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Let's also be clear that the the people who are doing this are disarming the American public against a key threat, like totally disarming the public against something they should be defending themselves from. And it's not just the outrage cycle, but the fact that this is a pressing, ongoing national security threat that we just, like don't talk about most of the time is astonishing. The problem with a lot of this hybrid warfare stuff is it targets citizens directly. And right now, American citizens are totally undefended from this for the most part.


And no one is really thinking about how we put defensive measures in place for our public, which means more people are going to do this, more people are going to try to drive us crazy so we blow ourselves up.


Welcome to Politics. I'm Ron Suslow. Recently, the new director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, declassified the intelligence community's assessment of the foreign threats to the 2020 U.S. federal elections. And one of the key findings in that report was that Russia pushed misleading and unsubstantiated allegations about Joe Biden to proxies in the United States, including U.S. officials and individuals close to Donald Trump. Now, after reading the report, I wanted to understand how this new information fit into what we know about Russia's interference in the 2016 election and over the last four years.


What does this mean for our election and national security moving forward? And how can we think about these threats now? And what do we need to do to hold these bad actors accountable and protect ourselves from that threat moving forward? So to get a better understanding of the broader continued threat to our elections and the national security threats we face from Russia. I invited a couple of guests on the podcast to help us think through this report. Joining me again today is John Seyffer.


John spent 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency's National Clandestine Service, and during his time at the CIA, he served multiple tours as chief of station and deputy chief of station in Europe, Asia and in high threat environments. He ran the CIA's Russia operations at headquarters and was also a member of the CIA's senior intelligence service, which is the leadership team that guides CIA activities globally. He's also a co-founder of Spycraft Entertainment, a production company that makes espionage shows and films.


John, welcome back to Political. Hey, great to be here. I always enjoy it. And we're also joined by Molly McHugh. Molly is a writer and researcher of Russian influence and information warfare. Her articles have appeared in Politico, Wired, The Washington Post, Lawfare and other publications. And she's the lead author of a newsletter called Great Power U.S. She was previously an adviser to the Georgian National Security Council and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service.


Molly, welcome to the podcast and thanks for taking the time today. Thanks for having me on. Glad to be here. So, Molly, why don't we start with you to set the table for our listeners. Can you explain what this new report says about election security broadly and more specifically about how Russia attempted to influence the 2020 elections?


Yeah, there was a lot in this report. So I think, you know, sort of a half second news cycle probably worth dipping back into. I think the headline was sort of, hey, all that stuff we did to make this election cycle more secure worked. And it was really downplayed in the report in terms of the technical interference. So the ability to hack systems and get into voter rolls and potentially disrupt counting. And it was like a very short piece.


But I think it really belies the huge amount of effort that was going on behind the scenes by public sector, private sector, all sorts of actors to make that process more secure and counter persistent threats that were happening against the elections. So that's a that's really good news.


It means that we paid attention to that piece from 2016 and are starting to get better at it. It's not you know, it's not something we can put down. There will continue to be these threats against our systems, but we're getting at least more aware that we need to have these defensive measures in place.


That's the good news.


The bad news is really that Russia is still doing exactly the same things it was doing in 2016. The worst news to that is that it's doing it much more out in the open. It's not even really pretending to build these sort of deceptive systems where you can pretend like it's not the Russians doing it. They're just doing it in the open, using Americans as proxies and dupes to get their work done. And that's terrible news. And it also makes us just not care about it as much.


The sort of subset to that is then that Iran and China and a range of other actors who are smaller and less serious about this stuff, well, less able to to accomplish these things so far are also looking at the space and looking at what their interests are in every election cycle and whether or not they should do things. And it doesn't. Really matter that, you know, Ron might be a little clumsy about this.


It doesn't really matter that China, according to the report, assessed that their best interest in this election was not to do anything, which basically means all of their other influence that they're constantly doing in the United States, primarily via financial influence, is enough.


Like they didn't need to screw with the elections because they're fine where they are right now, but that everybody is now evaluating the space.


Do they have an interest? Should they do something to target Americans during U.S. elections?


Because what the Russians did in 2016, they got away with and they have not paid a price for. So why wouldn't you? And so I think there's sort of a range of really good news to really awful news coming out of that report that really we're not talking about and probably won't pay attention to until there's another influence crisis or until we get closer to the next election. But that's a mistake.


OK, that's really, really helpful context. And I want to return to the increasing brazenness in just a minute. But, John, first, as more of a process question, this is a declassified version of a classified report provided to President Biden, senior officials and congressional leadership and oversight committees back in January. Can you lay out what the differences would be between the classified version and the declassified version that we now have access to? What is missing from this report?


What might we not know? In this case, frankly, I think there's probably not much of a difference between the classified and declassified other than information about the sources so that, you know, the DNA report from his hands was done with high confidence, which means they think that they had clear sourcing to be able to say with high confidence. And, you know, the intelligence community's been beat up over the years when they said things with less confidence.


So I think they're pretty confident about this. But to me, what hit me is how much of this wasn't new. A lot of this was in the public sphere. We knew about Constant Kalimna. We knew that Rudy Giuliani was traveling to Ukraine specifically to work with their coach to try to get information that we knew that they were spinning what we looked like, Russian disinformation in the lead up to the election to try to hurt the Bidens. There was a group of national security professionals, myself included, that signed a letter that was in Politico that said specifically that in the lead up to the election that the Hunter Biden stuff and all that stuff that were spun up to Ron Johnson and others looked clearly like Russian disinformation.


So in some senses, it's not surprising, but it is putting the official stamp that the intelligence community is confident that what we saw openly is what's happening.


And as far as the decision to declassify the report, is that something unexpected or is this fairly routine or do you think was there an intention behind the timing of the declassification?


Molly might know better, but I think this was something that the previous administration had set up and Congress had asked for specifically.


Yeah, I think it was requested specifically before the elections. And there was an expectation that there would be a report similar to the ones that have come out after the last elections. There were also credit where credit is due, a few pre-election reports that were put out by DHS focusing a bit on some of these issues. And that was really of course, Chris was fired for doing that.


But it was for me, having seen in all the places that that I work that are not here, particularly in the Baltic states, the importance of trusted, effective public communication on foreign influence, threats targeting the public in those countries. It was really important to see the beginnings of our official systems learning how to talk to the American public about these things when it still matters and when they're being targeted by these operations. So that was, I think, a good sign.


But I think the report was sort of unexpected and needed a piece of paper that needed to come out.


So one of the key findings in this report is that there's no indication, and I'm quoting no indication that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the twenty elections. So that includes voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation reporting results. And this all fits very well with the assessment that, as you mentioned, former CIS, which is cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs said back in November, and he was then fired for the Somali.


We know that there were extensive attempted hacking efforts in 2016 and we talked about them over the summer with Alex Gibney and François, can you help us understand what goes into securing the infrastructure from those attacks and the difference between 2016 and hacking attempts?


And twenty twenty where where we didn't see any I'm still not sure that it's it's not that we didn't see any, it's that they weren't on sort of undetected, if that makes sense, at least from what I know and I don't know how like what of this is public or will be made public, but particularly in the private sector spaces or the people who are doing this sort of as volunteers to help the states and the parties.


There were a lot of attempts to at least find vulnerabilities, again, to sort of fish their way into campaign infrastructure and state infrastructure. But because there was more of an eye on is this going to happen, more security measures were taken in advance. I don't think anything was sort of sitting there looking around in our systems for months this time without anybody noticing that it was happening.


So that's, I think, positive. But I think this this whole this whole subject. Right. And it was the first thing in the in the declassified report, it's become the sort of faint that the Republicans focus on and that the entire public discussion space that is. Yeah, Russia does the stuff, but it doesn't do anything. So who cares and can't do anything about it anyway. Focuses on which is, well, no votes for change. And you'll still hear Republican lawmakers who know this is not the point.


