Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
75 years ago, just after the end of World War Two, the West confronted a great fear and the terrible mystery. Russia, America's wartime ally, was occupying Eastern Europe with its victorious Red Army.
Its soldiers and spies were installing puppet regimes, communist governments under the control of Moscow, Soviet Russia with expensively stabbing, westward knifing intonations left empty by war, the United States was obliged to help Europe safeguard its traditional freedoms and the independence of its nation. As Winston Churchill said, a darkness had fallen over tens of millions of people.
An Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line by all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe, no one in Washington knew much about what went on behind that curtain.
What did the Russians want? How far would they go? Did they really want to dominate the world? What should America do? President Truman wanted answers in January 1946, an urgent plea for enlightenment went out to the American embassy in Moscow. It landed on the desk of a man named George Kennan.
Kennan was a diplomat who had spent half his life studying the cruelties of the Kremlin. He had been trying to understand what went on inside it for almost 20 years now. He had to explain its inner workings to the White House many years later. He described the task memorably to try to tell people what Russia is like is like trying to explain the act of love. You can try all you want, but you have to have experienced it.
Cannon was second in command at the embassy, but the old ambassador had left. The new ambassador had yet to arrive, and so Kenneth was left running the show. Here he is recounting that day many years later when they finally sent me a telegram expressing their astonishment and concern. I thought, well, for goodness sake, I can't answer that in one question. They're going to have to give me space. And I said Throned tried to give a picture of this government.
As it emerged from the war, Kennan began to conceive the strategy that would eventually help win the Cold War, the strategy of political warfare. On February 22nd, 1946, he unleashed an 8000 word dispatch, it became known as the Long Telegram, the most widely read cable in the history of American diplomacy.
The cable circulated all over Washington to the White House and beyond, out to American embassies and military outposts all over the world. The long telegram tackled the big questions. What did the Russians want? What was Stalin thinking? Kennan wanted his superiors to understand that in Russia, the truth was whatever Stalin said it was. Kennan said that the Kremlin didn't believe in the existence of objective truth. As he put it, it viewed all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another.
They believe that if they can maintain a monopoly of information, they will ultimately succeed in brainwashing their 70 million captives. Cannon warned that Russian intelligence was highly skilled at espionage, disinformation and subversion, he said Stalin and his spies would try to, quote, disrupt America's self-confidence, increase social unrest. Poor will be set against rich, black against white, young against old, newcomers, against established residents. Sound familiar?
Cannon proposed that the United States had to harness its strength in a way that had little to do with armies and air forces, but everything to do with the projection of political power. In 1947, Cannon turned the long telegram into an article for Foreign Affairs, a quarterly journal that was the Bible of the American diplomatic establishment. He published it anonymously because he didn't want it to be mistaken for an official pronouncement of the State Department. The byline just said X.
But when the piece became a sensation throughout the United States, Kennan was unmasked and acclaimed as America's leading expert on Russia. Kennan wrote that America could contain Russia's imperial ambitions without using weapons. It could project its power without starting World War Three. It could, in his words, confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce. He was now the State Department's chief policy planner. His job was to help assemble that counterforce. And in the summer of 1948, he wrote a new manifesto.
It was America's first concrete plan to contain Russia's power and to one day drive the communists out of Poland, Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe. He called it the inauguration of political warfare and it was an explosive document. Only a few copies were printed. Some passages are still classified. Top secret today. In it, Kennan said that political warfare included all the means at a nation's command short of war to achieve its national objectives diplomacy, propaganda, espionage, covert action, supporting underground resistance movements, and a crash program to save capitalism in Western Europe.
Cannon work next door to the secretary of state, General George C. Marshall. He helped devise the Marshall Plan to rebuild war torn Europe. Cannon's experience with the Marshall Plan gave him a keen appreciation for the power of political warfare, the power of projecting an image as a key part of foreign policy. Here he is talking about it in 1993, episode of The Charlie Rose Show. There was a certain analogy here to what happened with General Marshall's plan for Europe, Marshall Plan after World War two.
