The roster of figures who have signed onto the new project, called the Alliance for Securing Democracy, is a who’s who of former senior national security officials from both parties. The advisory council includes former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff; former acting CIA director Michael Morell; former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers; Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme Allied commander, Europe; Jake Sullivan, former national security adviser to Joe Biden; and former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
The project will be housed at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and will be run day to day by a staff led by Laura Rosenberger, a former senior State Department official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, former national security counselor to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
“This threat to our democracy is a national security issue. Russia is waging a war on us. They are using different kinds of weapons than we are used to in a war,” Rosenberger said. “We need to do a much better job understanding the tools the Russians are using and that others could use in the future to undermine democratic institutions and we need to work closer with our European allies who also are subjected to this threat.”
The idea is to create a platform and repository of information about Russian political influence activities in the United States and Europe that can be the basis for cooperation and a resource for analysts on both sides of the Atlantic to push back against Russian meddling.
The project aims to be able to eventually map out Russian disinformation on social networks, cyber-efforts, financial flows, broader state-level cooperation and even Russian government support for far-left or far-right parties in other countries.
“In a perfect world, we would have a national commission that would be looking into exactly what happened, exactly what did the Russians do and what can we do as a nation to defend ourselves going forward and deter Putin from ever doing this again,” Morell told me. “We all know this is not going to happen, so things like the GMF effort are hugely important to fill the gap.”
One of the first outputs, coming soon, is going to be an online digital dashboard that will allow for tracking of Russian disinformation through fake news stories as well as narratives being pushed by Russian-sponsored social media figures. The project will attempt to map how Russian government-promoted information is spread though the American and European media landscapes.
“The Russians are playing in a broader scope of issues here than just the election,” Morell said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Russians are trying to divide us on issues from gay rights to race.”
The goal of the project is not to re-litigate the 2016 presidential election or to investigate the issue of whether the Trump campaign either colluded or was used by Russia as part of its interference campaign. The premise is that the Russian interference is ongoing and that not enough is being done to understand and ultimately counter it.
“It’s time for people who care about this issue to drop the partisanship and come together on this,” said Chertoff. “The closer we get to 2018 and we don’t see a huge amount of activity to get prepared, the more dire this is.”
The project also doesn’t want to overlap with the various investigations ongoing by the FBI and several congressional committees. But the premise is that more research can actually spur more U.S. government and congressional action to increase awareness, deterrence and resilience in the face of ongoing Russian efforts.
“Part of the problem is the administration hasn’t been presented yet with a set of recommendations about how to confront this problem,” said Fly. “The jury is still out on whether this administration will be willing to do the things necessary to secure our democracy.”