Asha Rangappa, “How Facebook Changed the Spy Game”:
The vast majority of counterintelligence cases I worked in the FBI involved a foreign intelligence service (FIS) conducting what we called “perception management campaigns.” Perception management, broadly defined, includes any activity that is designed to shape American opinion and policy in ways favorable to the FIS home country. Some perception management operations can involve aggressive tactics like infiltrating and spying on dissident groups (and even intimidating them), or trying to directly influence U.S. policy by targeting politicians under the guise of a legitimate lobbying group. But perception management operations also include more passive tactics like using media to spread government propaganda—and these are the most difficult for the FBI to investigate.
As the internet renders useless the FBI’s normal methods to counter foreign propaganda, the reach of these operations has increased a thousandfold. In the past, a failure to neutralize a perception management operation would at least be limited by the reach of “traditional,” i.e., paper, media which are practically constrained to a region or paying customers. But social media platforms can reach an almost limitless audience, often within days or hours, more or less for free: Russia’s Facebook ads alone reached between 23 million and 70 million viewers. Without any direct way to investigate and identify the source of the private accounts that generate this “fake news,” there’s literally nothing the FBI can do to stop a propaganda operation that can occur on such a massive scale.
This fact is not lost on the Russians. Like any country with sophisticated intelligence services, Russia has long been a careful student of U.S. freedoms, laws and the constraints of its main nemesis in the U.S., the FBI. They have always known how to exploit our “constitutional loopholes”: The difference now is that technology has transformed the legal crevice in which they used to operate into a canyon. The irony, of course, is that the rights that Americans most cherish—those of speech and press—and are now weaponized against us are the same ones Russia despises and clamps down on in its own country.