That's right. In 1947, when Marshall gave a speech, which was only a general hint that if the others were to pull themselves together and form a common plan and come to us, we might help them. Actually, half of the problem was cured the moment people heard that speech and got the idea that something is really going to be done. The belief that that really things were going to happen, some people Kennan's ideas worked.
They helped America win the Cold War. But now, 75 years after the long telegram, Cannon's blueprint is in tatters. America has lost the ability and perhaps the will to conduct political warfare. The president has refused to fight back against the attack on our democracy. He has done nothing to contain Vladimir Putin. Which is why Russia has the upper hand in the struggle today. I'm Tim Weiner and this is World. In today's season finale, we're talking about the new war in which America finds itself and what the country needs to do in order to fight back.
We're exploring the future of political warfare and the opportunities for political mayhem made possible by new technology. And in the wake of the 2020 election, we're asking how the next president can contain the threat, push back against the Russians, fight off the influence they have cultivated in the United States. A lot of people are thinking about how America can get back in the struggle on offense and on defense, one of them is Linda Robinson. She's with the Rand Corporation, a global think tank created in 1948 to advise the American military.
Two years ago, Linda led an acclaimed study of the current state of political warfare, and now she's working on a new one about its future. Before all that, Linda was a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, the same magazine where George Kennan published his thoughts under the byline ex back in 1947.
There is a great deal about the long telegram that still holds true today. I think it was apt in ways that are still true over Russia today. That has proved to be, even though it's a smaller and waning power, has a taste for adventurism, opportunistic and audacious moves, and, of course, employing the full suite of tactics that they developed back in the Cold War. Putin embodies that with his Red Sea resort to the so-called active measures. And I think the seams and fissures that have opened up in our society are exactly the thing that Russia and others have been exploiting using a multifaceted set of tactics.
How would you assess the current state of American political warfare?
Well, in terms of what the US should be doing in response to the multifaceted practice of political warfare by others is, of course, have its own toolkit. And I don't think that we are really thinking about it. Really, what is happening within our government is girding for a conventional war that overlooks the fact that we're currently being subjected to the political warfare of others. It's a subversive form of warfare to which we have to have a deliberate strategy in response.
You found in your major study on modern political warfare that the military has a major role in it, particularly special operations forces, SEALs, Rangers. How is that possible?
Many people don't realize the majority of our deployed special operations forces are actually not deployed in the so-called generic or combat operations. They're also conducting civil affairs operations and they're also conducting psychological warfare, psychological operations, CIA.
How big, how muscular is the psychological warfare science contingent out there in the world? It is small, it's underfunded, and it has been under supported, quite frankly, quite bluntly, by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the special ops community. And our national strategy in general got, I think, really knocked off kilter by over focus on counterterrorism. I would say the CIA did, too. It's very critical that this be brought back into balance to be able to cover down on all of these missions.
And you where where the CIA goes wrong is when it isn't part of an orchestrated approach. And national strategy is only the beginning. There isn't a sufficient understanding of the phenomenon, and therefore there's no real effort to organize the government appropriations.
I mean, to conduct political warfare, you have to see it as an orchestra and you have, you know, 17 different musicians, the 17 different agencies, including State Department, the FBI, the intelligence community. But they have to have a score and they need a conductor. What is our score now? What what what is our role in the world after four years? Of this presidency, I frankly don't see any alternative, but putting the State Department in charge because the Syrians are coming at us with a finely orchestrated set of tactics across that spectrum of political, military, intelligence, economic, financial.
We need to be as adept in orchestrating all of our many tools of national power and also societal power.
So can the next president simply say, hey, let's get the band back together? This seems to me to be. A generational problem like it's going to take decades to fix. Well, I don't think we have decades, but I think it will take time and thought. And I do think the overarching thing is for the president to recognize that this is a severe form of warfare that is currently underway. And because of the nature of it, it needs to be conducted through primarily a non military strategy.
And I think it's just important, along with rebuilding the country and the State Department, that an effective information strategy and a Codrea across the government are to conduct that. So cyber information, deep country knowledge and then a set of resilience measures.
