In an effort to halt the spread of election disinformation online, United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) is telling Russian operatives that American operatives have identified who they are and are tracking their efforts. The campaign is the first known overseas cyber operation to protect American elections, according to the New York Times which first reported the story.
The move is not a complete surprise considering that earlier this month Office of the Director of National Intelligence, alongside the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security, released a joint statement calling identification and prevention of election interference a “top priority for the Federal government.”
The Defense officials who spoke to the New York Times would not confirm how many Russian individuals were targeted by the operation and would not say how USCYBERCOM’s message was delivered. However, the New York Times offered up the possibility of using email, an online chat, or “some other electronic intervention.”
Further, those Defense officials claim that they are not “directly threatening” the Russian operatives. Despite no direct threat, Russian operatives targeted by the U.S. campaign likely inferred they are risking public exposure, indictment, or sanctions. In recent months, the Justice Department has indicted or charged numerous foreign operatives for cyber attacks against the United States, including Russian military officers, a Latvian “non-citizen,” and 12 Russian nationals. The U.S. officials quoted in the story said USCYBERCOM’s measured actions are intended to avoid Russian operatives escalating their computer-based attacks against U.S. information systems and infrastructure.
Officials at USCYBERCOM, including its leader Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, have not publicly confirmed the operation.