Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Counter-Russian Top Ten

This is partially in response to the RT list, Russophobia: RT rates the top 10 Kremlin critics & their hilarious hate campaigns, which was more snarky than factual.  It has been 1,312 days since the Russian Security Council met and decided to invade Crimea, it is time to name those people and organizations who have risen to the top of the fight against Russian disinformation, propaganda, and fake news.

I wrote a Russian list previously… Russian Razzie Awards – Top 10 Pro-Russian Individuals and Organizations. This is the other side of the coin.  These are the workers, the folks who have fought this battle on a daily basis. They bear the brunt of the lion’s share and do it willingly and well.

The following individuals have done the most to counter Russian disinformation, propaganda, and lies than anyone else.  This is solely my opinion based on years of observation, sharing their stories, and writing about many of them.  I’ve corresponded with most of them, they are all good people.

  1.  Paul Goble. Paul Goble must be on the top of this list, as he has exposed more about Russia than anyone. Paul is a certified Russian expert and writes prolifically about Russian corruption, misdeeds, and propaganda. How he gets time to sleep is mystifying, he writes that much high quality news about Russia and gets it right almost every time. Paul is the volcanic power behind “Window on Eurasia”, his blog, where he churns out sometimes 20 original pieces based on Russian articles and sources, per day. His breadth and depth of knowledge is truly remarkable. I actually submitted his name to the US Department of State’s GEC, to start a “Strategic Communication Lifetime Achievement Award”, with Paul as the first recipient.  Not a place for new ideas, I was shot down.
  2. Brian Whitmore. The hard charging, intelligent, muscle-bound, polo shirt wearing, pod-cast writing and making genius of RFE/RL in Prague, Czech Republic.  His “Power Vertical” has exposed tons of Russian illegal activities, hypocrisy, corruption, and human rights violations. His stinging, acerbic words tell the truth about how Putin conducts business using Russia as his personal piggy bank, abuses Russian neighbors, and cheats at everything they do.  We seem to have exactly the same perspective on many things having to do with Russia.
  3. Timothy L. Thomas. The list of books Tim has written is amazing, but the single best book written is “Recasting the Red Star”, where Tim outlines what Russia is doing today, written in 2012. His is the only logical explanation for how Russia is organized, trained, and equipped and exposes the doctrine for today’s Russian Information Warfare. Alas, Tim retired from his second career yesterday.
  4. Julia Davis.  Another prolific writer, Julia Davis is a National Security/Foreign Policy Reporter, Russian Media Monitor, creator of, and countless other Hollywood type stuff. Her lists are legend.
  5. Clint Watts. Clint served as a U.S. Army infantry officer, a FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), as the Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC) and as a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). Clint is the heart and soul of Hamilton 68, which is funded by the German Marshall Fund. He gets stuff done.
  6. Molly McKew. Molly is another relative newcomer but her background is solid. Molly McKew is a writer in Washington, D.C. From 2009 to 2013 she worked as an adviser to Mikheil Saakashvili, then the president of Georgia.  She first shot to fame when she testified to Congress in 2017 about Russian Information Warfare, but her writing and reporting is first class.
  7. Simon Ostrovsky.  I cannot possibly heap enough superlatives in the direction of Simon Ostrovsky for what he did in Crimea, post-Russian invasion and later in Donbass, Ukraine. Simon has more guts than any reporter I know, his fluency in Russian and his eloquent English enabled him to converse with uncooperative “polite green men”, with Russian soldiers and sailors, with “militants”, and with citizens all throughout the ATO zone. Simon was, by all counts, the sole source of fair, unbiased, and objective reporting in the highly chaotic and closely guarded area that Russia had de facto invaded. He did that reporting with Vice News and has since moved on to CNN as an editor at large. Simon’s work was so effective that he was kidnapped for a three day period by Russian sponsored rebels in Donbass in 2015.
  8. Todd Leventhal. One of the unsung heroes of the US Department of State, Todd was the protegee of the late Herb Romerstein. Todd was the lone voice raging against the post-Cold War storm for years, maintaining a solitary web page for the US Department of State which countered all the misinformation and disinformation thrown in the general direction of the United States. Finally, when State stood up the Global Engagement Center, Todd’s expertise was ripped out of his very soul to stand up the center.
  9. Nina Jankowicz. Nina has had a major impact on how many power brokers in Washington DC view Russian Information Warfare. She has been widely published and has a good, common sense approach to dealing with Russia.
  10. Countless unnamed individuals who risked their lives to report the truth in Ukraine and Russia. Countless unnamed individuals around the world who took precious time away from home and work to assist viewing, reading, translating, and interpreting Russian, Ukraine, Finnish, and other languages into another language and giving many of us assistance as to what that really means.