Linda, let's assume that there is a next administration and President Biden signs a directive to rebuild America's capability to conduct political warfare and to confront Russian active measures, what should be on the to do list first on the to do list would be to place the State Department in charge of political warfare.
And then I would say your probational defense and options is really critical and we need to have the structures to do it. And I would put a number of small military advisory out it places to help the countries that are targeted, formulate and execute their own plans. It's absolutely important to understand what we did before, what we did that worked and what is possible to our current situation. With the president spewing disinformation and waging political warfare against his own government, it's become the job of a free press to defend American democracy in the war on truth and identify the enemy.
After the break, we'll hear about the future of political warfare from a reporter on the front lines. David Sanger is a national security correspondent for The New York Times. He's also one of the greatest reporters in America. I know, because we worked side by side for seven years, way back in the 20th century.
He's been on three reporting teams that have won Pulitzer Prizes, including one for his investigations of Russia's attacks on the American body politic. And he has spent many years thinking about the perpetual struggle of political warfare, its present state and what the future they hope. A new HBO series is based on his book, The Perfect Weapon War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age.
David, we've slowly come to understand Russia's political warfare operations in the 2016 election, how they weaponized hacked information, we know how they stole data with cyber attacks and used it to discredit democratic institutions and inflame political anger. But I don't think people understand the crucial difference between hacking infrastructure and hacking people's minds. Can you explain that?
They are wildly different and they require very different defenses, very different offensive elements to deter them and a different way of thinking about them. So let's start with hacking infrastructure, because it's sort of the easiest one to get your hands around first before the twenty sixteen election. If I say you were worried about Russian cyber power, you probably would have said to me, Oh, because you mean they're putting all that code into our electric grid and they might be able to turn off the power between Boston and Washington or Seattle and L.A. and I'd say, yeah.
And in fact, that's what the cyber problem intell Americans became aware of.
Information operations seem to be all about. It was about breaking into financial institutions. It was about breaking into that power grid. It was even about breaking into emails, whether it was a Chinese effort to steal intellectual property or a Russian effort to steal emails, as they did from the Democratic National Committee or from John Podesta or something like that. And that's traditionally what you think of as cyber operations. Right.
And sometimes you use them to steal and sometimes you would use a hack of infrastructure to go in and basically fry a piece of real world equipment. And it's what we've long been worried that the Russians could do to power to the gas pipelines and so forth. So that's one category. And to stop that, you need to harden your defenses and be able to go in after the offender and get into foreign networks. Information ops hacking the mind is a little bit different.
There it's all about turning our existing systems against us, whether it means spreading a falsehood on social media, on Facebook or on Twitter, amplifying a divisive message inside the United States. So when the president of the United States tweets out, stop the count and amplification of that from the Russians or anybody else would be a form of information operations when in 2016, the Russians created fake personas on Facebook to set up a Black Lives Matter protest and then an anti Black Lives Matter protests across the street.
That's an information operation.
What neither side could have known is that Russia trolls. We're encouraging both sides to battle in the streets and create division between real Americans.
The goal here was really about creating chaos, creating a climate of incivility effectively to sort of undermine the American democratic project generally to undermine when they try to suggest that votes aren't being recorded correctly, make you question the validity of our system.
That's an information operation and that's the distinction. What have we learned about what they've been doing in the 20 20 election? Well, the information operations side, they've done that, although they've done it differently than in twenty sixteen. Right. In twenty sixteen, as I suggested, the Internet research agency actually tried to create personas to suggest that they were Tim's neighbor down the street advocating secession for Texas or something like that in 2020. We didn't see as much of that because they recognize that this time Facebook had their radar on in 2016.
They hadn't even built the radar and that would be harder to pull off.
So instead, what they've done is try to spread messages more generally through their own news organizations or tea and so forth to some fake news organizations.
Put the message in the minds of real Americans who have real First Amendment rights and hope that they will repeat it, which has frequently been successful.
So if the president came out and said that the mail in ballot system is rife with fraud, for which there is no evidence, that's why they did the mail in ballots where there's tremendous corruption and fraud going on, they would repeat on all their channels. The mail in ballot system is rife with fraud.
