russia, by both decreasing its revenues and reducing its ability to use its energy resources as a political cudgel.

.. The boom also expands opportunities for the United States to forge new partnerships. For instance, given China’s growing dependence, and America’s waning reliance, on Middle Eastern oil, Beijing may be more likely to work with the United States to stabilize that part of the world. Such changes put America in a stronger position to reinforce the international order.

.. Many non-energy policies of the Trump administration undermine the energy boom and all its potential advantages.

.. On climate, Mr. Trump’s pledge to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement could also hurt the American energy boom. Natural gas stands to gain as the world takes strides to tackle climate change: As countries transition to more sustainable energy, they often move away from coal to natural gas. American natural gas exports could benefit from this transition — but not if countries like China and India also weaken their commitment to tackling climate change and drag their heels in curbing coal consumption.

.. Mr. Trump’s talk of retrenchment overseas has made friends and foes nervous about America’s willingness to continue to use its vast sea power to maintain open shipping lanes. Over half of the world’s oil supply and a growing percentage of the natural gas it consumes is transported through these waterways.

.. Mexico is by far the largest foreign consumer of American natural gas — a trend that will increase with recent Mexican electricity reforms. Yet President Trump’s talk about a border wall has spurred a revival in the presidential candidacy of Mexico’s own populist, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is committed to reversing these and other energy reforms. That would not only shrink the largest market for American natural gas but would also dull prospects of the United States, Canada and Mexico of reaching North American energy independence.

Why Qatar Is in the Naughty Corner

Despite the convenience of this narrative, there are other forces at play. In reality, Qatar has been ostracized by its “brotherly” neighbors, as the language of regional diplomacy has it, for not kowtowing to the collective vision for the Middle East now largely shared by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

.. The more heinous sin for which Doha is being punished is its willingness to acknowledge that Iran occupies a position as an important regional power and that political Islamists like Hamas and Hezbollah have a role to play in determining the future of the Middle East. To put it bluntly, Qatar is being penalized for refusing to accept the status quo of the past 40 years, and for daring to challenge the conventional wisdom in the gulf that bashing Tehran, buttressing military strongmen and suppressing political Islamism are the right path for the region.