Russian cyberattacks are the real threat to the US, not a migrant caravan

Russian cyberattacks are the real threat to the US, not a migrant caravan
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Is anyone in the Trump administration doing serious threat assessments these days?

It’s a reasonable question to ask in light of President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE’s characterization of the immigrant caravan as a threat that might require deployment of the U.S. Army to the border with Mexico. Meanwhile, Trump is minimizing, if not ignoring, the continuing attempt by Russia to incite civil strife in the United States.


That effort is described in extraordinary detail in a criminal complaint filed last week by Department of Justice prosecutors conducting a separate investigation of Russian cyber hacking from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation. The complaint, filed against a Russian woman named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, relies on a trove of documents from a Russian enterprise called “Project Lakhta,” (the complaint does not say how they were obtained). Khusyaynova is alleged to be the chief accountant in Project Lakhta’s finance department.

If Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election was about influencing the outcome in favor of Trump over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE, its sequel is Project Lhakta, which seeks to cause a national civic breakdown by exploiting national divisions strained by Trump’s election.

Project Lhakta uses social media and other platforms, according to the complaint, “to inflame passions” on divisive issues such as immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag, the NFL kneeling controversy and, above all, race relations. One objective, according to a member of the conspiracy quoted in the complaint, is to “effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The DOJ alleges that Project Lhakta “continues to this day.”

Project Lakhta’s operatives, in the guise of American political activists, spread vicious, hate-filled messages targeting both Republicans and Democrats. They branded Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (R-Ariz.) before his death as “an old geezer who has lost it” and who harbors “pathological hatred towards Donald Trump.” They called Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Rubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (R-Fla.) a “traitor to American values;” and characterized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (R-Ky.) as a “renegade and vile liberal.”

Project Lakhta even has a graphics department that created an image of former President Obama surrounded by Muslim men with beards accompanied by the comment, “media should investigate this traitor and his plane [sic] to Islamize our country.” Project Lakhta also spread messages about the 2018 midterms: “Just a friendly reminder to get involved in the 2018 Midterms. They hate you. They hate your morals.”

A primary source of Project Lakhta’s funding are companies with Russian government contracts to provide food to schools and the military. The companies are controlled by a Russian oligarch, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin. He is so closely affiliated with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is sometimes called “Putin’s Chef” in reference to his background in the food and restaurant business.

According to the complaint, from January 2016 through June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget was $35 million. The Russians would not have committed such a large amount unless they had reasonable prospects for poisoning the American body politic. 

Before he became President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton called the Russian interference in the 2016 election a “true act of war.” In fact, Project Lakhta internally describes its activities as “information warfare against the United States of America.” 

Imagine the response of any American president during the Cold War to information warfare by the Soviet Union intended to have Americans grabbing each other by the throat. Those presidents would have warned the American public, ordered the national security agencies to prioritize blocking the cyberattacks, and made clear to the Soviet leadership that if such warfare continued, the United States would retaliate at considerable cost to their country.

Not this president. Instead, Trump has focused the American people on the wrong threat to the wrong border. 

Recall Trump’s mantra at the outset of his presidential campaign that, “We don’t have a country without a border.” Unless we erect an effective cyber border and implement deterrents to attacks, ironically enough, Project Lakhta might succeed in proving the president right. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.