And here are a bunch of different examples of how some of these allegations are quite difficult to prove. But some of the others might be a little easier to substantiate.
East Texas official is in jail accused of committing voter fraud. Wiggins requested a mail in ballot for himself and his wife.
None of this sounds like an atmosphere in which one can have a free, fair and transparent election.
The only difference between that and what Stalin did to him is that with the Internet, you can broadcast it more widely or you can target it more precisely. Stalin had to go put ads and farm newspapers, and he never knew if anybody was reading the sanctions.
Condemnation appeals to the United Nations and endless grandstanding. Perhaps the results. If this kind of election was seen by the United States happening in another country, illegitimate, they might call it. Well, perhaps it's time that the United States.
So, David, are the cyber attacks and the disinformation campaigns that we've now become familiar with, are they now old school? They're constantly evolving.
The first thing that they may have concluded is that they're going to have to be a lot more subtle, that you're not going to get those fake personas in and so forth. So they have to basically be the echo chamber and advancing that echo chamber. The second thing they may have concluded is wait for some other issue. Maybe it's covid. Maybe it's spurring more opposition to vaccines in general. That's been a big theme of theirs over the years. They promoted the, you know, vaccines cause autism.
Vaccines cause a number of other bad side effects. A lot of that has gone back to them. They may well decide that was just too much attention and they should attack elsewhere. While social media platforms have started taking steps to prevent disinformation campaigns, there are other dangers, new forms of political warfare threatening America. More on that after the break.
Before the 2020 election, the United States Cyber Command, the cyber war arm of the National Security Agency, dramatically expanded its overseas operations against state sponsored hacking groups in Russia, China and Iran. It took at least one Russian troll farm offline. It went on the attack against trick bots, malware networks that can shut down government agencies, hospitals and huge corporations and hold their computers hostage for ransom. And at the same time, the social media giants began flagging disinformation, including a torrent of lies posted by the president.
We've done some deterrence by denial. That's when Facebook is looking for this stuff, that's when Twitter slaps those warnings on top of of tweets or takes things down. We have done a better job of going after the foreign servers that contain, for example, the ransomware. That was a fascinating pre-election element of this, where U.S. Cyber Command went and attacked, as best we can tell, the trick bot network.
This is the network of tools that are used to create some of the best ransomware. And meanwhile, separately, Microsoft and other companies used federal court orders that they've gotten to take down the servers that had some of that software on it because the servers were imitating Microsoft network facilities and those gave them a way to go do it. And that became a pretty effective pentru movement.
The tech giant went to federal court in Alexandria this month arguing Trick Bot has infected Virginia computers. Microsoft asked permission to dismantle trick bots capabilities, citing its threat to election systems. A judge agreed, and the efforts are showing promise.
So you had deterrence by denial. You had the legal action. You had Cyber Command defending forward, as they say, by going into adversary networks. I'm sure in the next few weeks, Cyber Command will take credit for other actions that they did against the Russians and the Iranians. They made public some of the Iranian amateurish efforts to send out emails and crude videos and so forth. So, yeah, they did a much better job. What's hard to measure, Tim, is.
Did that actually deter Russian and Iranian action or were the Russians and the Iranians holding back a little bit for other reasons, recognizing the amount of tensions on this and whether they thinking of operating based on other targets apart from the election and this post-election period could well be that target. Because if you're in a divisive period where the president is shouting fraud, fraud, fraud, even if they have not cited any evidence that there is fraud, that's a perfect message for rebroadcast by anybody wanting to run an information operation, particularly the Russians, because it gets to the core of what they want to establish, which is that our system is broken.
That's a pleasant prospect, isn't it? It is. But unpleasant as it is, it would have been a lot more unpleasant for us to think that the Russians actually got in and altered votes.
So think about it. Fox News, for all of their support over the past four years for Donald Trump, has been very careful not to give him much of a platform on the fraud issues.
At this point, is there any hard evidence of fraud? There doesn't seem to be so far. There seem to be some allegations, but not hard evidence.