Sit in hearings and say there's not a single vote that's been changed. So why are we still talking about any of this stuff? And again, that's like technically that is correct. Nobody, as far as we know, went into a system and switched to thing that changed this vote to that. But that's not really the point when even in 2016, and it's something that I've written on and debated about a lot, I'm not sure that the hacking piece of what the Russians were doing in terms of the hacking of election systems was the most important thing that they were doing.


I think it was more of a distraction, especially the way the Obama administration became super focused on it for obvious, important reasons. So nobody was paying attention to all of the other influence campaigns that were being run, the information warfare that was happening, the way that the American public was being targeted. And can you tell me that not a single mind has been changed by one, but what they were doing? Absolutely not. Like nobody can say that.


So I think there's this this sort of technical focus is true that as far as we know, because of, you know, Herculean efforts that occurred this time, especially our systems were more secure. The campaigns were better informed about personal security and campaign security. So their information wasn't sort of dangling around for everyone to pick up. A lot was done to make that more secure. Absolutely.


John, you were nodding when Molly mentioned that Republican senators. What's on your mind?


Well, I think that's an excellent point. You know, in some ways, yes, votes weren't changed, but I don't think we expected votes to be changed. Putin is not stupid. He understands, you know, how far he can push. That's what asymmetric warfare is, or hybrid warfare, political warfare, whatever you want to call it that they've been doing to us, frankly, for decades is they understand us very well. They understand what they can amplify and push.


They understand our weaknesses and they take advantage of and they push them as far as they can until there's some pushback. And frankly, he has benefited and the Kremlin has benefited by the fact that we have not pushed back aggressively. And one of the reasons and I think he understands that if he tried to change votes and was caught doing that, that would change the whole discussion of the dynamic in the United States. So changing votes becomes this thing that Molly talked about that we sort of overfocus on.


But it's hard to overemphasize just how destructive this is. Nonetheless, the fact that you're getting close. Aides of the president of the United States, an elected U.S. officials to willingly amplify Russian intelligence and knowingly amplify Russian intelligence is incredibly destructive. So the Russians would see these kind of things about the election, not, you know, stolen election, all these kind of things. And they would push it and push it forward. And and people like Fox and Ohayon and members of Congress were just more than happy to accept that and spread that false information.


And that's doing long term damage to our country. I think so.


On the technical aspect of this, it Molly, it sounds to me that it wasn't that Russia abandoned those attempts so much that there was so much scrutiny that they weren't able to succeed. But how can we think about the effort to secure the election infrastructure when at the same time we saw the solar winds attack going on at the same time? And maybe you can just reprise what that was for our listeners.


There's a lot going on in the cyber domain these days, and I think so there was this massive I think at this point they think it was at least a year, sort of a year long horizon infiltration of this solar winds software, which is a sort of thing that a lot of people have to secure their systems.


Go figure. And they kind of infiltrated the supply line to that via a subcontractor. So when you were updating your software updates, this sort of malware was embedded that allowed access to the system. And this was in, you know, thousands and thousands of big corporations, corporations, Microsoft, Intel.


Yeah. And states and others. And so a lot of potential compromise in the United States and outside. And I'm still not sure that we have a full scope of what that was.


There's others of these that are happening now and that are still coming out. But the solar ones, one was particularly notable, I think, just because of the way that it was done. And then it is sort of the next iterative approach of the stuff that we've seen Russian hackers, Russian intelligence connected hackers doing over time. Before the election, there were also series a broad series of malware attacks and ransomware attacks that were happening in U.S. cities in particular and in other in hospital systems and things like that that were coming from Russian sourced things.


And I think it didn't really get as much of a headline because, you know, it didn't paralyze any cities on the day of the election. But I think all of this is for purpose. It sort of creates this this landscape then of sort of fear of this what will happen when maybe we don't have control. It's something that can be dialed up or down as needed.


But there is just sort of this constant persistent activity in the space. So to say that like nothing was happening and in twenty twenty, I just think isn't isn't accurate. But I don't think this time the focus was on in twenty twenty it was very clear every state was probed, you know, poked.


Around attempted to be accessed to create this perception of election vulnerability, and that was not happening in 2020 in the same way, but there was activity in that space still.


So, John, people like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell spent a lot of time after the election pushing this conspiracy theory that Dominion voting software was used to falsify voting results. And they're both facing some legal trouble over this. But we can see pretty clearly in this report that there's no intelligence to support that claim. Going back to Molly's point about the brazenness with which Russia seems to be pursuing these attacks and how it's changing what other adversaries are looking at in terms of how they might be able to follow suit, what types of national security threats does it present when people who are close to the president are pushing baseless conspiracy theories?


And we've seen the issues around election security. But how can this impact our national security more broadly?


So essentially what you were talking about with Molly is what has happened that we've been looking at since twenty, sixteen till now. Part of the problem is Russia is at war with us. Putin sees us as his enemy and they use political warfare and information warfare, whatever you want to call it, as part of their their foreign policy to do damage to their enemies. And the problem is, we don't treat it that way. We continue to sort of just you know, unless it does grave harm to us, we don't we haven't been pushing back because one party sees a benefit in what they're doing.


And I mean, I know that Tom Nichols, for example, recently had put out a tweet and I support him 100 percent on this, where he used the word traitorous, the activity of these Russians who have been knowingly, wittingly spouting Russian propaganda, disinformation. He called it traitorous activity, Vyse, the word treason, which is in the Constitution and has a specific meaning. It is nonetheless traitorous. If you are rooting for an avowed enemy of the United States and you prefer their leaders to ours, that means you're a traitor to your country.


And I don't say that lightly. I mean, the fact that these people in Congress, specifically Rudy Giuliani specifically, they were told that there is a Russian working for on behalf of Russian intelligence, there was intelligence that was provided to members of Congress. So they should have understood what was happening here, but they did it nonetheless. And when you see your domestic political opponents as a as a more dangerous enemy worth attacking as opposed to a foreign power who's trying to hurt your country, then I consider that traitors as well.


And it's a pretty high bar. But it's also so clear that that's exactly what their position is now. Yeah.


And you mentioned earlier, you know, Moledet about Chinese and Iranians and others are learning about what the Russians have done. They've seen that there's been no price to pay domestically. There's been no price to pay really for Russia for any of those kind of things. But there's another another group that's learning from this, too, is domestic disrupters are learning from this. You know, General Michael Hayden wrote a book in the early part of the Trump era talking about a post truth world and how dangerous it is for a country to be living in this in this sort of post truth world where you can say anything you want.


You can weaponize misinformation and disinformation to your benefit. And so, yes, the Iranians are learning. And, yes, the Chinese are learning a lesson. Yes, others are learning. But there's plenty of Americans now who know that they can just lie and weaponize this stuff and. Then foreigners can then pick that up in the old days where the Russians had to create false narratives like the U.S. created the AIDS crisis or these kind of things that were wholly made up by Soviet intelligence, nowadays they can see Americans making false information and then just pump it back into the system, amplify it and exploit it, just amplify it.


You mentioned China. And during and after the 2020 election, we saw Trump and members of his administration talk a lot about China being a threat to election security. And this report showed that China didn't engage attempts to influence the elections specifically. But can you help us understand what the overall threat level is from China and why they wouldn't be focused specifically on elections? Or maybe not yet, I should say?


Well, essentially, Russia is a disruptive power. They are of an economy the size of Italy. They benefit by doing damage and creating chaos in their neighbors and in their enemies. And so they're using these asymmetric tools, the tools of a weaker power against a stronger power to try to do damage to us. So in the international space, they're a disruptor. China, they want to control and own the the space, the foreigners, but they want to be the largest and richest country in the world.


