I’m Not the Only One Who is Worried About Russia’s Information Warfare

I didn’t see this testimony Rand Waltzman presented in April before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity before I wrote my recent post on Russian information operations, but it certainly seems Mr. Waltzman of the Rand Foundation was reading my mind.

Or I somehow read his by osmosis.

All I know is this testimony on the “Weaponization of Information” echoes broadly what I wrote in a recent post about Russian information warfare.

Russia has a very different view of IO than the United States (or the West in general). For example, a glossary of key information security terms produced by the Russian Military Academy of the General Staff contrasts the fundamental Russian and Western concepts of IO by explaining that for the Russians IO are a continuous activity, regardless of the state of relations with any government, while the Westerners see IO as limited, tactical activity only appropriate during hostilities. In other words, Russia considers itself in a perpetual state of information warfare, while the West does not.

This is part of the reason why I believe we’re so far behind the Russians when it comes to information warfare. We are complacent, fat, and happy. We’re glad to simply complain about our food being prepared not to our specifications in our favorite restaurants, bitch about slow wi-fi, or grumble about Russian election hacking as a way to justify our beliefs that the C-hag won last year, or alternately as a way to bellyache about all those unwarranted attacks on 45.

We’re too lazy to understand just how dangerous, complicated, and intricate Russian information operations are. The “Lisa Case” in Germany showed skilled manipulation of the news cycle and the Russians’ ability to stir up unrest and even impact diplomatic relations between the two countries. A young Russian-German girl had gone missing for 30 hours and was reported by First Russian TV to have been raped by migrants. The story turned out to be fake, but Russian media flogged that story like a fat submissive in vinyl chaps. The Russians effectively used a combination of media, the Internet, social media, and Foreign Affairs Ministry statements to manipulate the story to suit their needs.

– A journalist from the First Russian TV channel picked up the case of the Russian-German girl and brought it to the main news in Russia;

– Russian foreign media like RT, Sputnik and RT Deutsch reported on the case;

– Social media as well as rightwing groups distributed the information on the internet;

– Demonstrations were organised via Facebook involving representatives of the German-Russian minority (Deutschlandrussen) as well as neo-Nazi groups;

– Russian foreign media in Germany reported from these demonstrations, which brought it to the German mainstream media;

– Finally, at the top political level, Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov made two public statements about his concerns about the inability of the German police and legal system to take such cases seriously because of political correctness.

Why would the Russians want to promote the narrative that it was Arab immigrants who kidnapped and raped the girl?

Well, for one, it gave Moscow the opportunity to foment unrest in the heart of Western Europe.

It also allowed Russia to undermine the populace’s confidence in their law enforcement structures, their government and its ability to protect them.

And it gave the Russians an opportunity to blame the mass numbers of refugees that Germany had taken in since the civil war in Syria began, as well as link up with far right nationalist groups, with whom Russia shares common bonds, given the resurgence of nationalist tendencies in Russia that are helping Putin galvanize support for his efforts to restore Russia’s world power status.

Rand Waltzman says Russian information warfare techniques are fairly unsophisticated, because troll farms and bots are easily traced.

I disagree.

It’s the combination of various efforts, coupled with soft power initiatives like youth education indoctrination, glossy videos, sports stars and entertainment celebrities that makes their efforts much more sophisticated than what we’re accustomed to.

While Americans derp about how the mainstream media isn’t to be trusted and how they’re attacking our poor, angelic president, Russia uses the Internet, its broadcast and print outlets, and unwitting, useful idiots in our own country to subtly push their message to the masses.

While Americans stage boycotts of states whose politicians actually give a rat’s flying fuck who uses what bathroom, the Russians are probing our election systems for vulnerabilities. Just in case.

While Americans don pussy hats and boycott Ivanka Trump products, the Russians are using think tanks, “charitable” foundations, religious organizations and the Russian Orthodox Church, and expat groups to infiltrate society, influence politicians, and spread a pro-Russia message.

I don’t consider these initiatives unsophisticated, even though the tools they use are not complex.

But Waltzman is correct about one thing: the Russians consider themselves perpetually at war, and information warfare, as I said in my last article on the issue, is much cheaper than conventional military action.

The consider NATO their primary national security threat. They have never stopped. To them, NATO (and really, the United States) are the barrier they need to overcome to regain a world power status. And since they can’t match us militarily, they can certainly outwit us in the information operations arena.

If this doesn’t concern you…

If you think this is still about attacks on Trump…

If you refuse to recognize the strategic implications of the Russians’ efforts, because you’re so focused on defending your political candidate…

You are part of the problem. You are easily read and manipulated. Your behavior is predictable enough for the Russians to effectively target you and those like you.

We need to start thinking like they do – that we are in a perpetual state of information warfare – and act like it.

Information warfare isn’t new, but Russia is much better at it than we are.

But… but… but… Hillary!

But… but… but… Obama!

But… but… but… Trump!

Coming in 3… 2… 1..


3 responses

  1. The one useful thing coming out of AG Sessions’ testimony yesterday was the ending where he said we are far behind Russia in information warfare. Which means it’s the one thing that will be ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps this is a generational thing, but why is everyone suddenly freaking out over Russians being their usual meddlesome selves?

    Back in the 50’s, folks were a bit troubled (perhaps “flipping out” fits) over Russian meddling in American society. Hmm. Well… back into the thirties, at least.

    Certainly this meddling continued throughout the intervening years. I remember quite a bit of it.

    What seems different to me, having lived through much of that, is that -this- time, the meddling was not in support of the usual beneficiaries, who suddenly respond in the finest “woman scorned” stereotype. (and with apparently a world-class case of panic.)

    Russia has been Russia for a millennia. “Paranoid” doesn’t cut it as a descriptor, nor does “prideful”. It speaks -volumes- that a significant Russian insult is “Nekulturny” – uncultured.

    They meddle in -anything- they can’t control or conquer, if it has even the slightest chance to harm the Rodina (“Motherland”). Sun Tzu has been required reading at all levels of their military for a very long time. They play a strong game, and for keeps. At best, they have been co-belligerents at times. They are neither friends nor allies to -anyone- but Russia.

    And the latest antics are just another round of Russia being Russian. No more, certainly no less, a threat than the preceding decades.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m writing about it because after the wall fell, Americans became complacent. The intelligence community stopped focusing on Russia, stopped hiring Russian linguists and experts, and lost a lot of institutional knowledge about the issue. Our Russia muscles, so to speak, atrophied. Meanwhile, the Russians never stopped viewing us as their primary national security threat, so we’re once again playing catch-up. That’s why.

      Liked by 1 person

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