And when the Hunter Biden stuff came out in The New York Post, it was because Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon and others had shopped this data around elsewhere and people were concerned that it was Russian created. We don't know yet, at least I don't know yet that it was. But their defenses were up so much that a lot of traditional news organizations wouldn't touch it. And even when The New York Post published it, many wouldn't repeat it. What's that tell you?
It tells you that people were hyper aware to the point that you had many in the Trump campaign complaining that there was a mainstream media conspiracy to keep their message from getting out. That's really an interesting position to be in. Deep fakes are another new weapon of political warfare, manipulated audio and video with people saying and doing things they never actually did, a deep fake could portray. Joe Biden declaring nuclear war and it would rock around the world before it was knocked down.
So in the early days when we were doing this in a crude form, people would Photoshop photographs and it looked like two people were together who never were together. Right.
But usually you could go deconstruct the Photoshopped picture and you could see if you looked really carefully, the seam, the different background, lots of little telltale signs, it would be the equivalent of hearing an accent that didn't quite sound right if somebody was imitating someone else's voice.
What the new technology has allowed people to do is basically really, really, really good fakes that take away that bad accent, the take away that telltale background that make it look like some politician is walking out of a hotel with somebody who they shouldn't be walking out of the hotel with or make it sound like Barack Obama just gave the speech that he never gave because it does his voice so well.
And the risk is that you get taken in by that, and that's why big news organizations now have their own forensics teams or send things out to forensics teams to make sure that something is not faked before they go and write about it. You'll remember that four years ago when there were reports of tapes that were rolling around, which never got produced of Donald Trump engaging in activities in Moscow that he shouldn't have engaged in, the tapes never showed up.
But there were a lot of discussions among news organizations about what would you do if you were handed a tape of Donald Trump like that or any other prominent figure. How would you assure yourself that the tape wasn't faked?
And that's an increasingly difficult question. And by the way, it's not just politicians in hotel rooms.
If I could create a fake satellite photograph for you of the North Koreans getting ready to go launch an ICBM. And I could convince American intelligence, the American military, somebody like that, that that's happening, I might prompt a preemptive strike on North Korea for something they didn't actually do.
It's not just news organizations that have to worry about this.
It's intelligence agencies that have to worry about this. It's the Pentagon targeteers who have to worry about this.
Well, I'm now thinking about Donald Trump alone in the White House and how bad actors could make use of his temporary isolation by creating a manufactured video, a deep faith of Trump declaring martial law or telling the Magga RedHat, where's to go, you know, storm their state legislatures. And I'm thinking about how long it would take to knock down the thickness of that deep, thick, you know, the old saying that, you know, ally speeds halfway around the world before the truth even gets its pants on.
That is a real risk, but all a significant risk at a moment that you've got people predisposed to hear or see things that fit their political view, whether they believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump or whether they believe that the election was taken away or some states were taken away or some votes from Biden. Part of making a deep fake work is making sure that the target of it is predisposed to accept its authenticity and not to question it.
Now, there's an aspect of political warfare that looks more like war. Cyberattacks on infrastructure like electricity grids, hospitals, financial systems, transportation since 2010, the number of attacks have increased exponentially.
The reason for it is that it's a lucrative business for ransom attackers as well as for nation states in twenty eighteen.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a Joint Alert warning that Russian cyber actors had been targeting U.S. government entities and critical infrastructure sectors since 2016.
Just looking at Russia. What are Russia's capabilities to do that to us? The capability is very high, but a point that I make in the perfect weapon, both in the book and in the HBO documentary, is that one of the characteristics of cyber attacks so far is that they have been very carefully calibrated not to go beyond that short of war, but that while people throw around the phrase cyber war, when I describe it, I describe it as low level daily cyber conflict.
But it's conflict that is designed to go just below the threshold that would bring about a military response. Could the Russians have turned off the power grid at some point in the United States? Yeah, I assume they could. But if they did, they know that the response could very well be a visit from B2 bombers. Whereas if instead you're just going into the DNC or you're stealing emails out in the State Department or you're doing what the Chinese did and getting the top secret and above clearance records out of the Office of Personnel Management, the world's most boring bureaucracy for 22 million Americans, that those things will be regarded as offenses.
