The United States Cyber Command is targeting individual Russian operatives to try to deter them from spreading disinformation to interfere in elections, telling them that American operatives have identified them and are tracking their work, according to officials briefed on the operation. The campaign, which includes missions undertaken in recent days, is the first known overseas cyberoperation to protect American elections, including the November midterms. The operations come as the Justice Department outlined on Friday a campaign of “information warfare” by Russians aimed at influencing the midterm elections, highlighting the broad threat the American government sees from Moscow’s influence campaign.
Defense officials would not say how many individuals they were targeting, and they would not describe the methods that Cyber Command has used to send the direct messages to the operatives behind the influence campaigns. It is not clear if the information was delivered in an email, a chat or some other electronic intervention.
Senior defense officials said they were not directly threatening the operatives. Still, former officials said anyone singled out would know, based on the United States government’s actions against other Russian operatives, that they could be indicted or targeted with sanctions. Even the unstated threat of sanctions could help deter some Russians from participating in covert disinformation campaigns, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former intelligence official now with the Center for a New American Security.