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Follow the money and the trail of 'dead Russians,' expert urges senators

 (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday into Russian efforts to influence the November elections has been a long history lesson, tracing Moscow's decades-long efforts to use misinformation to undermine democracies.

But Clinton Watts, of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, provided a roadmap to better understanding the Kremlin's efforts. He urged senators and the U.S. government to follow the money to figure out how misinformation websites and social media outlets are being funded.

While the Russians conducted their hacking in the Internet's shadows, their efforts to influence the election was hardly a secret, he said.  

"You can hack stuff and be covert, but you can't influence and be covert," he said. "You have to ultimately show your hand. And that's why we have been able to discover it online."

The second way to trace Russian influence was more ominous: "Follow the trail of dead Russians," he said.

"There have been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation," he added. "They are dropping dead, even in Western countries."

Watts didn't finish the thought but was likely referring to a spate of deaths of high-profile Russians, some of which appeared to be assassinations although others appear to have been from natural causes.

With the daytime execution of a Russian politician in Ukraine last week, at least eight Russian politicians, activists, ambassadors and a former intelligence official have died since the U.S. election.

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