Shredding the Putin Playbook

Six crucial steps we must take on cyber-security—before it’s too late.

By Laura Rosenberger Jamie Fly

Tagged International RelationsRussia

The Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election should have served as a wake-up call for Americans that something we took for granted—democracy—is vulnerable to attack by foreign adversaries in new and powerful ways. Instead, we’re mired in debate about whether the interference even occurred, and whether it mattered. Yet Moscow continues to exploit systemic societal vulnerabilities, including the erosion of public faith in democratic institutions, growing political polarization, and the failure to fully grasp the power of new technological tools, to mount an offensive on democratic institutions and civic debate.

Day in and day out, Russian-oriented networks use social media to inject and amplify stories that anger and provoke. Exploiting events from Charlottesville, to the Seth Rich conspiracy, to the NFL “take a knee” controversy, to terror attacks, and even natural disasters, the Kremlin’s agenda is clear—sow chaos and dissent on all sides. Fear and uncertainty are Americans’ greatest weaknesses. A distracted, inward-looking America afraid of its own shadow will allow Russia to achieve its near-term strategic goals.

What is Putin’s strategy, and what are the contents of the trans-Atlantic playbook he uses to undermine democratic institutions? What are the continued challenges to mounting a concerted response? And finally what are the principles and components of a playbook to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on these actions? A new playbook that cuts across bureaucratic stovepipes, employed by Americans of all political stripes alongside European partners and allies, and by governments, the private sector, and civil society, is needed to secure democracy against attempts by foreign adversaries to undermine it.

The Putin Playbook

The U.S. intelligence community (IC) concluded that in 2016 “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process” and that “the Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.” In pursuing these activities the Kremlin’s ultimate goal is not necessarily to advance one party over another—though that can be a short-term means to the ultimate end. Moscow’s attack on democracy is not focused solely on elections, but has a broader scope, and a larger target: the norms and institutions that underpin our very democratic system. It is a systematic effort to sow chaos and cynicism through exploiting divisions in society as a means of undermining democracy.

Putin’s use of asymmetric tools—low-cost, often deniable tools where Russia has an advantage that can counter U.S. conventional military superiority—to weaken democracy is in part a means for a declining Russia to level the playing field by weakening others and gaining relative power. The Kremlin understands that sowing chaos and exploiting divisions undermines democratic institutions in the United States and in Europe. Some Russian journalists believe the Kremlin’s efforts to directly attack American democracy were further motivated by the release of the Panama Papers and revelations regarding Putin’s illicit wealth. Discrediting democracy abroad also allows Putin to make the case at home that democracy is a flawed and chaotic system, thus strengthening his grip on power.

The “active measures” that Moscow is deploying in the United States are not new. The Soviet Union used similar tactics against the United States and its European allies during the Cold War. Putin has recommissioned these tactics and, crucially, he has weaponized new technological tools—tools intended by their creators to serve as empowering forces—to supercharge the attack on democratic institutions. Furthermore, whereas during the Cold War the Kremlin had an interest in maintaining stability, today a weakened Russia is mainly interested in tearing down others around it, making it, in some ways, more dangerous than it was then. In April 2015, Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the Journal of Democracy that “unlike in Soviet times, there is no ideology on offer. Instead, the Kremlin and its minions are working ‘to sow confusion via conspiracy theories’ and to spread disinformation with a view to eroding journalistic integrity . . . ”

Putin uses a comprehensive toolkit—combining information operations, cyberattacks, malign financial influence, strategic economic coercion, and support for extremist parties and groups that act in combination with one another. The success of Moscow’s tactics in many cases depends more on opportunism than on a grand strategic design. The Kremlin excels at taking advantage of pre-existing vulnerabilities, something Shevtsova stressed that “Moscow has carefully studied.”

A Trans-Atlantic Pattern

In the wake of the 2016 election, the Russian government’s interference in the United States has understandably been viewed through the election prism. But the onslaught on our democracy is much broader—and has hardly abated since the election. A network of Kremlin-oriented social media accounts continues to target the United States with messages to exploit divisions in American society and to turn citizens against one another. This modus operandi is neither new nor exclusive to the United States. European democracies have endured a steady barrage of Russian interference over the last decade.

