If there are any intelligence officials who have followed Russia's interference in US elections, it has never stopped. Not after the 2016 elections, not after the mid-term of 2018, and certainly not now, well into the main season 2020. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that US officials warned Bernie Sanders that Russia "was trying to help its presidential campaign," as the Friday Washington Post first reported on Friday. Nor should it be understood as any kind of endorsement.
The Post contains few details, apart from the fact that both Sanders and President Trump have been informed of Russia's efforts. The news follows reports from Thursday that intelligence officials recently informed Congress of Russian interference to assist Donald Trump in re-election.
"I honestly don't care who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president," Sanders said in a statement to the Post . "My message to Putin is clear: stay away from American elections, and as President I will make sure you do so." The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to WIRED's request for comment.
"All of this is part of Russia's much broader efforts to view democracies as rash, ineffective, and corrupt."
Jessica Brandt, Alliance for Securing Democracy familiar. In 201
Sanders voted against the Magnitsky Act 2012, a notorious Putin bugaboo that could make him a tastier candidate for the Kremlin. But the difference between Russia's support for Trump and Sanders then and now is that Russia only wanted to win Trump. Promoting Sanders was simply another means to that end, driving a wedge between two already strained factions of the Democratic Party.
"The leftist reports from the IRA focused their efforts to vilify Clinton," the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded, giving final consideration to Russian interference. "And supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate, or Jill Stein, a Greens candidate, at the expense of Hillary Clinton."
The 2020 ook play remains the same, says Clint Watts, a senior official at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who deals with Russian meddling efforts: raise Trump, play with Sanders getting a raw deal, and snatch it leading institutional democrats – then Clinton, now Biden and Bloomberg. In 2020, instead of Jill Stein, Tulsi Gabbard, who has not left the race, has been praised by the Russian media, according to Watts.
"The Kremlin's strategy for one year was very simple," says Watts. "They want Trump to be re-elected."
Russia has already aggressively persecuted Biden and has probably hacked into Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company whose connection to Hunter Biden was at the center of the conspiratorial tale of Trump and his allies. Moscow's efforts to support Sanders again focused on Iowa, whose caucus was experiencing technical difficulties earlier this month (which, to be clear, were not associated with foreign hacking).
"We have seen Russia reinforce conspiracy theories that indicate delays in return reporting were part of an effort to deny Senator Sanders a clear victory," said Jessica Brandt, political affairs and research director of the Alliance for Security democracy, a non-partisan non-profit organization that tracks and counteracts Russian disinformation. "We also saw them highlight theories that put a murky connection between other candidates and the company that created the Caucus app."
This does not mean that the activity tracked by ASD directly resulted in information being reported this week. Indeed, it seems unlikely: Sanders told the New York Times Friday that he was informed a month ago what would be before the Iowa fallout. But it speaks for what experts say is Russia's ultimate goal, less about Sanders than about promoting chaos. It was always about finding and pulling the loose seams of democracy.