They might even bring about sanctions or indictments, but they're probably not going to trigger a military response. And this has been the problem in deterring cyber action so far, which is that no one believes they're really going to pay a cost.
So how is the U.S. dealt with this? Well, my colleague Nicole Porath and I broke the story in early twenty nineteen that said that the United States had gone into the Russian power grid and put malware that they meant for the Russians to see in the system to make it clear that if they turn off the power from Boston to Washington. We could also go off from Moscow to Leningrad, was that effective? I don't know, because the Russians hadn't turned off the power even before we did it.
But there is always the fear here of escalation. You know, when we see somebody else's code sitting in our utility grid or our gas grid or our banking system, we say, oh, my God, the Russians are going to shut us down. But when we put code in their systems, we call it preparing the battlefield or surveillance or forward defense or persistent engagement. We assume that everybody will know that our intentions are not as evil as their intentions.
And that's usually a prescription for somebody making a misjudgment somewhere along the line. The history of warfare tells us that if you develop a weapon, you will eventually use it. What would a massive attack on critical infrastructure in the United States look like and what would a proportionate response look like? Well, a massive attack on. The Internet on the power grid and all that would bring the country to a screeching halt and the response would probably be a military one, which is, as I suggested, why it is that it hasn't happened yet because no one wants to go take the United States on directly and militarily if you can corrode them with a series of much smaller attacks.
The reality is that cyber is a much more powerful weapon used in much more subtle forms in the information warfare that we were discussing before.
An attack in the US could leave people without electricity for days or even weeks, according to experts, because America's advanced automated grid would be much harder to fix.
David, I remember when I was covering national security for The New York Times, I went in 1999. I went to see Richard Clarke. He was widely known as the terrorism czar, and he was deeply concerned about al-Qaida. They had just blown up two of our embassies in Africa. But he was more worried about what he called a cyber Pearl Harbor. I cocked my head and I said. And do people listen to you when you talk about a cyber Pearl Harbor, and he said, no, they don't.
And it's been a source of enormous frustration for me because I can't get anybody to listen to me, not in the White House, not in Congress. And this is why I'm doing the interview rather than, you know, pour gasoline over my body and burn myself up in protest in front of the White House. I want you to transmit that message while I went back and poked my editors and they were like, that guy's crazy.
So the cyber Pearl Harbor phrase, I went I dug through to go try to find its first uses and they go back like a quarter century. And what's interesting is, hasn't happened yet. But who picked up on it? Leon Panetta.
You may remember when he was secretary of defense, he went to New York and went aboard the aircraft carrier that's moored right off of the West Side and gave a speech about cyber risks that use the cyber Pearl Harbor phraseology. And I said to him. When you know that cyber Pearl Harbor is considered to be possible, but like the least likely of this set of events, that that could happen.
And he said, oh, yeah, I know that.
He said, I use the word for very specific reasons, because if you want to get the attention of people in Congress and make sure that they pay attention to this, that they fund this, you need to put the analogy in a form that they can imagine.
And a cyber Pearl Harbor is in every major military operation designed by the U.S. and its adversaries has cyber in the opening hours and cyber later on. Right. Those plans exist for every major adversary, but they are only to be used when you're also ready to go back it up with traditional military power day to day cyber, that's all going to be below the level of armed conflict.
David, looking out over the horizon, do you think that the next administration will be able to marshal America's thinkers and leaders to revive? Our political warfare capabilities to play offense and defense, so. Back to where we started, Tim Hacking infrastructure versus hacking mines. Democracies are not great at information operations because they basically require peddling untruths. Right. And once you get exposed to be doing it, two things happen. First, you've been dragged down to the level that the Russians are operating at and no one will believe anything right now.
What you've lost your word. Think about why it is that people tuned in to Voice of America at its peak or people will go for, you know, reading and believing what they read in The New York Times more than what they read, you know, in on Russian websites or T-. It's because as a democracy, we have a reputation for truthfulness, even if there's a lot of noise around it and in a lot of a lot of other garbage that flows in the system.
