Russia has “pursued and will pursue even more aggressive cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances,” according to Dan Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence.
“These Russian actions are purposeful and premeditated, and they represent an all-out assault by Vladimir Putin on the rule of law, Western ideals, and democratic norms,” he said. “His actions demonstrate that he seeks to sow divisions within and between those in the West who adhere to democratic norms.”
“It is 2018, and we continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections,” he said in a speech at a conference sponsored by the Atlantic Council, Le Figaro, and the Tocqueville Foundation. The threat from Russia highlighted “the importance of enduring relationships and information sharing with our European allies in the face of these threats,” he added.
“The Russian threat in particular has awakened Europe to the need to reinvigorate NATO and bolster our collective defenses,” Coats said, stressing the point in caps: “The Russians are ACTIVELY seeking to divide our Alliance, and we MUST NOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.” He added, “Standing together in defense of the democratic order should be and must be our number one priority.”
Russia’s strategic decision to prioritize information dominance over cyber warfare is reaping major dividends by sowing distrust among the Western democracies, a former director of intelligence told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday (above).
In the 1990s, the Kremlin “went to door number two” in choosing information warfare, not least because many operatives were familiar with its tactics, techniques and procedures, said Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden.
Moscow gravitated toward social media’s tendency to connect individuals to likeminded members and communities that “drives you into your self-created ghetto.” Russians say the potential of the technology useful to sow confusion and discord in otherwise functioning societies, he said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. and the West “poorly understood” and only “infrequently countered” the systematic campaign “to discredit and weaken them” before they acted, said CSIS analyst Seth Jones.
Russia’s disinformation campaign isn’t just a marketing problem for Facebook or a series of nuisance bots on Twitter. It’s a concerted effort to not just disrupt Western liberal institutions, but to actually manipulate narratives that affect foreign policy decision-making, according to analysts John Cappello and Patrick O’Connor:
In the Kremlin’s weaponization of information, two approaches, disruption and narrative manipulation, are examples of active measures. Russia’s use of active measures is hardly new. In fact, Soviet Intelligence doctrine advocated use of the concept to both promote their foreign policy agenda and subsequently advance their influence abroad through disinformation operations and political manipulation.
“An important way to push back against Russian narratives is to cultivate increased media literacy and critical thinking skills, thereby enabling consumers to understand the motives of the agents generating the content they consume,” they add. “One way to foster this understanding is to adopt programs similar to those initiated in the Nordic states, the Baltics, and Ukraine that have proven effective in raising the public’s awareness and resistance to Russian disinformation.” RTWT
Perhaps the most important potential import from Northeastern Europe is an awareness of what is at stake, argues Jed Willard, director of global engagement at Harvard University’s FDR Foundation. In the long run, the contest of narratives is about core postwar values such as multilateralism, individual rights, and the rule of law, he writes for the Atlantic.
“If we are serious about defending Western values, now is the time,” said Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius. Disinformation is a “very efficient weapon to demotivate people, to create doubt in leadership … the vacuum is never empty, but is filled by populism or nationalism or radicalism … we are just starting to realize this is real.”
To combat the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation campaign, the West should take measures to stimulate content development and quality journalism, says Anton Barbashin, a political analyst and the editorial director at Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs.
An outright ban of Russian media entities would not resolve the issue; to the contrary, it would leave the disfranchised in Western societies even more skeptical of their governments, he writes for the Atlantic Council. Rather, the West should aim to overwhelm the Kremlin with renewed investment in local media and media-literacy education while simultaneously defending, and promoting, freedom of speech and the liberal democracy that protects it.