Honorable mentions.

  • J. Michael Waller. A friend, mentor, and confidant in all the above. Mike and I were discussing the propaganda value of the images coming out of Maidan, which started this whole mess for me. Dr. Waller has helped stand up more quiet projects than I can imagine, writes amazing papers about political warfare, and actually trusted me to teach a few classes in his absence.  He knows more about information warfare than anyone I know. Strangely, he answers my phone calls on the first ring, he must like me or something.
  • Herb Romerstein. THE pioneer of this field who stood alone against the raging resistance of the bureaucracy.  When I was the director of the IO Institute, I presented him with the IO Lifetime Achievement Award. He deserves continued recognition, and his archives need to be fully catalogued and researched. His Soviet propaganda and information collection is huge.
  • Lawrence Martin-Bittman (formerly Ladislav Bittman).Prior to his defection to the United States in 1968, he served as an intelligence officer specializing in disinformation for the Czech Intelligence Service. He gave us the word disinformation, is still alive, but is no longer active. Retired professor of disinformation at Boston University.
  • Morgan Freeman. RT put him on the anti-Russia hit list, but all he’s done is to narrate one video.  One helluva video which had a resounding effect inside Russia, but still, only one video. Rob Reiner produced the video and appeared on a few talk shows, stayed turned to see if that ball keeps rolling except for political gain.
  • Bill Gertz, The Washington Free Beacon.  Great guy, professionally saturated with material, he appears to be focusing on Russian Information Warfare lately and keeps them on the lit burner, applying heat. He once published a column I had written previously, that had about 17 codewords, but without the Codewords, just looked like great journalism. The J2 and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did the ‘on the spot’ declassification, apparently. Strangely, I searched like hell to find that column a few years ago.  It seems to have disappeared.
  • NATO. Despite appearances NATO is not rich, as a matter of fact they’re cheap. All the big bucks stay with the member countries. If anything gets funded, it is usually by the member countries. Despite Russian Information Warfare falling into the crack between Information Operations and conventional warfare, NATO knew it had to do something.  The STRATCOM COE was funded and is a good first step at analyzing Russian Information Warfare. They truly work for the NATO members.
  • Louise Mensch. I’ve chatted with Louise and she tweets about Russia very, very frequently. People either love her or hate her and they say she either undercuts Russia or supports them.  She shares her findings freely but she hits the send button way too soon all too often, trying to break a story first.

The following organizations have done the most to counter Russian information warfare, disinformation, and propaganda than anyone else.

  1. Window on Eurasia
  2. RFE/RL / Broadcasting Board of Governors.  RFE/RL has kept Russia honest since before the beginning. The BBG is the only part of the US government to actually do something to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda.  I credit John Lansing, but he has a very able, intelligent, and experienced team.
  3. Inform Napalm
  4. Disinformation Review
  5. Hamilton 68
  6. @AtlanticCouncil’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. They’re doing some heavy lifting.  Great stories, great research, thank you!
  8. Ukraine MOD Information Analysis Center
  9. Bradley Foundation.
  10. Smith-Richardson Foundation

Honorable Mentions:

  1. US Congressional Commission On Security And Cooperation In Europe – CSCE. Almost too late to the fight, but the first sign we’ve seen of the US government responding to Russia’s Information Warfare, except for the BBG.
  2. The EU.  Again, the EU is not rich and all the new efforts come from the member countries.  They sponsored the Disinformation Review, but it is miserably under-resourced.

Dishonorable Mentions.

  1. The US government.  It has been 1,312 days since the Russian invasion of Crimea was approved by the Russian Security Council in an all night meeting, then the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and the almost total information warfare continually waged against the West, they’re finally holding hearings in Congress. Most was as a result of Russian hacking US computer systems, then finally they realized Russia was waging an overwhelming information war. Congress allocated $60 million for the GEC but State is sitting on it. The fiscal year is over, does the money not committed go away?