Let’s start with information operations, which have attracted the greatest public attention in the United States. The Alliance for Securing Democracy, where we work, has developed a dashboard to track Kremlin-oriented accounts on Twitter. Analysis of these data show that these accounts are still constantly pushing messages in the United States to influence the public debate and exploit political divisions. This includes pushing stories that are potentially harmful to the Democratic Party—for example articles peddling conspiracy theories about former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s murder. It is important to note that these efforts cross party lines, and include a robust campaign against Republican figures disliked by the Kremlin, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Any prominent figure of the American foreign policy establishment who defends positions detrimental to Putin’s interests, notably on Ukraine or in support of sanctions against Russia, is a potential target of the Kremlin-oriented social media network.

Stories pushed by Kremlin-oriented networks are not solely confined to the political sphere. Many times, these networks amplify existing content that they find useful to Moscow’s broader narratives or goals. One recent example was how these networks handled the NFL “#TakeAKnee” controversy, with accounts monitored by the dashboard promoting content designed to poison the debate by fanning the flames of racial division. While these networks did not create the controversy, they amplified the discussions and promoted some of the most divisive, conspiracy-minded stories around it. In other cases, these networks take their cue from official Russian state media or organizations. We observed this phenomenon at work in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville, when RT, the Kremlin’s Western TV propaganda arm, began promoting a petition calling on the White House to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization, a theme that covert networks quickly began to amplify and spread through other content.

Moscow is using financial and other means to cultivate ties with everything from anti-fracking groups to the National Riffle Association.

This campaign is sophisticated enough that on days when developments in the news don’t advance Putin’s goals, Kremlin-oriented accounts use other stories as decoys. For instance, in the days following the imposition of sanctions on Russia by Congress last July, Julian Assange was keen to highlight the arrest of House IT staffer Imran Awan, a cause célèbre on the Russian-oriented Twitter network to this day. These operations echo what we have learned from press reports about campaigns by Russian-created accounts on Facebook, which continued well past the election until they were shut down, as well as Russian-purchased political advertising on that platform, which sought to play on racial or religious divisions.

Disinformation campaigns are only one piece of Moscow’s strategy, however. Cyberattacks, which have in some cases facilitated information operations—like with the release of hacked emails via WikiLeaks—are unlikely to stop any time soon. In fact, the ability to exploit critical vulnerabilities in election systems and other national infrastructure, particularly nuclear power plants, leads many experts in the field to agree that the worst is still to come.

In addition, Moscow is using financial influence and other means to support and cultivate ties with political organizations, including anti-fracking groups in the United States and across Europe, as well as the NRA. Ostensibly, ties between the NRA and Russian group “Right to Bear Arms” are just about shared gun enthusiasm. But support for such groups fits the Kremlin’s strategy of promoting divisive issues and attempting to push Americans further to the ends of the political spectrum while encouraging protest and erosion of faith in institutions. The Kremlin has also used its financial influence to establish “effective lobbying networks.” And it has courted ties with the white supremacists and neo-nazis in the United States, including by promoting them on Russian official state media, again paralleling Soviet Cold War tactics. In the 1950s, the USSR had no qualms about working with ex-Nazis to keep West Germany out of NATO, and the KGB forged letters from the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to portray the United States as a fundamentally racist society.

The same playbook has been used by the Kremlin across Europe. Moscow’s actions follow an established pattern. First, it tests its tactics in Russia’s own neighborhood, often in countries on its periphery, most prominently Ukraine. Then it exports battle-tested operations to Central and Western Europe, and finally to the United States. In many cases, it is the same actors behind these activities, such as the now well-known “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” hacker networks. With its recent successes, the Kremlin is likely to be emboldened and to both refine its toolkit and export it to new theaters.

Our research has found examples of Russian interference using at least one of these tools in 27 countries since 2004. For example, last year’s “Renzi” referendum on Italian constitutional reform was marred by a flood of disinformation. In Italy, TzeTze, a website set up by people affiliated with the main opponents to that referendum, “regularly reproduced headlines and copy directly sourced from Sputnik with the Kremlin’s take on world events.” Russian sources have published forged letters in public newspapers to discredit institutions and individuals in Norway and Sweden. Hacks have disrupted the work of political institutions in Germany, Lithuania, Norway, France, and Montenegro. The Kremlin has also established subtle ties with certain political parties, notably with far-right parties like Lega Nord in Italy or Ataka in Bulgaria. Finally, influence extends beyond formal politics, with the Russian military intelligence (GRU) cultivating ties to “fight clubs” (groups where former Russian intelligence or military officers train local activists in military or self-defense tactics) in a dozen European states and state-sponsored Mafia networks operating throughout Europe.

