Information operations · Information Warfare

Countering Russian Information Warfare: Theoretical And Practical Problems

Today, I was discussing people opposing government-generated propaganda with a colleague and wrote this:

I happen to agree with them, it is bad.  The bad part is where propaganda is a lie, a distortion, or a twisting of the facts (which politicians do routinely).  We have no official definition of propaganda, even though we outlawed its dissemination domestically via the Smith Mundt Act, now rescinded (each year the NDAA, however,  has a clause preventing DoD from disseminating propaganda domestically).  How, then, can we have either defend or prosecute an accusation of domestic propaganda?  It would have been just like current Congressional hearings – not based on facts, all based solely on feelings.

Even worse, if the government just puts out a basic fact sheet, it is often labeled propaganda by those who oppose a position or the politics of the administration. As I said in a blog many years ago, ‘anything a government puts out may be considered propaganda’, especially if one opposes that position.
Now, if you read Kennan’s long letter, he specifically states that Russians do not believe in the “objective truth”.  This directly contradicts Edward R. Murrow, when, as Director of the USIA in 1961, he famously said “truth is the best propaganda”.  For quite a few years Todd Leventhal at the US Department of State put out a ‘fact sheet’ to counter disinformation on their web site.  Given the context above, was that a waste of time?  Was it aimed more at the Russians or at the others who read the Russian disinformation?  …and if nobody knew about his efforts, why do it?  Was there a strategy?  If so, where is that strategy today?  Did we just do it based on a gut feeling or did somebody conduct polls and surveys or a Target Audience Analysis? After USIA went away, did R continue their sensing studies?  If so, where are the results shared publicly?  [Ed. note: By the way, R stands for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs]
Which leads us to strategy.  At the Congressional hearing on creating a strategy, there was no discussion of a strategy or tactics.  Supposedly one year ago Michael Lumpkin was walking the halls of the White House and Congress, trying to push a ‘National Information Strategy’.  That went nowhere.  The 2017 NDAA contained verbiage establishing the GEC to “Counter Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation” but said nothing about a strategy, nor within the context of which strategy it was supposed to operate.  Again, is this based on a gut feeling or on studies, polls, or surveys? Do we have any facts? I know all these smart people saw the massive amounts of Russian propaganda supposedly interfering with our election of 2016, but did anybody actually quantify the Russian propaganda, disinformation, misinformation for the US government?

I’m not supposed to share the GEC’s draft “National Strategy for Countering State Propaganda and Disinformation”, I promised not to, but it really is the first step towards doing this. The PROBLEM is there is no appointed Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications on the National Security Council who is supposed to coordinate this effort at the national level through the National Security Council. The PROBLEM is Michael Lumpkin recommended promoting the chief of the GEC to the equivalent of the NDI.  This makes sense but it would take forever.

We’re not taking information seriously at the national level, even though it is considered one of the four elements of national power: Diplomacy, Information Military, and Economics. Perhaps that explains the problems we continue having at the national level. …and no, no political comments, this is purely driven by information.



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