Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

House Subcommittee Meets To Discuss Countering Russian Disinformation, Scratches Surface

The experts that testified at this hearing were credible, well informed, but, quite frankly, they overwhelmed the committee.  

The topic of Russian Information Warfare waged against the United States and the West is much more complicated than the briefing could handle.  It was obvious the questions posed to the experts were written by staffers. 

With all the experts on hand, they still did not nearly cover the breadth and depth of the tools and weapons used in their war against the West in the information realm nor all the tools and weapons we have available to counter but, to date, have not done so.  Though Congress has been provided the recommendations on multiple occasions, it was quite obvious the lessons had not been learned, quite possibly they had not even been read. 

Most certainly, very few people in the room understood the multi-faceted approach which must be taken to not only detect incoming and inbound information bomblets, but even fewer know how to counter them.  Unfortunately the Global Engagement Center is not and should not be the central focus, but it is recognized as such, further hindering US efforts to counter malignant foreign disinformation, propaganda, misinformation, and fake news. 

Not pointed out was that there is no Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, who should be the person responsible for synchronizing, coordinating, and reaching out to other governments for their assistance and lessons learned from the corporate world, academic, the military, and other governments and entities around the world. It was good to see John Lansing, the CEO of the USAGM, there, but, again, they are but one tool in what should be a very large toolbox. 

I’ve written dozens of papers on the subject that are comprehensive, I’ll share with anyone needing copies.

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Lawmakers press for more action, money against Russian disinfomation efforts

– The Washington Times – Wednesday, July 10, 2019

House lawmakers expressed frustration Wednesday that U.S. government efforts to counter Russian disinformation and malign influence campaigns around the world are lagging, despite the controversies that bedeviled the 2016 U.S. elections and campaigns across Western Europe.

“I see little evidence that we are successful in using all of our tools and public diplomacy to get our message out and win the hearts and minds,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Nita Lowey, New York Democrat, said at a hearing of the panel’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

Testifying before the panel in addition to private experts were representatives of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which supervises such services as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.

The subcommittee questioned not only the effectiveness of USAGM and GEC but whether they were coordinating their efforts, the metrics they used to measure success and Russia’s influence on countries that were suffering from “democratic backsliding.”

John Lansing, CEO and director of USAGM, said his agency was reaching its target audience to make its case. One of agency’s latest digital video broadcasts had over 512 million views and the listeners were “young, savvy, future leaders.”

“Generally across the globe, all of our content on average has a trustworthy factor of 75 percent,” Mr. Lansing said. “And so the one thing we’re exporting beyond a particular message, or journalistic platform, is the fact that it’s believable.”

U.S. officials say they see no signs the Kremlin is backing off from its disinformation efforts, given how successful its influence operations have proved to date.

Jim Kulikowski, coordinator for the government’s Support for East European Democracy (SEED) program, said Russia’s “pattern is to create chaos, to seize any opportunity to go in to confuse and divert and undermine our processes that are underway.”

Mr. Lansing stated Russia is “sparing no expense” and that the efforts to combat disinformation were only becoming more expensive.

“The Russians will use every division possible to fragment us as a country,” added Lea Gabrielle, special envoy and coordinator for GEC. “They will use your words, they will use my words, they will use the president’s words, they will use any words they can to divide us and to separate us.”

Mr. Lansing cited, for example, the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, an attack blamed on Russian-backed Ukrainian separatist forces. The narrative pushed by Russian sources was that the U.S. had “loaded the plane with dead bodies and shot it down themselves to blame the Russians,” he said.

Alina Polyakova is director of Project on Global Democracy and Emerging Technology at the Brookings Institution. She grew up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s listening to RFE/RL as a source of information about her own country, and said U.S. government broadcasting operations suffered from a lack of funding.

RFE/RL “is operating in a shoestring budget as far as I can tell. It is not competing in production values” with rival Russian sources, she told the House hearing.

Nina Jankowicz, global fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, described RFE/RL as “invaluable” even while they face issues of funding and breaking through crowded information environments.

“It’s not easy but we need to understand that journalism is a public good and continue investing in that. I think that’s critical,” Ms. Jankowicz said.


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