They want to have more power. So in a sense, they they benefit by the international trading system. They benefit by the economic system. So they're not disrupters in the same way they want to essentially win the day. Russia, Russia can't is not in a position to do that. And so China has different interests. They're just messing with our elections is not something that strategically helps them in the long run, whereas Russia is essentially a weak power.


It's just sort of spinning and causing trouble to try to keep us from focusing on on them and the things that they're up to. And so China essentially as a challenge for the United States, you know, perhaps the word threat is much more important and much bigger. And if the US doesn't get the China relationship right over the next 10, 20 years, that's that's much more important for the United States. However, that doesn't mean that we should allow Russia to actually do damage to our internal politics and mess with our elections and and cause problems for our allies.


You know, we should be big enough to deal with both of those problems.


So I want to dig deeper into what Russia did to influence the election and how this has evolved over the last several years. And one of the key judgments in this report, probably the one that made the most news, was that Russia and its proxies pushed these influence narratives to U.S. officials and prominent U.S. individuals, including some close to Donald Trump. So can you help us understand how this is different from the 2016 efforts to influence the outcome of the election?


Well, in 2016, you know, there was still this the layers and layers and layers of deniability that were being set up by the Russians so that when eventually someone came out and said, hey, look at Russia, they oh, no, it's just people on the Internet, you know, guys in basements, whatever.


They love the deniability of many of these types of operations that they're running. So there was you know, in 2016, you had the humongous networks of false identity accounts being set up on social media, pretending to be Americans, influencing other Americans when really it was Russians. You had all of these other influence efforts through conservative and other groups sort of building relationships and potentially financial connections.


You had all of these bizarre Russian individuals sort of floating around the Trump campaign looking for people to talk to. You had attempted efforts of and very real efforts of Russian intelligence operatives using relationships they had existing already with people like Paul Manafort to sort of have information move in both directions. There was layers and layers and layers of things happening, but most of it was still very opaque, at least until there was investigations of this later, other than the Manafort thing, which was like right there in the.


Yeah, but it was mostly that one at for now.


But but in 2020 there was much less, as far as we can see, of a care that we not know what is happening.


Yeah. And so there was this clunky, clumsy, absurd effort from like day one of the Trump administration onward to like pin all of these things. So first it was no, no, there wasn't Russian interference in the election. It was Ukrainian interference. Right. And the guys who were pushing this Ukraine actually interfered in the election story, then morphed into the guys who were passing this information to Rudy Giuliani and others. But like these iterative approaches to try to smear Ukraine with crap which were coming from Russian intelligence, that then rolled in to all of these.


You know, Biden is a corrupt thug and his son is doing whatever and and reaching out or putting the information in the space and sort of floating it to senators and then having the senators reach out to them and staff and whatever else. But creating these networks where information was openly being shared through media, these guys would sort of put statements on on social media, on their Facebook accounts and whatever these Ukrainian pass Theroux's who are working with Konstantin Klimek, the contact of Paul Manafort, which we can go into more if anyone's interested.


But, you know, he was sort of the you know, the network of relationships was there and they would put the stuff in the public. And then there was the outrage cycle in the you know, Kremlin passed through American press like OCN and whatever that would sort of feed back into these conservative lawmakers who no longer care that their domestic power is coming from foreign interference in American politics.


Who would then, you know, launch these investigations to to launder this information from Russian intelligence into the American system, into the American media in a way that made it seem more legitimate, but they knew exactly what they were doing and did not care. And as as John referenced, you know, they were warned you are working for Russian intelligence when you push this crap.


Yeah. And they were just sort of like, cool, cool, bro.


Like, got another trip to Ukraine coming up in 2016.


They helped create the chaos that we've lived in for the last four years in twenty twenty. They just surfed on it. Yeah. So in other words, they had you know, they knew that if Donald Trump won, there was going to be no cost to them. They also knew that if Biden won, there's no more resets anymore anyway like that. They knew that the relationship with a Democratic administration was not going to be, you know, friendly.


And so they didn't need to, you know, hide these things anymore. They just benefited by, you know, pumping the cash.


Yes, John, this feels I mean, we've said this before, but it just feels so much more brazen on Russia's part. And I you know, I think it's obvious why they would choose to take so, you know, such an overt approach now. But what's just as brazen is, in Marley's words, the Republican lawmakers who know that their domestic influence comes from foreign intervention. Right. I think I think I quoted you write, I don't want to dwell so much on just the outrage of this, but it seems like if we don't get this right, we're in we're in dangerous territory in terms of the like the precedent that we're setting, not just with our relationship with Russia, but with the people we allow to to serve in the in the halls of power.


You know, our leaders, like any leader of any organization, set set the tone for the people that work for them, and there's millions of people who work for the national security state who any of them who did this knowingly passing on Russian intelligence created this information would be under FBI scrutiny, would likely certainly be fired and maybe be under, you know, could find themselves being arrested. So to have their leadership brazenly, like you said, in openly doing this because they see no cost and they see some sort of benefit.


Absolutely. I think this is something that, you know, is doing tremendous damage to our country and it's pumping in. We forget because, you know, we're in Washington and we're talking about these things, sort of what the Russians are up to. But there's a lot of people in the country who are just hearing this stuff and it's just making them more and more outraged and they and less and less have less and less faith in their government and in the system.


And that has long term consequences.


We're getting a little bit off topic, but I really want to talk about this. Why do you think that there has been no recourse for these sitting members of Congress by their constituents? What what do you think is missing here? If there is one thing or we could talk about all kinds of civic problems, but does it boil down to one thing for you or or are we just in a very, very treacherous place in terms of civic education and sort of democratic institutions?


Yeah, I agree with you. I think there's there's a lot more things than one. But I also think that the Trump administration consistently beating on anybody that could hold power accountable, the FBI, the Justice Department, intelligence agencies, the media saying it's fake, attacking the CIA, attacking the FBI to essentially, you know, I believe that the FBI would have and I certainly know the intelligence they would avoid bringing up things that would upset Trump, would avoid, you know, wading into areas where they're just going to get, you know, fired or in trouble or whatever.


And so and also the FBI has always been very hesitant and careful about investigating and Congress and getting involved in Congress because of First Amendment issues and and, you know, historical issues that led to where we are. And so the fact that these people are getting away with it and the people who would then hold them accountable have been, you know, rightly beaten down and hesitant, I think sort of creates a perfect storm.


There's a lot of delegitimization of our own institutions, our own law enforcement institution.


But let's also be clear that the the people who are doing this are disarming the American public against a key threat, like totally disarming the public against something they should be defending themselves from.


And the it's not just the outrage cycle, but the fact that this is a pressing ongoing national security threat that we just, like don't talk about most of the time is astonishing to people like me who have lived in the cyclone for too long. And, you know, I think John really explained it well before. The way that I think about it is very much like the Russian calculus is if we can stir up this room into as much chaos as possible and get to the other side faster than anybody else, because everybody's going to be looking at their shoes like, oh, God, what's on fire, what's going on?


If they can get through it and survive. That's a success for them. And that's what they're focused on. And China is much more cautious and deliberate.


They have vastly more resources to devote to these sort of subversion campaigns of getting people to act against their own interests, you know, corrupting systems from the inside, gaining access from the inside. And if we think we're going to win China when this China problem that everybody is now like, oh, God, this is the century's great threat if we've never gotten Russia right? No, absolutely not. That is not going to happen. And when you have the layers of this, then where we were basically like a post-Soviet state now where you have sitting lawmakers who are openly Russian shills, which, you know, in Estonia and Lithuania and Latvia and Ukraine, in Georgia, there are these guys who are obviously on the Russian dole and everybody knows who they are and they just sort of roll their eyes and laugh publicly, but they know who they are and what the purpose is.


