The NSA had some knowledge before the election of the computer infrastructure Russia was using, but it was looking abroad and not at what was happening through social media in the U.S., Ledgett said in an interview.
“The surprise was the integration into a whole campaign,” Ledgett said. “It’s the amplification of some stories and the suppression of other stories to bias you. That’s really hard to fight against. That’s where people need to think critically.”
One hurdle for the government in responding to such state-coordinated attacks is that there are constitutional concerns about intelligence agencies monitoring social media, one official said.
Going forward, the government should probably share information about influence operations by foreign adversaries with U.S. social-media companies, Ledgett said. Ultimately, though, the companies have to police themselves, and individuals need to be educated consumers of information, Ledgett said.
The U.S. response is seen as complicated, though, because it lacks policy direction from the top. Coordination across multiple agencies probably will be required, including from the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Election Commission.