Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Laura Henry


Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign during the U.S. elections represented the first large-scale campaign against the United States and was intended to cause American citizens to question the fundamental security and resilience of U.S. democracy. A similar campaign during the 2016 U.K. Brexit referendum supported the campaign to leave the European Union. This paper assesses the policy formation process in the United States and United Kingdom in response to 2016 Russian disinformation using a bureaucratic politics framework. Focusing on the role of sub-state organizations in policy formation, the paper identifies challenges to establishing an effective policy response to foreign disinformation, particularly in the emergence of leadership and bargaining, and the impact of centralization of power in the U.K. Discussion of the shift in foreign policy context since the end of the Cold War, which provided a greater level of foreign policy consensus, as well as specific challenges presented by the cyber deterrence context, supplements insights from bureaucratic politics. Despite different governmental structures, both countries struggled to achieve collaborative and systematic policy processes; analysis reveals the lack of leadership and coordination in the United States and both the lack of compromise and effective fulfillment of responsibilities in the United Kingdom. Particular challenges of democracies responding to exercises of sharp power by authoritarian governments point to the need for a wholistic response from public and private entities and better definition of intelligence agencies’ responsibility to election security in the U.K.