Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Russia's online disinformation has a 100-year history

By Stewart Baker - April 21, 2020 at 06:06AM

In this episode, I interview Thomas Rid about his illuminating study of Russian disinformation, Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. It lays out a century of Soviet, East European, and Russian disinformation, beginning with an elaborate and successful operation against the White Russian expatriate resistance to Bolshevik rule in the 1920s. Rid has dug into recently declassified material using digital tools that enable him to tell previously untold tales – the Soviets' remarkable success in turning opposition to US nuclear missiles in Europe into a mass movement (and the potential shadow it casts on the legendary Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the US nuclear navy), the unimpressive record of US disinformation campaigns compared to the ruthless Soviet versions, and the fake American lobbyist (and real East German agent) who persuaded a West German conservative legislator to save Willy Brandt's leftist government. We close with two very different predictions about the kind of disinformation we'll see in the 2020 campaign.

In the news, David Kris, Nick Weaver, and I trade perspectives on the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari on the question when it's a crime to access a computer r "in excess of authority." I predict that the Justice Department's reading of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act will lose, but it's far from clear what will replace the Justice Department's interpretation.

Remember when the House left town without acting on FISA renewal? That's looking like a worse and worse decision, as Congress goes weeks without returning and Justice is left unable to use utterly uncontroversial capabilities in more and more cases. Matthew Heiman explains.

In Justice Department briefs, all the most damaging admissions are down in the footnotes, and it looks like that's true for the inspector general's report on the Carter Page FISA. Recently declassified footnotes from the report make the FBI's pursuit of the FISA order look even worse, in my view. But at the end of the day, the footnotes don't add much to suspicions of a partisan motivation in the imbroglio.

Speaking of IG reports, the DOD inspector general manages first to raise the possibility that Amazon was the victim of political skullduggery in the big DOD cloud computing award and then to find a way to stick it to Amazon anyway. Meanwhile, the judge overseeing the bid protest gives the Pentagon a chance for a do-over.

Matthew covers intel warnings about China-linked 'Electric Panda' hackers and the Syrian government spreading malware via a coronavirus apps. And David notes that a Zoom zero-day is being offered for $500,000.

Nick and I mix it up, first over the Gapple infection tracing plan and their fight with the UK National Health Service and then over Facebook's decision to suppress posts about anti-lockdown demonstrations that violate the lockdown. I think that's highly questionable and not something Facebook would be doing if the first demonstrations had been Black Lives Matter activists in Detroit – or regime protestors during the Arab Spring for that matter. Nick thinks it's the best way to treat a "zombie death cult serving haterade." So, all in all, exactly the restrained and civil exchange of views you've come to expect from the Cyberlaw Podcast.

Download the 312th Episode (mp3).

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.


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