More recently, Moscow deployed measures to fan the flames of separatism around the Catalonian independence referendum, pushing social media messages “aimed at discrediting Spanish political and legal authorities” and “intended to cast doubt over Europe’s democratic processes at a time of heightened tensions between the EU and Russia.” Using data from our dashboards, journalists concluded that “Russia’s online disruption machinery is working at full speed to equate the Catalan crisis to the Crimean and Kurdish conflicts in the eyes of public opinion.” Fomenting chaos in Spain fits Putin’s desire to weaken Western democracies while reinforcing its narrative with respect to Crimean “self-determination.”

Moscow also helped fuel the rise of the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, which is now the third-largest party in the Bundestag. While many breathed a sigh of relief that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party came out on top of the September 2017 federal elections, and that material stolen in the 2015 Bundestag cyberattack was not leaked, it would be wrong to conclude that the Kremlin remained inactive. Data collected by our German-language dashboard shows that, below the surface, a Kremlin-oriented network was pushing xenophobic, anti-establishment, and pro far-right content. Since Germany’s election, a steady barrage of disinformation spread by Russian-language networks has questioned Merkel’s ability to govern, lied about the contacts between Russian representatives and AfD, and fabricated a story about Germany’s secret services putting AfD voters under surveillance. Moscow is playing the long game.

Untying Our Own Hands

The continued success of Moscow’s tactics highlights several significant challenges to successfully addressing this threat. The first step to addressing any problem is accepting that there is one in the first place. Yet nearly a year after the 2016 election, significant challenges remain to mounting a concerted effort to counter these forces. Despite the intelligence community’s unprecedented assessment of Moscow’s actions, Americans continue to debate whether Russia interfered in the presidential election, and if so, whether it mattered. This debate continues to split largely down party lines. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in July found that 73 percent of Democrats thought Russian interference was a major threat, while only 17 percent of Republicans did. Similarly, in a CBS News poll from May, 74 percent of Democrats thought that Russia had interfered in the election, while 64 percent of Republicans thought that Russia had not interfered in the election at all. Some of this is driven by President Trump’s own statements on the matter, including his claims of a “Russia hoax.” But the Kremlin’s influence efforts are fueling this divide, and the partisan response plays directly into Moscow’s hands, furthering the very divisions that the Russian government seeks to exploit.

Differing threat perceptions and domestic agendas across the trans-Atlantic space also fuel divisions within Europe about the degree to which Russian efforts to undermine democracy pose a threat, and where this falls relative to more traditional security challenges. For instance, 64 percent of Polish people consider Russia to be a major threat to Poland, while only 28 percent of Hungarians and 24 percent of Greeks believe the same applies to their countries. Many Western European countries, on the other hand, view it as a distant danger. In some cases, they prioritize political or economic ties with Moscow, fearing that a focus on countering Russian threats would undermine that agenda. These fragmented views hinder the kind of coordinated trans-Atlantic approach that will be essential to countering Russia’s efforts.

Another distressing point is that support for democracy as a form of governance has also decreased in the West, leaving citizens more vulnerable to Moscow’s influence campaigns. Political scientist Yascha Mounk has found that American views of democracy are deteriorating, with Americans born in the 1980s significantly less likely to find living in a democracy “essential,” and more than 20 percent of 16-34 year olds believing that “having a democratic political system” is a “Bad” or “Very Bad” way to “run this country.” While the magnitude of these trends is still being debated, concerns about democratic backsliding are also reflected in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s downgrading of the United States to a “flawed democracy” in its most recent report.

