In early 2014, U.S. officials intercepted a classified document drafted by Russia's GRU military intelligence branch that laid out how Moscow used fake online personas and social media to spread disinformation to further its military and strategic goals, giving "the Americans their first glimpse of the power of Russia's post-Cold War playbook," The Washington Post reports. When the Russian threat came into focus in 2016, Obama officials "scrambled to draw up options to fight back," the Post says, but "in the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse, or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions."
Late last year, President Barack Obama signed a sweeping presidential cyberthreat order, prompting U.S. spy agencies to draw up some specific operations to fight Russian disinformation, The Washington Post reports. Some key Trump security advisers took the warnings from their Obama counterparts seriously, the Post says, but a year later, "the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act," with President Trump among those who "play down the effects of Russian interference and complain that the U.S. intelligence report on the 2016 election has been weaponized by Democrats seeking to undermine Trump."
This continued indecision leaves the 2018 and 2020 elections vulnerable to Russian disinformation prowess, but the problem dates back at least 25 years, the Post reports:
The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election trace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a "third-rate regional power" that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery. [The Washington Post]