If we've become one of these places where we have open channels for Russia sitting in our parliamentary structures. Right. And we just have decided that doesn't matter because sometimes we agree with them, which is essentially what we are saying right now.


That's exactly where we are. It's really a problem. Yeah. And the other aspect of that is then just that the thing that I rant about the most is that, you know, the problem with a lot of this hybrid warfare stuff is it targets citizens directly. And right now, American citizens are totally undefended from this for the most part.


And no one is really thinking about how we put defensive measures in place for our public, which means more people are going to do this, more people are going to try to drive us crazy.


So we blow ourselves up.


So so they recognize that the source of power in American democracy is ultimately the people. And that is why the people are being targeted.


I think that's exactly right. I think that's fair. And it's also more than just the elections. Let's not forget that they're doing you know, they're running espionage and subversion, deception campaigns. They've been pumping disenroll. Nation into military websites and channels and, you know, spouses of military groups and all these type of things, and they've been using, you know, essentially when the Soviet Union fell apart, it was the KGB, Putin's KGB, who knew where the money was because what money was being held in Western banks for illicit networks and smuggling networks and that type of stuff, so that when the party fell apart, it was the KGB guys who knew where the money was.


And so they for decades have been using dirty money to try to compromise Western politicians, Western businesspeople, bankers, lawyers, these type of things for a long time. So, you know, they're very, very good at these sort of compromising type of games. And the election is as critical and important. And I'm glad we're focused on it, but it's bigger than that. John, you make me think of the conversation that we had with Cammy François last year and, you know, over the past couple of years, we've heard a lot of talk about the Russia playbook.


And I put that in air quotes. And one of the things that can be said and can be for our listeners is a researcher who studies coordinated disinformation campaigns. And she worked with the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to understand how Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election was that there isn't a fixed method for how Russia engaged in their cyber misinformation campaigns. They were sort of throwing things at the wall to see what stuck. Do you do you think that characterization is accurate or how should we be thinking about the use of relationships with people close to the president to push these information campaigns within that context?


Is it is it spaghetti at the wall? See what caused the most chaos? Or is there sort of a systematic, methodical approach? How do you how do you think about that? Put it in a different way, so you have Vladimir Putin, who's been essentially the president or prime minister in charge for over 20 years now, tends to stay there probably for another 16, 17 years. He came from the KGB in the KGB. And it's check his predecessors have been doing these exact same kinds of propaganda, disinformation, deception, subversion, games forever.


That's how, you know, it was always a fundamental part of their foreign policy and their military policy was these things throughout the Cold War. And in fact, even at the beginning of the Soviet state, you know, the first thing they did is created a powerful Secret Service to keep the leaders in power and to keep their enemies at bay, both inside the country and outside the country. And so there's no shortage of examples of how they've done this.


And assassinations always been part of it, you know, liquidating, you know, anyone who is opposing the regime. And so, yes, there is there is a history of it. And where is social media might change the way of weaponize? This information, the sort of basic knowledge of using these things against the West hasn't changed. But but to throw things against the wall thing is true to one advantage that the Russians have against us is they have what we always talk about when we're dealing with terrorism or something.


We need an all of government approach. We need to have all of our institutions and our political leaders focus on one thing and work together. And the problem is the United States is, you know, this massive country that's focused on everything from, you know, Iran to China to, you know, oil to the to Africa. All these issues we're having to deal with Russia. Russia essentially is looking just to do damage to the United States and the United States's relationship with with Europe in their neighbors.


And so every institution of the Russian government understands that they have a KGB president. And to make him happy, you mess with the United States. And so the foreign ministry can come up with things to do. The military defense industrial can focus on things through the FSB, the SVR, the various intelligence agencies. All can come up with ideas to sort of push and try to do damage to the United States. And essentially, if you look at 2016, you can imagine that everybody was trying different things.


So you could remember there was two different groups that broke into the DNC, Democratic National Committee. It's almost as if everyone was trying to come up with something to do damage the United States. And then they could sit back and say, OK, which one of these stuck? Which one of these work? Let's just let's double down on this and move forward. And so that's and that's again, that's not unusual. During the Cold War, these active measures, these covert campaigns, we've had defectors come out, explain how they work these things.


And they said, if you're in the KGB and you're working in a country A or country B, essentially, if you can just do anything to try to damage the United States, that's that's that's good. And the more you can just right back home and say we've done ABCDE to screw with the United States, then, you know, you had a good performance report.


So it sounds like, you know, Putin has essentially set up is this this this Hunger Games of like like a competition within these little fiefdoms to see who can sort of be the most effective, but they're not really coordinating with each other. That's a good thing. And I haven't followed enough domestic Russian politics of late. But there's always been competition. And again, if you're a dictator and you're trying to keep, you know, sort of warring factions, you know, you're the arbiter of these different groups and his cronies in the moneyed classes and the different institutions, you want to make sure none of them ever get too powerful or whatever you want to sort of play them off against each other.


And one day the GOP is looking good and then it makes some mistakes. And and, you know, that guy is not going to become too powerful because they've now made these mistakes and somebody else can sort of push up it. But, you know, everyone understands that you need a camera as a sort of quote, like, you know, everybody understands that you still need to please the czar. You need to please Putin. Right.


And so and he needs to keep them all from getting too big because he's doing threat management at the same time. Exactly. Right. Exactly. Yep.


Which is really effective. And it's something that we definitely don't talk about that much because it's kind of controversial. And the people who are not always Russian shills that use actors, pastors for information sometimes don't know where they're getting it from. But oftentimes when there's information coming out, that's like a very clear this was the gee, are you doing a thing or this was the FSB dropping the ball on something. It's the GRU and the FSB reporting on each other using reporters to do that because it helps them with their stupid internal games.


And I think especially in this, oh, we found some magical information in the dark web situation that is now happening a lot. We should always wonder where that magical information in the dark web comes from and what its purpose is. So there's a lot of this going on, but I think it's this working toward Hitler thing, which is very clear, which is, yes, these guys have tremendous leeway. The different groups, they operate a small units.


There is a lot of competition. They're like little sports teams. Basically, they're very informal. There's a high risk environment. There's really no call. For failure in most respects, and a lot of these units have set up operations because this is so integrated with criminal activity and a lot of places and Russian intelligence services continue to do things like traffic, drugs. And there was a thing today about how someone is stealing bicycles in France for money. Right.


And just like these bizarre Bitcoin cryptocurrency things, a lot of these things sell fund. So their operations that are making their own money that they can put back into other influence operations, that they can do more things, and that gives them a lot of leeway to play around. And if if they if two percent of the crap that they're doing is really successful, then they're happy. And I think that's the piece that's so hard for us to accept most of the time.


And they can go, for example, the government and these these security services that can go to criminal or other groups and hackers and say, OK, we see what you're up to, rather than rather than going to jail, you have to do a certain percentage of what what you're up to on behalf of the state now. And then we'll let you you know, we'll let you continue to do your your criminal and stealing activity on the side. Wow.


So, you know, Molly, insofar as it may actually serve as a Russian playbook, can you tell us a little bit about foundations of geopolitics and how it's influenced the the Putin regime?


You know, it's funny because I really downplay Dukan. What I'm talking about, OK, I teach a class on Russian cyber warfare. You know, I think it's I think DOGOOD is important.


I think the idea that it is a, you know, front to back turn the pages playbook. And for our listeners, this is a book.


