Information Warfare · Russia

Cliff Watts Recommendations on Dealing With Russian Information Warfare With PropOrNot Comments

Today I had a good exchange with the PropOrNot representative over Signal, the encrypted telecommunications app.  I had asked if he had the list of recommendations that Cliff Watts referred to during his Senate Hearing testimony.  Not only did he have a list, but he had input from various PropOrNot members on each of the recommendations.  Here is what he sent me, with group input. 

I believe this is extracted out of a letter from PropOrNot to Cliff Watts.

Bottom line, and the PropOrNot Rep and I spoke about this at length, the US Government appears to be at wits end in dealing with Russia, Russian interference in US elections, Russian lies, Russian denials, Russian provocations of all types, Russian petulance, Russian massive propaganda, disinformation, and fabrications, Russian arrogance, Russia seizing other nations’ sovereign territory, Russian abuse of human rights, Russian kidnapping of foreigners, Russia assassinating Putin critics both domestically and abroad, Russian political arrest abuses, Russian focus on a military buildup, Russian abuse of veto authority in the UN, Russian corruption, Russian doping scandals, and, last but not least, Russian hacking.  Russian influence on the US election is the close-in target, which will be a massive ongoing problem unless addressed now.

We feel the Trump administration must support active programs and policies against Russia.

</end editorial>

Recommendations are here ( from, prefixed with a “*”, with our [Ed. comment: “our” means PropOrNot members] initial comments prefixed with a “-“. These recommendations are all excellent but none of them are sufficient, and we have more. Also, effective deterrence is needed as well!

* The U.S. should generate immediate public refutations to false Russian claims by creating two official government webpages acting as a U.S. government “Snopes” for disarming falsehoods. The U.S. State Department would host a website responding to false claims regarding U.S. policy and operations outside U.S. borders.

– This seems like a good idea and DoS GEC should absolutely do it. Not sure who should do it at DHS.

[Ed. comment. DoS did this for years, the page was kept up by Todd Leventhal.  He was seconded to the GEC and the effort stopped.]

* The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would host a parallel website responding to any and all false claims regarding U.S. policy and operations domestically—a particularly important function in times of emergency where Russian Active Measures have been observed inciting panic.

– Absolutely. Refuting and calling out narratives aimed at domestic audiences as Russian propaganda, like the nonsense Russia spun about Jade Helm, seems like an important task for DHS. Again, though, not sure who within DHS should be responsible for this.

[Ed. comment: making refutations or corrections is not the problem, it is publicity. If the page is not known it will not be viewed].

* Criminal investigations bringing hackers to justice will continue to be vital. However, the FBI must take a more proactive role during investigations to analyze what information has been stolen by Russia and then help officials publicly disclose the breach in short order. Anticipating rather than reacting to emerging Russian data dumps through public-affairs messaging will help U.S. officials and other American targets of kompromat prepare themselves for future discrediting campaigns.

– This is excellent. We need to be proactively immunizing the American people to the kinds of BS that Russia is likely to smear around.

* The Departments of Treasury and Commerce should immediately undertake an education campaign for U.S. businesses to help them thwart damaging, false claims and train their employees in spotting nefarious social-media operations that might compromise their information.

– Also excellent.

[Ed. comment: we also need a concurrent public education program to help protect “We the People”.]

* The Department of Homeland Security must continue to improve existing public-private partnerships and expand sharing of cybertrends and technical signatures. This information will be critical in helping citizens and companies prevent the hacking techniques propelling Russian kompromat. 

– Excellent, but this is business as usual.

* Finally, U.S. intelligence agencies have a large role to play in countering Russian Active Measures in the future, but my recommendations in this regard are not well suited for open discussion.

– Fair enough. As you know we have some thoughts in this regard as well.

* If forewarned by law enforcement of a Russian compromise (as noted above), the world’s largest newspapers, cable news channels and social media companies could join in a pact vowing not to report on stolen information that amplified Russia’s influence campaigns. While they would stand to lose audience in the near term to fringe outlets, Russia’s Active Measures would be far less effective at discrediting their adversaries and shaping polities if they lacked access to mainstream media outlets. Mainstream media outlets unifying and choosing not to be Kremlin pawns would also be a counter to Russia’s suppression of free speech and harsh treatment of journalists and the press

– This is excellent, but [this] is a collective action problem that can be ameliorated by directly briefing media outlets and influencers about Russian influence operations and propaganda. USG should be hosting conferences, workshops, and press conferences to do that – DoS GEC can play a role here.

[Ed. comment: this sounds strangely like a recommendation I shared with PropOrNot on 2 December 2016.]

* Facebook initiated a noble effort to tag fake news stories for their readers. But Facebook’s push must be expanded and joined by other social-media companies or they will be overwhelmed by the volume of stories needing evaluation and will find difficulty protecting freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

– Amen.

* Social media companies should band together in the creation of an Information Consumer Reports. This non-governmental agency would evaluate all media organizations, mainstream and otherwise, across a range of variables producing news ratings representative of the outlet’s accuracy and orientation. The score would appear next to each outlet’s content in web searches and social media streams providing the equivalent of a nutrition label for information. Consumers would not be restricted from viewing fake news outlets and their erroneous information but would know the risks of their consumption. The rating, over time, would reduce consumption of Russian disinformation specifically and misinformation collectively, while also placing a check on mainstream media outlets that have all too often regurgitated false stories.

– We agree with this, but there can be more than one of these counter-propaganda review organizations. USG should and advise fund academic, non-profit, and other efforts in this regard as well. – We think Russia Today, Sputnik, and related state-controlled media outlets should be Specially Designated as subject to sanctions.

– We think Russia Today, Sputnik, and related state-controlled media outlets should be Specially Designated as subject to sanctions.

[Ed. Comment: MUCH more on this in a subsequent article]

– The US must invest in R&D into tools that allow for real-time identification and highlighting of outlets that consistently, uncritically, and one-sidedly echo, repeat, get used by, and refer their audiences to Russian state media. That’s one of our most important criteria for identifying Russian propaganda, and it’s an excellent basis.

– We think Russia must be punished for its sabotage of our elections sufficiently to deter them from ever doing it again. Removing them from SWIFT should absolutely be a first step in that regard.

More thoughts in a bit!


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