“Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, revealed this week that he had recently met his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva and warned him that “there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference” in the November election.
This was a pointless exchange. It misrepresents how Russia actually interferes in our affairs. The Russian state does not meddle directly. It delegates to proxies, who amplify our divisions and exploit our political polarization.
And the truth is, Americans must recognize that the United States is ripe for manipulation. With a month to go before Election Day, we are ripping ourselves apart.
When I was at the National Security Council, I had similar meetings with Mr. Patrushev and other Russian officials; we met in Geneva, in Moscow and in side rooms at international summits. With the national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, we called them out for intervening in our 2016 elections. We warned them not to repeat their operations in 2018 and 2020.
Our Russian counterparts never admitted to anything. They professed surprise at the uproar in American politics. They had done nothing. The United States, they said, had “gone mad.”
The uproar, we countered, was their fault. They had lost the entire American political class. Their actions pushed our bilateral relationship into a destructive spiral.
We would then run through the now widely reported facts about what Russian operatives had done. Russia’s 2016 campaign was a creative mix of old-style propaganda techniques and new cybertools. On the one hand, Russia state-backed media outlets magnified the most divisive U.S. political conflicts. On the other, Twitter bots and WikiLeaks spread disinformation and revealed hacked emails. Russia’s Internet Research Agency analyzed U.S. public opinion and hired individuals to pose as Americans on Facebook.