The Russians are engaged in “information warfare” against the United States. That was the big soundbite at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s press conference Friday afternoon, announcing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s election-meddling indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian businesses.
That is certainly a fair assessment of what the indictment alleges. The account is disturbing, but its form leaves many of us underwhelmed. Our government says Russia is levying war. It is attacking a foundational institution — the electoral system of our democratic society and, more basically, our society’s cohesion as such. Our response should not be, nor appear to be, the filing of a lawsuit. That is provocatively weak. …
… A government lawyer is a hammer who sees every problem as the nail of a lawsuit. As we saw in the Clinton and Obama years (and will tend to see in transnational-progressive governments that prize legal processes over the pursuit of national interests by the most effective means available), administrations dominated by government lawyers find even belligerent provocations by a foreign power to be fit for judicial resolution.
To the contrary, we use counterintelligence rather than criminal investigation to thwart foreign adversaries because prosecution is a woefully inadequate response. The point of counterintelligence is to gather information so we can stop our enemies, through meaningful retaliation and discouragement. Generally, that means diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and, in extreme cases, military means. It could mean deploying our own cyber capabilities. The idea is not to invade every rogue nation. It is to respond to provocations in a manner that hurts our rivals — conveying that the prohibitive cost we will exact makes attacking us against their interests.
That cannot be accomplished by a mere indictment on which no one will be tried.