A group of cybersecurity, national security and legal experts is warning that Russia’s efforts to weaken U.S. democratic institutions aren’t limited to elections — but also extend to the justice system, the Washington Post reports. “While we all focused on the electoral system, I think this disinformation effort is organized to really attack any of the pillars of democracy,” said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency and the CIA. “And when you think of the system that is the most highly regarded among the three branches of government, it is the court system. If you were installed in the position of a Russian disinformation planner, wouldn’t you want to erode that?”
Russia’s digital campaign to influence the 2016 presidential race in favor of President Trump put election security in the national spotlight, resulted in congressional investigations and prompted Congress to set aside federal funding for states to strengthen their election systems. Russia’s apparent attempts to use similar tactics of spreading propaganda and disinformation on social media platforms to corrode the legitimacy of the U.S. judicial system have drawn much less scrutiny from policymakers. The band of experts, doing research for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is tracking how Russian operatives tend to exploit sensitive issues such as immigration and race in posts designed to drum up backlash to the justice system. Suzanne Spaulding, a former undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration who oversaw cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection, and Harvey Rishikof, a visiting professor of law at Temple University, are also part of the think tank’s “Defending Democratic Institutions” project. Spaulding, now a senior adviser to CSIS, says she plans to brief lawmakers on the research this month. Spaulding worries Russian operatives could launch ransomware or distributed denial-of-service attacks against courts’ computer systems, leak or alter court documents and steal judges’ email communications.