People know that there are some trusted sources I wouldn't advocate. As a good policy for the United States, that it turns around and does what the Russians do, I actually think that that would be playing into their hands. So I think we can design a good cyber strategy on the infrastructure side. But the only way you're going to protect yourself on the information warfare side is educating your own populace, as we've done a pretty good job of in the past four years to be alert to disinformation and exposing its sources at the other end.
But I don't think you want to be in the business of trying to counter it with disinformation of your own. So what they've done to us, we cannot do to them. Look, there's always been in the US government and you've written about it better than anybody in CIA operations and all that. There's always been some level of disinformation that's been out there. But to do it on the Russian scale, I don't think that's what you want Americans doing.
I think that that does more harm to the brand than anything else.
I think our greatest weapon over the years, going back to the end of World War Two maybe before was our images the shining city on the hill, for I believe that Americans in 1980 are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining city on a hill as where those long ago settlers we could project the image of American democracy abroad and do it with intent and purpose and.
And. With a straight face, we can't do that anymore. Look, that was a problem before Donald Trump became president and I think it accelerated in the Trump years. And it's what happens when partisanship. Plays out over. The image of the country itself. Our soft power has come from the fact that people wanted to come to the United States. Try to become American citizens, even if they couldn't wanted to study at our universities, even if they couldn't wanted to see our movies and download our stuff and listen to our news, and that's what we've got to get back to.
That's why we do some harm to ourselves when we build up walls, because, frankly, you want to be the country that everyone aspires to come to, the fact that we've got the best university system in the world. The fact that people aspire to American like freedoms. The fact that for all the noise that is made by Putin and everybody else to tear down democracy, that people do still want to go replicate. And the fear of these past few years is that we're playing into Putin's hands by making our system look more like systems that we've spent years decrying, more like Russia, more like Russia, more like any system where the leader can call out the military to put down a protest, more like any system where the leader can make baseless claims of fraud in order to try to go manipulate an election.
That's not the reputation we want. That's something we should not be throwing away. This is the last episode of when I took the name of our podcast from a passage in a letter Alexander Hamilton wrote to George Washington back in 1792, it's Hamilton's warning about how Americans could lose their democracy to a despot.
When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, desperate in his ordinary demeanor, known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty, when such a man is seen to mount the hobbyhorse of popularity, it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion, that he may ride the storm and direct the whirlwind. The whirlwind we're in again, four years ago when Vladimir Putin helped install his chosen candidate as the president of the United States.
American intelligence failed to foresee the approach of the attackers. And that failure enabled the success of the sabotage. It was, in a way, a digital 9/11, nobody died, but American democracy has been wounded. We were fools to let it happen. America went on a long delayed counterattack. And it contained a new Russian offensive. But the Russians had a secret weapon, an agent of influence in the Oval Office, the most powerful combatant in political warfare against the government of the United States, has been the president of the United States himself.
And it's going to take years to begin to repair the damage he has done to our democracy. We're at the beginning of a new era of political warfare. And to win that struggle, we should heed the words of George Kennan.
If you were today asked to define the challenge for the United States after it got its house in order and the role it should play in the world, how would you define it? First of all, to put our own society into such good order that it would stand as an inspiring example for other countries who want to lead the sort of life of a self-governing and democratic country, a representative government that we have. It doesn't have to be exactly like our democracy.
We have to fight back against the darkness that has descended on the United States. Only free people and a free press can keep that darkness from destroying us. Where one is presented by Caden's 13 Jigsaw Productions and prologue projects, the show is written by me, Tim Weiner, and produced I Know My Husband, Andrew Parsons and Leon NEFA with editorial support from Madison White. The story is based on my book, The Folly and the Glory America, Russia and Political Warfare.
Whirlwind is executive produced by Chris Corcoran, Alex Gibney, Stephen Fisher, Stacey ofMan, Richard Borrello, Joey Mara and John Schmitt.