So it's a book written by this sort of Rasputin y thinker in the current Russian intellectual landscape, the kind of creates this concept of Eurasian ism. So this idea that Russia is a very unique, isolated empire spanning from from Europe to Asia. And it's that's what makes it unique and powerful. And it will always be powerful and sort of creating the new relationships from, you know, post-Soviet Russian empire. Reemerging is sort of the point, the thing that Russia should be focused on.


And that's a very short version of a 300 page concept that's quite complex.


But but it really goes through a sort of iteratively how Russia should be building its relationships to leverage the fact that it's this massive nine time zone land monolith and what that means going into a new century.


And I do think there's like in terms of who Dugin is and his connections to certain countries, particularly in Turkey, he plays a very important role.


But I also think it's not worth overanalysing, like it's not really the playbook.


I think it's not really a straight line from there to here. OK, no, no, there's no real there's a lot of pieces of doctrine or pieces of thinking that have been very influential on the current Kremlin leadership in the current military leadership. But it is this, I think that the through line and what we see now is the lack of ideology and just this idea that, you know, what frees them and has made them more successful than the crap they were doing in the 70s and 80s is they're no longer trying to convince us that communism is wonderful.


And because they didn't even believe it then either.


Right, that they get that now the ideology is just, hey, our dirty money is great and you want our dirty money and we want to give you our dirty money. And if we all take the dirty money and then just not care, then we can have like this bizarre, weird, like, billionaire structure running everything in the universe. And it'll be great and people will die. But we don't care about people, so who cares?


And the the way that they have pushed this non ideology ideology of take the dirty money and don't care about the rest of it and everything should be about interests and not values, which is why it's terrifying that we're entering a new cycle in American political discussion where both left and right are arguing we should just focus on our interests, not our values. We should really wonder why we think those things.


And I you know, I think certain people in the Bush administration are really pushing back into the we are values. This is why we have ever been a thing. And I think the importance of understanding how true that is.


And even today, I saw something from Unguessed Calama, who was the has had a very a very illustrious resume, but was most recently the UN special rapporteur on sort of extrajudicial killings. And it's going to take over Amnesty International now at the sort of critical phase.


But she's she kind of comes with the big bat and just kind of swings it around on everyone all the time, which and she's this very tiny woman. So it's kind of cool. But she came out and basically said, hey, look, here's the thing. Yeah, the Trump administration was a disaster and they spent four years downplaying human rights and saying it doesn't matter, not caring what happened to Khashoggi, not caring what happened. Volney like. Didn't give a crap about anything.


Nothing to say in any of the critical human rights campaigns unless it mattered and they're like bizarre. Everything is China narrative, but guess who didn't show up in that four year gap? The EU like where it was Germany. Where was France? Where was the UK? Where was anybody else stepping into this? Actually, we care about these values that have held up the, you know, liberal global order for all these years.


And it's a really important criticism that in all the time it was so easy to make Trump the sort of fall guy for for all of this weakness that has really emerged, not just because of Russia, because of other things, but Russia has really pushed that right.


But this idea that we, the collective west, the collective believers in freedom, the collective believers in human rights, the collective believers in the idea that an individual human life matters and has any real significance in the timeline of man, if we do not fight now against this sort of digitally enabled authoritarian crap that is emerging everywhere, especially pushed now by Russia and China as successful models, we will not be living in the same world in a couple of decades.


And I just think people are not paying attention to this. And progressives missed the point and conservatives missed the point. And like, it's really great, your religious freedom stuff. It's really great. You're like, OK, things.


But this whole thing where all of our stuff is defended is just going to not be here if we don't fight for it and there's nobody fighting for it right now.


So, Molly, this is so good. Now, I'm just I just I just want to like, you know, applaud John. When Mark Polymer Propolis was here a couple of weeks ago, we spent a big chunk of the podcast talking about the sort of internal conflict, the eternal tension between American ideals and American interests. And and with the backdrop of everything Molly just said, I wonder how you know and you've talked about this before about the Republican Party, but the Republican Party used to be a values oriented party, specifically when it came to Russia defending and protecting American ideals against Russian influence.


And now we're in this position where we're fighting authoritarianism across the globe. And it almost feels like we might be living through an Apple albums Twilight of Democracy right now. And and I just you know, I'm tempted to ask why. Right. Why how did the party get from where it was to where it is? Because it seems very obvious on its face that Russia wants to do us harm. And it seems almost entirely indefensible or or completely bewildering that a party that had a reputation for being so hawkish toward Russia is now just almost sycophantic toward Putin.


And I just, you know, is a really terrible question. I just I want to pass the ball to you and hear how you're thinking about this, because it's exasperating. And it just seems so obvious to me.


The first mention, the sort of Kremlinology part where you guys were talking about, you know, Dugin and cultural nationalism and people. The Kremlin's always been opaque and trying to figure out what it is that sort of, you know, makes it makes it tick. And I would try to I would simplify that. And I'm going to come back to the Republican thing here is, you know, when you're a dictator and especially a dictator in that system, sort of mafia like system, the two things that really matter, money and control and so much of your foreign policy and much of the things that you see them doing towards the West and other things is about internal.


It's about staying in power. When you're someone like Vladimir Putin who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union was arguably one of the most powerful countries on the face of the Earth. That was it was the other superpower. And, you know, and Putin says because of their weakness or their not their unwillingness to use their brutality, the state fell apart. Just think about how that would impact. If you're you know, we're talking about problems and weakness in the United States.


Can you imagine if our country actually did fall apart and you lived through that, how that would affect you? And then subsequent to that, he's seen and been involved with, you know, Egypt and Libya and the Ukraine and all these other places that seem like they're going along. And that can change overnight. And so if you're the leader of a place like Russia and you've created this system of cronies around you that are dependent on you but could take over at any time in elections are now illegitimate, there's not a real system of of leadership.


Whatever you every day, you have to take action to keep yourself in power and keep your opponents down and make sure that your citizenry that could could sort of come up at any moment. You have to sort of keep them at bay. And that's where he worries about people like Navalny and tries to kill them. That's why he was so angry at Hillary Clinton in 2012 when people came out on the streets and he. Blamed the West for those kind of things, and so translate that to what we're seeing here.


Yeah, we need to start taking these things seriously because we have seen Anne Applebaum is one of the best at this about some of the weaknesses and things that you need to strengthen resilience in a country. I mean, I don't think we're there. I think our our openness of our system and other things are good. But when you do have a Republican Party and it's not the whole Republican Party now, I think they're very, very split and will be fascinating to see where this all comes out, where where politics has almost become like performance art, where that with the more that you can just scream about your enemies and say, you know, horrible things to try to to to.


Spin up anger among a base that can continue to support you to own the Libs, if you will. You know, they've obviously are making some sort of calculation. I think they saw in 2016 that Trump's success was, you know, Cambridge Analytica, the Russians and others were able to find new voters here. They were able to weaponize anger and create a sense of fear in new voters that added to traditional Republican voters that then became that so-called base.


And so now there's there is a number of cynical politicians and others who want to continue to own that base. And they know that they have to continue to use fear, fear of the other immigrants, foreigners, all of these kind of things to maintain that. And then, of course, there's true believers who have have gotten so hyped up over the last four years that they they believe those things. And to try that again back to Russia is Putin understands that.


And so he plays on to that, too. So in one sense, if you're one of these true believers that you can look at Russia and Putin is putting out to the world, hey, we are a country that's white, we are a country that's anti-immigrant. We are a country that doesn't like, you know, homosexuality and all of this welcomeness, you know, and all this type of thing. They said, Maria Buthayna here, who was working with the NRA to show that we're a country that's interested in that, that, as you know, guns and these type of things.


And so it took to to a you know, someone who doesn't follow these things closely. You can look at Russia and say that's what we should be, you know, anti-immigrant, white Christian, you know, anti homosexual, anti-Western, you know, nationalist sort of country. And so, you know, somehow we need to break from those because it's because Russia, they are not our friends. They want to do us damage. And there's a lot of people in United States now who see them as allies.


