Congress and Crises: Technology, Digital Information, and the Future of Governance

  • Leisel Bogan
| May 17, 2022


On Wednesday May 5th, 1971, just hours before 1,200 Vietnam War protestors were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in the midst of what would become the largest mass arrest in U.S. history, forty-year-old Lawrence Britt was testifying before a subcommittee of the United States Senate. Inside what would become the Senate Russell Building, Britt, a former senior intelligence officer for the Czechoslovakian Intelligence Service and Deputy Chief of the country’s newly created Department for Disinformation described the Soviet Union’s influence operations, and, despite the risk, did so under his real name. He opened his testimony by clarifying that the term “disinformation” was the same as “active measures” in the Soviet Union, and that his department conducted three types of operations: disinformation operations, propaganda operations, and influence operations.

The term “active measures” is an English translation for the title of a Soviet intelligence unit in the 1950’s tasked with all disinformation, political influence, and other deceptive influence operations. In his testimony Britt included a description of an unsuccessful Czechoslovakian Intelligence operation that attempted to influence the 1964 U.S. Presidential election by accusing Republican candidate Barry Goldwater of being racist, an operation that was partially influenced by Soviet training and methodology, and failed, he said, because Americans circulated enough false information about the candidate themselves. The effort was an element of a long-term plan by his agency and others like it to isolate the United States “politically and morally," to “disintegrate NATO," and to ensure U.S. troops withdrew from Europe. Britt also pointed out that the United States should not become preoccupied by “espionage paranoia” like it had in the 1950’s, because such paranoia, he said, “can weaken the democratic world.” By 1968, Britt added, his country, in the midst of the “Prague Spring” democratic movements, had itself become a victim of Soviet disinformation efforts immediately before Moscow crushed the Czechoslovakian democratic activity by military force.

Forty six years later, on March 30, 2017, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held another hearing to explore Russia’s active measures and the role of Russian disinformation in the United States’ democratic process, including the 2016 election. The Senate committee convened twenty one days after the House of Representatives held a similar hearing on Russian disinformation and its efforts to splinter NATO. The Department of Justice report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election published three years later would note that Russian online disinformation included efforts, through fake accounts and other means, to support then-candidates Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders (I- V), and with Russian directives noting, “We support them”. The Justice Department indictment against Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) would also highlight the organization’s support for candidate Jill Stein (Green Party).

About the Author

Leisel Bogan is a Research Fellow in the Technology and Public Purpose program at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Before joining the TAPP Fellowship, she led the first Congressional Digital Service pilot fellowship for TechCongress within the House Select Committee on Modernization, which resulted in the recent creation of a permanent House Digital Services organization. Prior to her current role, she served as the Senior Fellow for Cybersecurity, Technology and National Security in the office of Senator Mark Warner. Before Congress, she focused on global strategy for cybersecurity and technology transformation at the professional services firm, PwC. She has held two academic appointments at Stanford University where she researched cybersecurity and emerging technologies, national security, and international institutions, and she exhibited work at the International Criminal Court. She has also worked at Palantir Technologies and in new media technologies at Warner Bros. Entertainment and served as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Chief of Staff and her director of research at Stanford University. At the geopolitical consulting firm, RiceHadleyGates, LLC, she advised clients on technology, strategy, and emerging markets. Her work has taken her throughout the EU, the Southern Caucasus, Asia, and MENA. She has written for various publications and has spoken at a DEFCON village, for the National Academy of Sciences, and has guest lectured at Georgetown University, Pepperdine University, and Penn State Law. She holds a graduate degree from Pepperdine University, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State University. She was a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations and a 2016 Gabr Foundation Fellow. She began her career at age five in television and print advertising.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bogan, Leisel. “Congress and Crises: Technology, Digital Information, and the Future of Governance.” , May 17, 2022.

The Author

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