Scenarios on Outcomes from Russian Information Operations on the US 2016 Election
With all that has been happening with the disinformation and influence operations during this election cycle I thought it prudent to thought experiment out some scenarios if Russia or any other adversary with the means, decided to attack the election cycle in other ways. One might ask right now what benefit would other countries like Russia gain from such operations and you would be right to ask. That is a question for another post but suffice to say that if Russia is indeed tampering with our electoral process like they have in others, then the reasons are geopolitical and very much Putin’s aegis in ordering the SVR and KGB to carry them out.
The goal here is to just lay out the attacks that could happen simply and then give you the likely outcomes. All of these are not as comprehensive as you might find in some think tanks like Wikistrat but you get the idea. All of these attacks are possible, and they do not have to all work completely to have secondary and tertiary effects on the US population and political system. Please read through them and ponder yourselves how would you react if these happened? How would the general populace? Would government be able to carry on? If the election cycle is broken and the systems not trusted, how would one re-set the vote and how long would it take?
SCENARIO 1: VOTE TAMPERING
The voting machine have been tampered with electronically or code has been inserted. The potential for votes being tabulated incorrectly or data tampered with is possible but not probable in the grander scheme in the US according to sources. However, this does not preclude a way found to insert such code or physical devices in key states. It is also not impossible to have assets in play such as sympathizers or outright KGB assets on the ground helping to tamper with the results. I will not go into the details because this is a scenario to start but it is also not the point. Let’s just assume ways have been found to tamper enough to call the electoral data into question via tampering directly with the systems.
- Trust in the election system is diminished
- Recalls are called for by both candidates and the public
- The electronic systems will lose public trust and a re-assessment of the process will be mandated
SCENARIO 2: VOTER ROLLS TAMPERING
Scenario 2 is based on recent events. The hacking of the rolls databases in key states could be an attempt to manipulate the data and cause secondary issues with that data on the day of the election. The posit is that the adversary has tampered with people’s voting preferences data. If you are a republican they can change that roll to the opposite party and vice versa. Additionally what if a users region or address were changed surreptitiously? To date there are no systems that I am aware of that will email you when a change is made to your voting status and how many people check before they go to the polls? This is a common tactic that has been used in gerrymandering an election area by disallowing voters from voting on the day of the election. To date, the FBI has not been able to determine what the hacking on the voter databases was about and this could be one of the goals.
- Voters are unable to vote once they get to the polling place.
- Voters are not allowed to correct these records and are thusly negated from the process
- Attack key states once again, going for the electoral college and you can change the outcome of an election
- All of the above once again have the amplification of causing distrust of the system and damage to the election
- The candidates and the people are left with a recall and with the system being manipulated already how can they trust it?
SCENARIO 3: DISRUPTION OF THE PROCESS ELECTRONICALLY
Russia has attacked the Ukraine elections by inserting malware/code into the election machines in 2014 that effectively bricked them. If such an attack code were placed and propagated within the American voting systems the disruption would cause the election to be halted and emergency measures taken. Perhaps the election might try to carry on with paper ballots but I am unsure the process can be that effectively nimble. If the election systems are down, since they are of varying makes and models of machines, the time to return of service would be long, causing more FUD to the elections process itself.
- Voters are unable to vote or the process takes so long that they walk away with a more analog process
- Trust in the electronic system would be degraded or destroyed
- The election cycle would be likely broken and emergency measures would have to be employed (contingencies)
- Continuity of government is challenged
These three scenarios to date, have not been covered I believe. This post comes to you as the fruit of a discussion I had with @SteveD3 and I believe that in our current atmosphere of information warfare and influence operations carried out by Russia, one has to take these thought experiments out for a drive. All of these scenarios are possible and will have the effects of denial, disruption, and degradation to our election systems and the stability of the nation. It need not render the election completely in the favor of one or the other candidate conclusively to cause faith in the system and its outcome to be questioned. Imagine if you will, as Trump has already been saying repeatedly, that these tactics are used and the general populace believes that the election has been rigged? With or without the hand of the Russians, others could be easily blamed by a candidate like Trump and his followers. The outcomes from this could lead to civil unrest and other worse things if they came to pass with the help of information operations attacks by another nation state.
I suggest you red team these ideas yourselves and see what else you can come up with…