Active Measures is a documentary account of Russian interference into western democracies by filmmaker Jack Bryan. Its most alarming, and depending on your political views, incendiary charge, is the Russian effort to elect Donald Trump President of the United States. The term Active Measures refers to Russia’s use of asymmetrical warfare. This is when an adversary attacks a militarily superior opponent with unconventional means. The primary villain depicted is Russian President Vladimir Putin. The film charts his course to power, and goal of restoring Russia to its Soviet Union era greatness. Active Measures has commentary from multiple prominent figures in the geopolitical sphere. Its accusations have merit. The threads connected are well-sourced and incriminating.
Active Measures begins with a historical look at Vladimir Putin. The film analyzes his family, background, and meteoric rise to power. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the chaotic aftermath plays centrally in Putin’s psyche. The film is loaded with footage of Putin’s early days in politics. His constant refrain is the “tragedy” that befell Russia when communism failed. But he was no believer in Karl Marx. Putin corralled the oligarchs that pillaged Russian enterprise and entrenched himself firmly at the top. His wish is to see Russia regain the stature and might of the Soviet Union, not its failed ideology. The only way to achieve this return to domination is by vanquishing Russia’s rivals. Russia has a powerful military, but it would be self-defeating to engage the United States and Western Europe (NATO) in direct conflict. Putin was an intelligence officer in the KGB; then later led its successor, the FSB. He already knew that the best way to destabilize an enemy was from within.
Active Measures portrays Russia as a kleptocracy. Putin and his circle of oligarchs have looted billions from the country. Then engaged in a sophisticated global campaign to legitimize the money through the American dictated banking system. This effort is stymied by U.S. and European sanctions, which stagnates the Russian economy. Thus the goal was to find a way to change the political discourse in America. This is when Donald Trump takes center stage.
Active Measures goes to great lengths illuminating Donald Trump’s financial and personal ties to Russian oligarchs. It looks at Trump’s bankruptcies, and where the cash came from to make him solvent. There is a wealth of footage and documents that show the Trump organization’s link to Russian money over several decades. Active Measures has Trump, his family, and associates engaging with known Russian actors in many different situations. A high ranking CIA analyst tersely comments on the amount of Russian “smoke” surrounding Trump. There’s so much activity. Its highly credible that the Russians have some kind of leverage on Trump. This is reinforced by Trump’s non-stop praise and admiration for Putin, as well as his unwillingness to criticize the Russian regime, or support the actions of his own government.
The final act of Active Measures concerns the specifics of Russia’s meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election. The film goes granular in depicting the sophisticated tactics used. From hacking to a vast disinformation campaign strategy using social media, the Russian methodology was extremely effective. I was spellbound watching a 2016 presentation by the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, a company that used Facebook profiles to recreate hyper-accurate data analysis of American voters. This information was weaponized by Russian intelligence to seed discord; along with the timed release of hacked materials against Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Ardent supporters of Donald Trump will find Active Measures difficult to digest. To be clear, Hillary Clinton and the recently deceased John McCain are given ample screen time. Their contributions to the discourse can be viewed suspiciously as Trump’s political foes. However, the mountain of evidence the film provides cannot be discounted. Trump’s own words, pictures, videos, and court documents are consequential. Then you have the players in Trump’s orbit, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Cohen. These men had long standing relationships, personal and business, with Russians under direct control of Putin. It’s hard to claim bias when all of these people are now in legal jeopardy for their affiliations with Russia.
Active Measures is enthralling to say to the least. There’s no single piece of damning evidence, but the case made is succinct. Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs, and Donald Trump are portrayed as dire threats to the democratic world order established by the United States. Russia’s meddling in the campaign has been proven; Trump’s involvement and Putin’s direction have not as yet. Active Measures speculates a tremendous conspiracy. There is no smoking gun, but admittedly a whole lot of smoke. Active Measures is distributed by Super Ltd., a subsidiary of Neon.