And that's scary. Yeah.


And that bravado, that sort of machismo does resonate with a big chunk of the Republican base.


Well, I think it's important to sort of understand that this is a little bit like reading the Bible, right, where you can read the Bible.


You can always find the two sentences that will defend whatever your stupid argument is if you're trying to be stupid.


But the Russians have been enormously successful and we have publicly analyzed a lot of this influence targeting conservative groups. And if you look across Europe and the growth of the far right and populist parties, the core of all of it is very simple. And the first piece of the core is this anti-gay hate. And the second piece of the core tends to be misogyny and then anti-immigrant sentiment. And those are enormously effective narratives for getting a whole lot of guys who feel marginalized from whatever to be like.


Yeah, yeah, that's the thing.


So you have polls who are inherently in their core anti Russian now basically spouting Russian narrative because they're part of this bizarre popular populist thing that's happening. And so I think that was enormously effective.


And those narratives have found extremely fertile ground in pieces of the United States via evangelical groups, via gun rights groups, via all this anti-immigrant stuff, this sort of Russia as the great white hope narrative is very effective. It's also why, as John mentioned earlier, there has been a tremendous amount of attention focusing on active duty men, veterans groups in the United States, because these guys are very fertile ground for this kind of targeting.


But that overshadows that those same things in a much less cohesive way are still happening on the left side of the spectrum in the way that the communists were much more effective, you know, sort of during the Cold War days, the targeting of native groups in all parts of the world, native rights groups and minorities rights. You know, did the Russians really care about civil rights, the United States? Absolutely not. Did they work consistently to build relationships with, you know, black militant groups, normal civil rights groups, people who were pushing these values in various phases?


Yes, absolutely.


Because they saw it as a way to push polarizing narrative. And that's still happening, especially in native rights groups, environmental narratives, you know, green rights things. It's just not it doesn't have that cohesive, inflammatory center that has found such amplification on the right. So I think it's it's important to make this not just the one side is the only target.


We saw it this week. So when Biden was interviewed and said it was asked if he thought Putin was a killer and said, yes, yeah, if you recall, Pardoo, Putin responded and his response was, you know, pox on your own house.


Look at you guys, your treatment of black citizens. And they've often pushed on, you know, Native Americans and these type of things. So they are also playing to those groups. And I'm sure there's some there's some resonance there where people say, well, jeez, that's that's right. Putin is saying exactly what our problem is. And so this isn't for him. It's not right left. It's both extremes. Spoking anger and stoking anger and stoking hatred against each other or both tools.


Yeah, exactly. He also said we wish him good health, I think something like that. And then and then added unironically, which is just like the grin on his face was just so, like, sinister. But that's his typical. He's always this sort of snarky, sarcastic, sort of tough guy talk. It's always been his thing. You know, our ambassadors, anybody who's dealt with the Russians on an official basis, you're always start every meeting with this long recitation of, you know, how they grievances and anger and how the West is, you know, did was wrong in Yugoslavia.


And we treated you like, you know, so that's that's not new.


The tiny violence in those moments was just doing the tiny violent thing on the video, which isn't on the podcast, obviously. But but no, but the Putin smirk is classic. And I think a lot of this the Russians and honestly, it's been interesting to watch over the last four years how Chinese diplomats and officials have started emulating the online personas and tactics of the more aggressive Russian diplomats, quote unquote, and others as well.


But they do this because they know what they're playing to. And what they're playing to is the Tucker Carlson audience, because they know they're going to get replayed on Fox News in an endless loop, like, look, the Russians are making fun of what a weakling Biden is.


We should be on Putin's side. And it's just like infinite. Amplification for them, and they love it, so they're all playing to that OCN Newsmax, Tucker Carlson, target audience now knowing they're going to get amplification. And in many, like nobody's looking for like Americans who are going to become the pro China. Please come colonizer caucus. They're looking for this. Oh, actually, all sides suck attitude, which is what erodes our position.


Yeah. Before we move on from this, there's a figure that we've talked about before. You mentioned who really stands at the center of this, and that's Constantine Klimek. And I wonder if you can remind our listeners who this guy is and how he operates and the circle, he's, you know, the circles he's operated within within inside the United States.


This whole Kalimna Manafort Deripaska universe is one that really gets under my skin because, you know, at this point, I have a hard time remembering what's actually become public and what's just stuff that I've seen from journalists and Mueller investigations and others. But, you know, at some point somebody showed me this memo that was the the memo Kalinich wrote to Manafort to get Manafort to send it to Deripaska for this decades long funding of a multi country influence operation being directed by Russian intelligence.


But this piece of like getting Manafort as the one pitching it was so critical. Right. And how it turns out, all these countries I've been working in for all these years, Manafort and his crap were on the other side of it and I just didn't see it most of that time, which drives me bananas because it was all sort of one step back. Right.


So I have a personal stake. But so I think Kalinich is super interesting in that had Russian intelligence training.


I think he was Jiahu trained as a Ukrainian within the Soviet system before being sort of sent out in the period of the Soviet collapse and ends up sort of makes his way into I think it was the Moscow office first, but the Moscow office of Ayari, the International Republican Institute, which is one of the US democracy promotion agencies, in the way that all of these guys find access, which is people need language skills, they need people who have a good understanding of the local landscape, kind of makes himself indispensable in in that environment and eventually ends up in Ukraine doing the same things.


The Ukrainian piece of it is so much more troubling to me because while sitting in a U.S. institution, which is the reason he has validity within the new context in Ukraine, this is during the periods of 2003 and 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, where a young group of reformers overthrew the then still sort of backward leaning communists, left over government of the country and sort of pivoted Georgia toward a new democratic future. And in 2004, you had a similar uprising in Ukraine to sort of throw off the older parties and put new democratic parties into the leadership of the country, which were both it was sort of this pivot point for what was happening in the region and how we talk about it and the sort of increasing Kremlin panic about the quote unquote, color revolutions of countries in their near abroad, turning more toward democracy in the West, you have this Russian intelligence asset sitting inside U.S. democracy promotion efforts.


And boy, wouldn't I like to know what information he was passing along in that environment. There's been like no accountability on any of this, which really troubles me.


But he sits there using U.S. credentials to then gain access to the US embassy. He becomes instrumental to the U.S. embassy because, again, they don't have the language skills in Ukraine. They don't have access that, you know, Ukraine is the most impossibly opaque environment to try to figure out who are all these people, who's the oligarch that backs them, what is their real political interest. And he became the, you know, Ukraine whisperer for embassy people, for all the democracy assets, for all the US businessmen, for like anybody who needed an English speaking guy to explain Ukraine to them.


So he sort of sits there in this instrumental role for a long time and then finds Paul Manafort latches on to Paul Manafort as a way to build this bigger effort to bring more Russian influence into Ukraine to bring Yanukovych back.


And but just the way all of that happens and the subsequent steps behind that and the way he then continues to use that position to recruit Americans, many Americans who worked for U.S. democracy promotion groups into his efforts in other countries in Ukraine as well, and sort of sat there for decades and still has communications with people still still sending information to journalists that he has been had long term relationships with. Right. Hiding somewhere in Russia, now fleeing various countries who would like to arrest him and throw him in prison.


But a really interesting figure, and I think one that's really downplayed in many respects because he's this very de minimus, you know, sort of person. He's a small guy. But he lived this big life doing this work and in this way that we like to dismiss these people as just an errand boy or, you know, just Manafort secretary or whatever, I think played such a key role in connecting the pieces that were critical.


