Active Measures

Активные Мероприятия | Aktivnyye Meropriyatiya: Agent-operational measures aimed at exerting useful influence on aspects of the political life of a target country which are of interest, its foreign policy, the solution of international problems, misleading the adversary, undermining and weakening his positions, the disruption of his hostile plans, and the achievement of other aims. (Mitrokhin, Vasili (2013-01-11). KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officers Handbook (p. 13). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)


Published: 2016 August 14

After investigating the account and those whom it follows and who follow it, I have a high degree of confidence that it is what it claims to be: A Russian Twitter op in support of Trump. At least 25% of the Kremlin trolls I have collected on in last couple of years have a reciprocal (follower/following) relationship with TeamTrumpRussia. The network contains other organized elements as well, such as supporters of PJnet, the so-called Patriot Journalist Network. That the Kremlin is targeting the USA with a broad range of active measures, including overt attempts to influence the upcoming Presidential election, is now common knowledge. Nevertheless, TeamTrumpRussia provides evidence of how - not to mention who - is involved in these campaigns.

Screenshot of @TeamTrumpRussia, featuring American foreign fighter Russell Bentley.

Coordination or lack of same
Having closely observed Kremlin active measures for about four years, I think it would be a mistake to assume a high degree of coordination at either the planning or execution stages. The techniques seem to be drawn largely from the KGB playbook, but centralized command and control appears to be absent. Instead, it is as though various factions in and out of formal Russian government structures are doing their best to take concrete action on the basis of their understanding of what Putin wants - which must be difficult, because it is not clear Putin knows exactly what Putin wants. The result is a lot of improvisation, wide disparities in the quality of the work being done, and duplication of efforts. @TeamTrumpRussia is just one particularly glaring example of current Russian influence operations.

Does it work, and is it worth it
Does it work? Yes. There is every reason to think this kind of influence operation can win mindshare, stiffen support for Trump, and encourage the adoption of a world view that leads people to have a more favorable view of Russia and Russia's actions.

Is it necessary? Does Trump need the help? Given the likelihood of a very tight race, with many voters having a hard time caring about any of the candidates, the answer might be yes. And certainly the Kremlin needs all the help it can get in promoting their view of the world, which left to its own appeals mostly to paranoid folks on the political margins.

Whether such overt interference in domestic US affairs is worth the long-term costs is a good question, and I’m not sure the Kremlin has even bothered to ask. Even without Kremlin intervention, the US electorate is highly polarized, and the negatives of both major party candidates are quite profound. In the event of a Trump win in November, Russia is likely to reap some short-term benefits. In the long-term, however, the Kremlin is burning a lot of assets and leaving itself with very little deniability. To quote journalist Adam Rawnsley: "Not sure if Russians grasp how much they’ve turned an entire generation of heretofore indifferent Dems into wary foes.

The Network graph
The network presented here is based on 3,200 reciprocal relationships between TeamTrumpRussia and other Twitter accounts, cross-referenced with data on hand pertaining to known Kremlin trolls. On the right, in addition to TeamTrumpRussia, there are a number of other, more organic, Trump-supporting accounts, as well as the Kremlin's troll meister in Zurich, Marcel Sardo, and Sergey Nalobin of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The spheres are known Kremlin trolls, while the triangles are accounts that present as God-fearing gun-toting patriotic conservative constitutionalist Americans for Trump. The orange accounts are tied to Marcel Sardo, while the purple had a reciprocal relationship with Nalobin at the time when Nalobin was PNG'd from the United Kingdom and sent back to Moscow. Sizes are based on degree of connectedness within the network. Note in particular the self-identified Americans who are well-connected within this network and whose connections include Sergey Nalobin (purple triangles, second row from top).

You may click the image above to view/download a hi-res PDF (see also Guide to the Graph below)

The Americans
The Americans in this network may well be genuine, and like Trump himself, may simply be unwitting agents of the Russian Federation, people who, in another age, we might have called dupes, useful idiots, or fellow travelers. But you don't have to examine these accounts long before you realize something is not right. They are parodies of themselves. Their bios read as though they were composed by a bit of software that had a limited supply of keywords to apply to each account. And then there are the stats. To get a better handle on this last issue, I compared the purported American followers of @TeamTrumpRussia to the followers of @IntelWire (account of JM Berger). Even if you could tie each of the TeamTrumpRussia follower accounts to a genuine American Trump supporter, their stats are way out of bounds, are not normal, and are likely a reflection of an effort to game systems that measure influence and sentiment.

 Followers of @Intelwire  American Followers of @TeamTrumpRussia
Mean Followers   4,159  88,873
Median Followers   216  60,587
Mean Following   1,880  77,092
Median Following   769  47,988

In the vernacular, this shit ain't natural.

Guide to the Graph (above)