National security and international terrorism experts dismissed the latest salvo in the years-long Russian election interference story line after news broke that the 2020 campaign of Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders was targeted by Russia.
“One of the best ways to undermine American democracy is for the media to constantly tell Americans that our democratic system is run by a foreign power, that polls [and] debate outcomes are based not on the appeal of our politicians but from the invisible hand of an enemy government,” explained Northeastern University Associate Professor and Quincy Institute Fellow Max Abrahms.
“Terrorism researchers are familiar with the idea that overreaction to terrorism can be more destabilizing than the terrorism itself,” Abrahms, whose work focuses on international security and the strategic effectiveness of terrorism, added. “The same is true about the hysteria over Russia’s alleged destruction of American democracy. We can admit Russian meddling without going nuts.”
But if you give a political operative a Twitter account and a narrative, well, advising caution is likely to go unheard.
“So [Bernie Sanders] was told by U.S. government officials that Russia has been working to help him win the Democratic primary, and he said NOTHING publicly???” tweeted Democratic Party Super PAC founder Jon Cooper. “This is OUTRAGEOUS! How is it any different than what Trump has done??”
Many experts noted the substantial differences time around.
“The thing that gets me is that none of the purported experts I’ve seen talking about Russian interference seem to get what [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin‘s play is here,” noted National Security Counselors Executive Director Kel McClanahan. “I haven’t seriously studied Russian intelligence or Putin’s psych profile in over 15 years and I know exactly what he’s doing.”
National Security Counselors is a public interest law firm which specializes in national security law and information and privacy law. Their attorneys represent national security personnel, FOIA requesters and whistleblowers–and advisors include Mark Zaid, who most recently distinguished himself by working as part of the legal team for the intelligence community whistleblower whose report indirectly led to President Donald Trump‘s historic impeachment.
Russia is going to interfere to help a Democrat. Maybe more than one. They’re going to do it badly. They’re going to get caught. They’re going to protest and pull a Shaggy. They’re going to blame Ukraine, or Togo, or someone. The entire Trump apparatus is going to make the entire remainder of the election season nothing more than a constant refrain of “SEE THE RUSSIANS ARE TRYING TO HELP A DEMOCRAT BECAUSE TRUMP’S SO TOUGH ON THEM.” That way, either Trump wins or the next President is tarnished from the outset with this specter of foreign interference, and the next 1-2 years (at least) all the right-wing media will talk about is how President Sanders/Biden/Warren/etc. is a big ol’ Russian spy. It’ll ensure that the chaos lives beyond the Trump administration .THAT’S the KGB playbook. Tell me I’m wrong.
Late Friday afternoon, the Washington Post ran a controversial and anonymously-sourced story which cast Sanders’ 2020 campaign as an ungrateful beneficiary of as-yet-unidentified Russian aid.
Per that report:
U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.
President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill also have been informed about the Russian assistance to the Vermont senator, those people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.
Sanders responded while speaking to the press in California:
Here is the message to Russia: Stay out of American elections. And what they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing–and I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff–is they try to divide us up. That’s what they did in 2016 and that is the ugliest thing they are doing, is they are trying to cause chaos, they are trying to cause hatred in America. It’s an ugly business and all of us have got to say ‘Sorry, you’re not going to do this in this election’ and as president of the United States, Mr. Putin, you will not interfere in our elections.
“There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the way Trump’s Republican Party and the Democratic Party respond to foreign interference in our elections,” noted former Obama administration alum and speechwriter Jon Favreau. “They want it. We don’t.”
Other members of the liberal intelligentsia, however, quickly put on their red-scare-tinted lenses.
Tulane Professor Walter Isaacson crafted a viral tweet–since-deleted–that went after Sanders over the issue: “If Bernie Sanders secures the Dem nomination 11 days from now, as is possible, the Russians will have succeeded in hacking our democracy. I suspect that the Russians would then work to elect Sanders over Trump.”
“He could have shared the news a month ago when he heard,” Center for American Progress Director Neera Tanden said–in a tweet that was also later deleted, referencing Sanders’ sarcastic reference to the Washington Post breaking the news on the eve of the Nevada caucuses. “Then there would be no press to blame.”
Sanders Communications Director Mike Casca gently upbraided Tanden–telling her that his boss didn’t share the news because it came by way of a classified intelligence briefing.
[image via Mario Tama/Getty Images]