So giving Manafort to these other Russian financial and influence assets where you then have that U.S. connection and better understanding of U.S. systems and goals, the U.S. petina of of influence. But just the fact that you had an American running the operation in Ukraine to bring back Yanukovych, the more Russian interested party in the country, by running, to be clear, totally anti-American campaigns, including an event where they had Yanukovich guys attack busses of U.S. Marines that were in Ukraine for a military operation, for a military exercise.


When you understand how important it was for them to have that American peace out front of what they were doing. So it's not Russia. It's like just Yanukovich hiring some political guy.


You understand completely how 2016 became 2016 and how we are now here at twenty twenty, where the proxies and dupes were the thing that Russia was sitting behind because it allows them to have total deniability. This is just Americans doing this to other Americans. It has nothing to do with us.


Well, the simplest even to simplify that, would you think back about the Mueller report and you know, Manafort as the head of the Trump campaign, as you recall, Manafort was in hock to Deripaska to the tune of 18, 19 million dollars and and provided Trump internal polling data to Kalinich, believing that that might get him out of hock, believing that that information might be worth, you know, millions of dollars to whoever Clinton is going to hand it to.


Who who who? Manafort would know very clearly who that was because he lived and worked in that space and of course, because he was pardoned and because he never spoke to the to the Mueller people. We really just that's hanging out there. So obvious that, you know, internal polling from a U.S. presidential campaign to a Russian intelligence proxy and thinking that it's worth tens of millions of dollars. I mean, just that alone is crazy.


It is crazy. So there's a shift in dynamic that we saw from 2016 to 2020. And Molly, you pointed this out in your piece. There was a shift from the sort of naiveté of 2016 when Trump campaign officials tried to play off accepting help from Russia as a they didn't know what they were doing right. In 2020, we saw the American helpers seeking out meetings with Russian agents and seeking information from them.


So can you both talk about how that shift happened and what security threats that shift itself presents as an intelligence professional who spent, you know, almost 30 years as a CIA officer, the one thing I can say here is finding these kind of proxies that could get information directly to the president, the United States, or directly into channels that Republicans and far right people would listen to is not hard. It's very clear to all of us who are the bottom feeders around President Trump.


President Trump's on a cell phone talking to people, and he's one of those people who listens to the last person he talks to. You can see Rudy Giuliani looking for any information out there. You can see people just sucking up to President Nunez and all these kind of people. This is not hard for an intelligence agency for intelligence to say, oh, if we can get information to Mr. Nunez and Mr. Johnson and into Rudy Giuliani, it will get where it needs to go.


So this isn't like this was some incredibly difficult, you know, really sophisticated operation here. This is this is pretty this is child's play for an intelligence service.


But is it unusual that they were able to get that close?


Yes, you know, I mean, throughout the Cold War, there were always, you know, fellow travelers and useful idiots and businessmen and journalists who sort of were, you know, playing footsie with with Soviets and doing their bidding and helping them out in some fashion. But people this close to the president, people this close to national security issues, you know, actual actual senators and congressmen, very rarely, you know, maybe there are a couple people back in the 1930s, you know, had communist leanings or something.


But what's happening now is is really, really dangerous and there's been no accountability for it. That's really important context. Molly, go ahead.


Well, and I think the the layering of this outward, I think some of the 2016 stuff, it was kind of Russia working in all directions. Right. And, yes, a lot of those Trump people who were like guys they picked up from a truck stop somewhere didn't really know what the hell like they've never been they've no idea what counterintelligence is like. And what was this? Some Russian guy showed up cool. Like I'm big now and like.


They really didn't know, but other people did know, and I think they don't all get that defense, but and once once they were in power, once they're in the administration, they had the intelligence agencies, the FBI telling them this stuff. So to pretend like they didn't know is completely false at this point by 2020, maybe in 2016. I'm sorry. Go ahead.


Oh, and no lawmaker has this defense, by the way, especially not ones on committees of relevance like Ron Johnson. And so what's so painful in the congressional context is, look, these people have always been there. Right? But it used to be the Congressional Surfing Caucus, Rohrabacher and Tulsi Gabbard. So left and right. Right. But that was it. Like they were the ones who would go to Moscow or meet with Assad and bring the information and try to convey it to the United States.


Plus, Ron Paul, who, you know, and Rand Paul, who would would do these things and still act as proxies and go and visit Moscow and bring back information.


But that used to be just that. And now it's this much more expansive group and I think plenty more people who would like to get in on it. But I think the the Russian learing, which is part of the tinfoil hat problem we now have when speaking to the American public, like when you're looking at the various militia groups that contributed organization and members to the January 6th insurrection attack and how many of the leaders of those groups are married to Russian women and maybe some of those now live in Russia and are directing their militias from Russia, which like, why would that be?


It starts sounding bonkers. Like how? Like all the US white nationalists that are married to Russians, including Richard Spencer, who was married to Dugan's translator for just justice context, I think they're now separated.


But so you just have there's like this learing problem of all of these different things connected to Russia. Russia is actively always looking for white nationalists, white identity, neo-Nazi types to influence, to bring to Russia for these bizarre global meetings of the neo-Nazis to do these things. So you have these at the influence in the gun lobby, the influence and the evangelical and religious and traditional values circles.


So you have this layering of Russian money, Russian personnel, Russian people, Russian influence that when you start to look at it really as a headache.


And it's so and then when you have all of this, which is already significant and can push it at small doors in active ways, and you then connect it to guns that have direct access to the president, thankfully now less so.


And guns that can pick up the phone and call a U.S. senator and get the U.S. senator to make that look like real American information. Um, this becomes a really huge security challenge for the United States.


And I just don't think we map this or describe it in the right way.


And now it's so politicized and so controversial when we're talking about Russia that I think how you then unravel it and the Russians have spent the last four years having many of these people who are Russian influenced or the Russians who are acting as lobbyists or whatever in Washington, who have these significant influence networks that they've built over the course of decades, sort of laugh in the public and say, oh, everybody calls me a Russian spy, I'm not a Russian spy.


And like, sort of playing this deniability aspect of. The the instinct for all of us is to believe this can't be as big as it looks and Americans don't want to believe that what we believe is influenced by anyone else.


And I think the most significant piece of the intelligence report that came out about the 2020 elections was the citation specifically of the crap the Russians do is meant to influence US decision making. And we just have to stay focused on that. Yes, it's not just to drive people crazy. It's not just for all these other things. It's not to make Tucker Carlson famous. It is to influence the way the United States government, whether that be Congress or at the military or the administration or the White House, specifically makes decisions about Russia, about foreign policy, about things for the United States that Russia cares about.


And they're doing it extremely successfully or they wouldn't keep doing it the way that they're doing it. And I just think we need to accept that. And just to point out, this is not just in the United States. They've been funneling money to right wing groups, fight clubs, biker gangs, you know, right wing parties in Austria, in Europe. You know, to say this again, you know, if you want to want to know the sort of the playbook, again, look back what they did over the years.


I mean, Anne Applebaum just wrote a piece in The Atlantic talking about, you know, the study of reflexive control. And I know Molly's done some writing on this, too. This is their way of figuring out ways to to figure out what our decision making process is and find ways to insert themselves into it so that we make poor decisions and they do what they've been doing it for decades and they do it here and they do it in Europe.


This is not this is not a unique American problem.


Yeah, but I think the best a good case study for us to look at just in brief and a really good example of what they are trying to achieve. If you look at France and France will be very angry at me for saying this. But the election in which Macron was elected before Macron appeared as a dark horse from the wilderness, nobody had any idea who this guy was and ran for president, managed to win.


There were four candidates in the presidential race who were pro Kremlin for now, varying degrees. You had the Marine Le Pen and the Mélenchon who are like much more openly, like we visit the Kremlin. We like them, will take their money. And then you have the other ones who were like, oh, but interests and French money could be benefited by taking dirty Russian money. And like all, you know, so you the interest people all the way to the ideologues.


