Two weeks before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of its report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. It detailed the activities of a network of hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole documents from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It also issued a stark warning: “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.” Since then, current and former officials, including former Pentagon official Michael Vickers and former CIA deputy director Michael Morell have said that the Russians will interfere in U.S. elections again, in potentially new and sophisticated ways.
How disinformation will be deployed in 2018 and beyond is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Kremlin believes its efforts to sow chaos in the American political process, which it has continued to hone in Europe, have worked and are poised for a return.
So far, Washington’s response to all this has been muted. Facing a criminal probe into possible ties between his campaign and the Kremlin, Trump has tried to discredit the case that Russian election interference poses an ongoing national-security risk. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the president has held no cabinet-level meetings on Russian interference. And while other parts of the U.S. government have taken a strong line against Moscow, continuing to support Kiev and codifying sanctions against Moscow for its intervention in Ukraine, the White House has explored ways to undo those sanctions. There is little to deter the Kremlin from deploying its arsenal of cyber and psychological warfare to wage another campaign in the United States, setting the stage for a protracted, ever-evolving conflict just as another election approaches.