Comparable dynamics are at work in Europe. Mounk found that, just as in United States, Europeans born in the 1980s were less likely to view democracy as “essential” than their elders. And, in Europe, the view that democracy is a “Bad” or “Very Bad” way to run a country is more prevalent with 16-34 year olds than among older generations. The Economist Intelligence Unit also found that Eastern Europe experienced the most severe “democratic recession.” With trust in democratic institutions waning, people are primed for, and thus more receptive to, certain populist narratives that further Moscow’s worldview and interests. And erosion of support for democracy as a system makes it harder to mobilize citizens in support of efforts to defend it.

Finally, the asymmetric and cross-cutting nature of the Kremlin’s toolkit means that these issues don’t fit neatly within the purview of any one agency or within the confines of a single substantive area, posing yet another challenge for those working to counter its attacks. These issues fall into bureaucratic seams, and stovepipes obfuscate the full picture. Speaking about the Obama Administration’s efforts to respond to Russia’s interference in 2016, former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explained that

we dealt with this as a cyber threat and focused on protecting our cyber infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Russians were playing this much bigger game, which included elements like released hacked materials, political propaganda and propagating fake news, which they’d pursued in other countries. We weren’t able to put all of those pieces together in real time.

A siloed approach ensures that large parts of the problem are missed, with no one taking ownership. Moreover, in the United States, the responsibility for monitoring the threat has fallen in a space between the intelligence community, which understands the Kremlin’s strategy but cannot conduct surveillance within the United States, and the FBI, which can conduct domestic surveillance but, having fallen out of practice since the end of the Cold War, does not have the necessary up-to-date expertise. And threats to election systems in the United States inevitably fall into gaps between federal, state, and local authorities.

The challenge is further complicated by the significant private sector equities involved. The trust gap between Silicon Valley companies and the government, which has persisted since Edward Snowden’s leaks about the extent of the U.S. government’s surveillance efforts, often with those companies’ assistance, has resulted in little meaningful dialogue to date on the vulnerabilities of the tools most Americans use to communicate and exchange information. Although social media platforms have the potential to be democratizing forces, they have been weaponized and are now being used against us in ways not initially envisioned. The slow response by Silicon Valley in determining exactly how these platforms were used by Russia, and its perceived reluctance to address the methods through which these technologies were exploited leaves us without a full picture and also raises questions about the ability of these companies to detect such activities in a timely manner going forward.

A Playbook of Our Own

The scale of the threat to democracy and the challenges to addressing it evidently demand a significantly revamped approach. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that “Moscow will apply lessons learned . . . to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide.” This is not an abstract possibility—it is already happening, as we see Kremlin influence efforts continue across the United States and Europe, including the Catalonia referendum. We can, and must, begin to take steps now to secure democracies against these threats. To do so, we enumerate six steps below.

First, the strength and security of democracy must be understood as a national-security issue, and we must resume treating it as such. Functioning democratic institutions are essential to the ability to protect national interests, continued economic growth, and our ability to project power globally. This cannot be subjugated to other national-security concerns, but must be understood as central to national-security interests and to any approach to dealing with Russia. And importantly, the countermeasures we take must be in line with the democratic principles we seek to defend and not do further harm; adopting Putin’s tactics would accelerate democratic decline.

Addressing these issues will also require serious political commitment. These are not threats to be ignored or downplayed, or carved into discrete issues to be handled by separate entities, but must be integrated into national-security decision-making. Moreover, any effective response must be supported and pursued across party lines. With Moscow’s strategy dependent on sowing and exploiting divisions, allowing the question of Russian interference in democracy to become a partisan issue plays right into the Kremlin’s hands.

The “Learn to Discern” program in Ukraine has trained 15,000 people in media literacy and built resilience to disinformation campaigns.

Defending against, deterring, and raising the costs of attacks against democracy will also require a different approach to both detecting and responding to these asymmetric threats. A detailed understanding not only of each element of the toolkit, but also of how these tools interact and reinforce one another, is required. That in turn means bringing together experts across different sectors, analyzing these tactics, and developing asymmetric responses. We need to build new technical expertise and rebuild the regional expertise that has atrophied. Governments need to break down the bureaucratic barriers that hinder both understanding of, and response to, these cross-cutting challenges. A whole-of-government response, with a strong interagency lead and process that cuts across national security and domestic policy spaces, will be required to address this threat. Much as the bipartisan commission formed after September 11 led to significant restructuring of the U.S. national security apparatus, this direct assault on our democracy should lead to reforms of the parts of our government that are responsible for preventing attacks and were caught woefully unprepared.