But you had four candidates that were pro Kremlin and then McCrone emerges and, you know, nobody really knew what he was about yet. And now you have McCrone being like the only reason he has not consummated his imaginary marriage with Vladimir Putin is the Lithuanians are there with a stick like just whacking him every day within the structures of the EU. And and so I think that is like the ideal Kremlin scenario. And we just need to keep that in mind.


It is not Donald Trump, it is not Marine Le Pen. It is a landscape so awash in Kremlin influence that everybody believes the best thing for them is taking some Goodey from the Kremlin and compromising their own national interests.


And the impact that is having on the EU, on NATO, on American transatlantic relations, on American security is so vast and significant. And it takes the only way to undo it is American leadership, period, end of story. And we just need to do it. And so far we're just not.


And in order to do that, it requires political will, which comes from public support. And to your point about how challenging it is to bring up holding Russia accountable to the American public, you know, any mention of Russia now is instantly charged with did Donald Trump win the election or did he not write the instantly? That's that's a simplistic and as superficial as it gets. And yet we know these attacks happened. We know that this administration is acknowledging them and telling us about them.


So we're doing better than we have in the last four years. But what are some of the steps, John, that the Biden administration needs to take in order to deter Russia and other bad actors from continuing to try to influence future elections?


Ali talked about, you know, getting our house in order, which, of course, is the main thing is if Americans are focused on hating each other, that's going to be a weakness that they can continue to exploit. And they can. Like we said before, I just surf on that bad behavior. So there's some there's some positive things that we didn't see in previous administrations. So a number of previous presidents, even before Trump, always had this assumption that if Russia just continues to integrate itself into the world economy, they're going to start to pick up the norms and values and they're going to be, you know, a regular state and potentially even a natural ally.


So there was resets and there was looking into his heart, Putin's heart and all those other things. I think those days are gone. I think everybody now realizes that Vladimir Putin is not going to change and that he is, you know, has his grievance against the United States and West. And he is essentially an enemy of the United States. So so that sort of effort to continue to try to, you know. I assume that must be our problem because we haven't communicated well, they should be a natural ally is is off the table and that's good.


And so there used to be in the Trump administration that the deepest they could get was, well, we need good relations with them. You know, we need to start working and we need to be good relations, good good relations, no longer good relations for no outcome is is something we need to look for. Like, you know, they're made there specific things that we can work with, with countries and even in the Soviet days when they are our enemy, we worked on specific issues together.


There's issues related to the dirty money, the money laundering. We need to we need to work with London and the West to make sure that we fix our banking systems and money laundering systems so they can stop the dirty money coming into the west. And at the end of the day, when we talked about the things that they're doing, this political warfare as asymmetric warfare, the warfare of the weak against the strong is we have to realize we're stronger, we're richer, we're bigger.


We have a lot better allies. And if we actually push back in a serious way and stop treating them as if they're just a normal state, stop allowing to use our institutions, stop, you know, allowing the come to these meetings and being treated like they're, you know, a great power and all these other kind of things. I think we can have an effect. You know, we essentially have allowed them to get away with things because we assume they're going to turn the corner or we just we assume that there's other bigger things to focus on and we just haven't pushed back.


And so at the end of the day, Putin, again, is a rational person. And if we make it clear that we're not going to put up with it, you know, he'll continue to do it at some level. But but it won't push to a point where it causes us grave damage.


Molly. Anything to add?


Yeah, I think leveraging on all those points, the strength for us is in the fabric of things. Right. And you can call it resilience, which is the Buzzi catchword right now.


But, uh, but it's the fabric of our alliances is what amplified our power in Europe, in the world. And we just need to to accept that again and understand, especially in Europe, how much works that work that takes to drag everyone along, but how absolutely vital and essential it is for us to do that. And obviously, the Biden administration understands that they're very focused on this. They've already done good work, sort of putting some salve on the Asian alliances that we rely on that the Trump administration just bludgeoned relentlessly for four years.


So that's all that's all positive. But underneath that is then the thing that will save us from this is, again, that that common fabric. Right.


And in the U.S., it used to be 100 percent accepted, except for like the 10 percent outliers of of left and right loonies, that Russia is an adversarial power.


And this is not something that we're open to, that we care about our values, that we care about democracy, that we care about, you know, open competitive systems.


And all of that is kind of eroding. And there's been a lot of focus on millennials don't believe in capitalism or whatever the dumb, you know, poll of the day is. But I think if you look at places where the Russian efforts to disrupt our societies and our decision making are less effective, it's countries like Lithuania and Estonia where there is that social fabric of understanding of specific points and where the the where there are official structures sort of communicating to the public about influence efforts on a reliable basis.


And in the U.S., we don't have any of that anymore.


And I think for me, it's this, you know, politicians can only operate within a certain bandwidth of of views and ideology until the public goes bananas. And right now, the spectrum in the US is so bananas wide that any politician can find a base within the spectrum of of craziness, essentially. And we need to close that pact down to like an acceptable bandwidth of governing ideology.


And I think a huge piece of that for me is rebuilding concepts of citizenship, um, of basically we need kind of civil defense structures, but things that mobilize the American public back into the common project that there isn't this lazy.


Only one percent of the country serves, you know, narrative that people are relying on.


And I think we saw what's so interesting is how much we saw all of this in the last year during the pandemic, the utter lack of national level or state level governments to mobilize the resources and expertize we have toward a problem, which is just inexcusable, that that states don't have registries of medically qualified personnel who can be called up in an emergency that we couldn't you know, food distribution systems completely collapsed in the first two months of the pandemic.


Come on. Like we're the richest country in the world and we don't have the ability to do basic crisis mobilization anymore. So it's this like mobilization piece, but calling people into service, Americans want to serve their country. They want to be asked. To do something they want to be told how they can contribute left and right, I think more than anything there is this this commonality and we really need to refocus on how to get people into that, especially younger people who feel very adrift from the American project.


And I think the kind of training and benefits and commitment and education and building of community across sort of class and and geographic and other lines that happens in the process of doing things like civil defense training is really critical and we've seen how beneficial it is in places like Estonia and Lithuania and otherwise.


So if we're not going to do national service, which I think we should do, but it seems like nobody's ever going to try to to to make that a thing.


And I don't just mean military, but national service in general, then I think we need to create more ways for more Americans to participate in this kind of mobilization infrastructure that helps us rebuild our sense of who we are as a nation that feels like a perfect place to leave it.


Before I let you both go, where can people find you on the Internet?


I'm on Twitter at Molly McHugh, Mollel, YMC, KSW and my newsletter Subs. Key thing is at great power. Use a special domain, please sign up. There are free and non free versions and my email is attached to at least one of those so you can find me that way.


Very, very brave. Molly putting your name out there. It's the special email that all the crazy emails go to. Thank you for your spreadsheets. People are sending me spreadsheets full of things.


Haven't you done on my Twitter too? And it's at John Cipher, SPQR, with the underlying thing in between. And I have a company that's working with Hollywood and trying to big espionage movies and shows and and work with writers and producers to do that. And so that's called spycraft entertainment. So the last places where I am.


All right, guys, thank you so much for being here. Thanks for having me. My pleasure. It's always fun. Thank you to everyone at home or on the go for listening. If you have any questions or advice for us, you can reach us at podcast at Politico Dotcom. If you enjoy the show and you find this work meaningful, you can also help us by reading and reviewing the show wherever you get your podcasts. This helps us rise in the rankings and helps new people find us and make sure you're following us on Twitter and Instagram at Political G Pod.


I'm Ron Suslow. I'll see you in the next episode.