Former FBI counterintelligence agent Clint Watts said on Morning Joe today that congressional Republicans, as well as President Donald Trump, are acting like Russian pawns. “It’s almost as if they are carrying out a script from a Russian influence operation.” Watts said.
The cybersecurity expert told Joe Scarborough how he believed such an influence operation would work. He said the president and his GOP allies seemed to be pushing propaganda and strategic goals right out of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin playbook.
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Here’s how Watts described the process:
“First thing you do is you seed accounts in social media, seed players, operatives, political parties, NGOs, groups like that into the U.S. audience space, you align with them based on interest, financial being a big one, information being another one, common issues, like ‘America first. That’s great for Russia, because if America puts America first and the world second, Russia can get on the world stage.”
Classic intelligence operations have the goal of influencing their desired audience toward certain behaviors that the Russians want. And he said that the GOP congressmen who went to Russia on the Fourth of July were a perfect example of how the Russians manipulate behaviors of their targets.
“Over time you just cultivate those relationships, and the end goal is a behavior change in your target audience,” Watts said. “We saw this happen last week. We saw senators go to Russia and literally repeat lines that Russia would want them to say — sanctions aren’t working, maybe you shouldn’t pursue these, or everybody does influence and meddling.”
“Sen. (Richard) Shelby (R-AL), he essentially repeated a line you will hear come out of the Kremlin,” Watts said, referring to the senator’s description of Russia as a competitor, not an adversary — which Trump has also repeated.
“That’s the behavior change they want,” Watts said. “The thing we don’t realize is that it is boiling the frog. It is very slow and the goal is to nudge the target audience, which is the Republican Party, to take on your agenda.”
Watts also said he believes that the House Judiciary Committee hearing with FBI agent Peter Strzok was designed to further Russian interests at the expense of Americans and American institutions.
“You saw Republicans in Congress attacking another U.S. institution to defend President Trump, who’s under investigation from a Russia collusion and obstruction case,” Watts said. “This is exactly how active measures (play out), which is have your adversary fight with itself so they cannot fight with you and withdraw on the world stage.”
“At every single point, with the exception of one — removal of sanctions — Russia has advanced its goals and foreign policy,” he added.
Clint Watts has done the American public a big favor in pointing out that Republicans are now acting like Russian pawns. It is up to us to vote them out of power in November’s midterm elections to protect our country against further erosion of our freedoms.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.