Second, we need a coordinated approach to dealing with these challenges both within the United States and with its democratic partners and allies around the world. Within this country, we need to build better connectivity between the federal, state, and local levels, to ensure that there are no vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Senator Mark Warner is right in his assessment that the nearly year-long delay in the Department of Homeland Security informing states that their elections systems were targeted was “unacceptable” and that “we have to do better.” State and local election officials need to have both an understanding of the threats election systems face, and the tools and resources, with assistance from the federal government, to protect them.

With the United States and Europe facing a shared threat with similar tactics, a united trans-Atlantic response is critical to pushing back on Moscow’s efforts to weaken democracies and divide democratic nations from one another. We need to learn lessons from each other about what countermeasures work, and which don’t. To blunt the impact of Russian interference during the latest federal elections, German politicians from all sides of the political spectrum were vocal about the threat, ensuring that the population was very aware of it, and civil society organizations formed to expose any such efforts. In France, Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team dulled the edge of the leak of stolen documents that occurred just before the French election by planting false information in its own servers. This false information discredited the outlets that uncritically advertised and reported on the leaks. In both cases, German and French officials conveyed clear and specific warnings to their Russian counterparts about the damage that Russian interference would do to bilateral relations. U.S. officials, political candidates, and campaigns can learn from these examples to build resiliency in the face of potential foreign interference.

The good news is that NATO and the EU have taken important initial steps to improve coordination. NATO has set up several research efforts, which it refers to as “Centres of Excellence,” specializing in specific aspects of Russian interference. For instance, the Centre in Riga investigates disinformation and looks to develop counter-narratives. Another Centre in Tallinn deals with cybersecurity and seeks to improve NATO countries’ readiness to react to sophisticated technical attacks. Meanwhile, the EU has also launched a task force to fight Russian disinformation, primarily online.

Vast gaps remain. Crucially, there is little to no coordination between the EU and NATO as institutions on these issues, and the relationships and communication among the abovementioned initiatives is also weak. Moreover, it is not clear that these efforts are connected to high-level institutional or diplomatic activity, or that those countries that are members have shared detailed information with one another about their experiences with Russian political interference. Additionally, continuing to stovepipe both analysis of and response to components of the Kremlin’s toolkit hinders a view of the full playing field. The recent launch of a joint EU/NATO Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki is a necessary but insufficient effort (as of now, only 12 countries have joined) to bridge the existing gap between both institutions.

Third, we need to take steps to strengthen ourselves so we are less vulnerable to interference in the first place. Some of these are long-term efforts of reducing polarization, reversing the fracture of civil discourse, and halting the corrosion of institutions from within. But there are other more specific steps to harden defenses that will make Moscow’s job more onerous, including strengthening cyber defenses and closing the loophole that leaves political advertising on social media immune to the requirements that apply to the same advertising on TV, radio, and print, effectively allowing a foreign government to be undetected in providing what should be illegal in-kind contributions to a U.S. presidential candidate, by simply placing targeted advertisements on Facebook under a false persona.

Fourth, government action alone is not enough, and technology companies have an especially important role to play. Silicon Valley’s interest should be in preserving technology’s application for advancing the greater openness and prosperity that they have always championed. However, a focus on the short-term bottom line that ignores these vulnerabilities will eventually hurt these platforms and invite overbearing government responses. In Germany, the Bundestag has just passed a law that places social media companies under an obligation to promptly take down “obviously illegal content” or be hit with a fine of up to €50 million. With overly broad definitions of what constitutes illegal content, and short timelines for removal of content, this approach on the one hand risks censorship and on the other hand is unrealistic given the volume of content. Nonetheless, Russia replicated this move by proposing a similar bill in July, and has since gone further, threatening to ban Facebook in 2018 if it does not comply with a law on storing Russian users’ data within Russia. In the United Kingdom, British officials have warned social media companies of consequences if they do not do more to rein in violent extremist content online.

