In the leadup to the 2016 US presidential election, Russia engaged in covert political action to disrupt the American political system and undermine candidate Clinton. Following Trump's shock victory, Moscow swiftly pivoted to leverage its pre-election intervention in order to degrade the coherence of the US strategic decision-making. Specifically, through seemingly feckless denial, the Kremlin sought to assert the depth and success of its meddling in the election, thereby driving a wedge between the White House on the one hand, and US intelligence community and political mainstream on the other, and keeping both sides at loggerheads. The fact that the main axis of Moscow's pre-election information campaign unfolded online helped it exploit anxieties over the unfettered circulation of information and enhance the effect of its postelection messaging.
After describing the contours of this Russian gambit, we elaborate on three specific issues. We analyze the stratagem of implausible deniability—Russia's assertion of its role through seemingly feckless denial. We then ascribe the Russian intelligence community's agility to its chaotic structure and function. Finally, we account for the strategic oversight that allowed the US intelligence community to become an unwitting useful tool of Russian manipulation.