Best Of: What Dirt Does Russia Have on You?

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The Kremlin in Moscow

For this year’s Thanksgiving Day feature, The Cipher Brief revisits its coverage of the Kremlin’s strategic use of blackmail to silence dissent at home and undermine opposition abroad. Known in Russian intelligence lexicon as kompromat, or compromising material, blackmail has long played the role of leveraging personal information for political gain. But with the advent of the internet, the tactic has far reaching implications.

Using what is known as kompromat – a contraction of the phrase “compromising materials” – Russia intertwines modern media and methods of intimidation that ring of Soviet-era tactics. While widespread influence operations using social and other media exacerbate the West’s societal divisions, targeted blackmail and clandestine character assassination campaigns also capitalize on the global reach of modern cyberspace. Information is power, and personal information is sometimes the most powerful of all.

The Cipher Brief has become the most popular outlet for former intelligence officers; no media outlet is even a close second to The Cipher Brief in terms of the number of articles published by formers.” —Sept. 2018, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62

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