Instead, we need to rebuild trust between the technology community and government, and build a meaningful dialogue that enables collective action to halt the use of these platforms by those who would seek to do us harm. This should include a meaningful discussion of whether these companies, through their algorithms that de facto decide what people see, are no longer just the “pipes” providing news and information, as they have long claimed, but are actually serving an editorial role like any other media company. Silicon Valley has made great strides when it comes to halting the spread of child pornography and terrorist propaganda; so with the political will at the top, meaningful progress can be made to address this challenge. The recent congressional hearings with social media companies made clear that the scale of the problem only continues to grow, and that measures that have been announced by companies to date are inadequate to meaningfully reduce the potential for exploitation of the platform. Taking steps to ensure that users are real individuals and are who they purport to be—even if they’re allowed to remain anonymous to the public—will be essential to any real effort.

And while the focus is now on social media, journalists and reporters for more traditional outlets need to also examine their own role in a disinformation environment. Traditional media reported eagerly on weaponized information stolen from the DNC and John Podesta by Russia, and released for the purpose of interfering in our election. They often did so without providing readers context about the agenda behind the leaks or stopping to verify the information. And Russian-generated disinformation has been laundered through the information ecosystem to make its way to mainstream outlets, as we saw with the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich’s death, and with the inclusion of personas we now know to have been fake Russian fronts in coverage about social and political issues by a number of outlets. Traditional media outlets have a responsibility to provide Americans with the best information possible, and to make sure they are not being used as a microphone for Kremlin propaganda.

The broader private sector has an important role to play as well. Much as we have seen business leaders step up in supporting action to address climate change and in opposing racist rhetoric, business leaders can and must begin to see themselves as custodians of democracy. American prosperity is integrally connected with a free and open economy, and innovation and entrepreneurialism depend on a vibrant democratic environment.

Civil society must also be involved in responding to this threat. Whether in the reinvigoration of a vibrant and independent media, the promotion of greater media literacy, or a renewed emphasis on civic education, lessons from Europe show that much of the work essential to building resilience is done outside of government. The “Learn to Discern” project that the non-profit organization IREX has developed in Ukraine to increase media literacy and build resilience to disinformation has shown promising results. With more than 15,000 Ukrainians trained by the program having in turn passed on their newly acquired skills to an estimated 90,000 people, it is a model of practical and impactful action that could be applied elsewhere.

Fifth, we need to not only get on top of this threat, but get ahead of it so that we are prepared to deal with the threats of tomorrow and identify vulnerabilities before they are turned against us. The Kremlin will learn lessons to improve its tactics, and the technological tools the Russians exploit will continue to evolve. Putin is particularly focused on artificial intelligence, declaring in early September that “whoever becomes the leader in this area will rule the world,” and there are indications that Moscow has devoted state-sponsored resources to support research in this field. It’s not just Russia either; China is investing substantially in AI development as well.

Indeed, the Russian government may have been the first country to exploit the openness of democracy so brazenly, but it won’t be the last if these doors are not shut. The asymmetric toolkit Moscow uses can be, and already is being, adopted by other actors. While in the trans-Atlantic space Russia may be the biggest user of this toolkit, in the Asia-Pacific, all eyes are on China. Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand have seen Beijing’s attempts to gain influence grow beyond its more traditional soft-power economic-driven approach to more overt forms of political interference. While China’s differing long-term interests mean it is likely to deploy this toolkit in a different manner than the Russian government has, it is surely learning lessons from Moscow’s efforts about what works and how it may be able to apply those tools, including in the cyber and information domains. Others, like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, are turning these tools against their own citizens, with Duterte building his own “‘keyboard army’. . . to silence dissenters and create the illusion that he enjoys widespread public support.”

Finally, we need to remind people why democracy is essential to their lives, and why attempts to undermine it present a serious threat. Former CIA Director Michael Morell called Russia’s interference in the U.S. 2016 election “the political equivalent of 9/11.” The invisible good of democracy can no longer be taken for granted, and we can no longer assume it will continue without constant tending of the garden. We need to do the hard work at home to strengthen democratic countries from the inside out, and remind citizens that this form of government is worth defending. The inviolability of our most fundamental rights is at stake.

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Laura Rosenberger is Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She served as foreign policy advisor to Hillary Clinton on her 2016 presidential campaign.

Jamie Fly is Co-Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and Senior Fellow and Director of the Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs at the German. Marshall Fund of the United States. He served as foreign policy advisory to Senator Marco Rubio, including during his 2016 presidential campaign.

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