It’s so rare that the president gets credit for doing anything positive I thought it was worth highlighting this story. Today the Washington Post reported that Trump approved a cyber-security operation that prevented an infamous Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) from accessing the internet during the 2018 elections. NBC reports Trump personally signed off on it:
President Donald Trump personally signed off on a U.S. military cyber operation that blocked internet access for a Russian troll farm during the 2018 midterm election, multiple sources briefed on the matter told NBC News…
U.S. Cyber Command, working with intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency, shut down internet access at the facility in the hours before the 2018 midterms and for a few days afterward, the sources said.
Employees of the IRA complained to their IT department about the disruption, the sources said.
“I would not be surprised if the IRA is extremely frustrated right now,” John Hultquist, chief of intelligence at cyber security firm FireEye, told NBC News.
This seems worth doing given that the IRA has bad intent. I do think there’s still some question about how potent the group’s activities really are. A year ago, one of the reporters who has researched the IRA extensively expressed doubts that they were having much of an impact:
“It’s my personal belief that it isn’t all that effective,” Chen said. He continued, “You know it’s essentially a social media marketing campaign with 90 people, a couple million dollars, a few million dollars behind it, run by people who have a bare grasp of the English language and not a full grasp of who they’re targeting, what they’re targeting.
“If you think about that in terms of just a normal marketing campaign, that’s not going to be a very good bang for your buck.”
Chen went on to say that what did seem effective was the amount of paranoia generated by the idea that Russian trolls could be controlling social media.
“I think that the paranoia aspect, right, the idea that there is this kind of all-powerful, or immense propaganda machine that’s going on and that anybody who is tweeting something that’s you don’t like or who is kind of causing trouble on the internet can be chalked up to Russia,” Chen said.
Personally, I think a lot of this is a byproduct of the left’s fixation on Russia as an explanation for Trump’s win and Hillary’s loss, a view Hillary herself has endorsed. Here’s the problem with this view. The Clinton campaign and associated groups spent something like $1.4 billion on the 2016 election. Trump and the GOP spent nearly another billion. In the scheme of all that money and the ads attempting to influence people, not to mention all the 24-hour news coverage, it’s a bit hard to believe that a few million dollars from Russia made the difference. That’s especially the case when you realize that a lot of the money was spent on ads that didn’t really advocate directly for a campaign but only got people worked up about some hot button issue (some of which would surely have worked to Hillary’s advantage).
In any case, there’s no reason I can think of not to shut these Russian jackasses down and make them look like the amateurs they are in the process. But the idea that our democracy is at stake if these dopes post a few memes just doesn’t make sense.