Monday, June 5, 2017

Smart Power, Russia Today, And The Strategic Implications Of Fake News

"Smart Power, Russia Today, And The Strategic Implications Of Fake News," Joel Harding's blog, To Inform is to Influence (June 5, 2017)

image (not from entry) from


In the article, MAJ Kimbrell accurately points out the BBG’s mandate of providing “objective, accurate, and relevant information bound by truth” information in its international broadcasting. The problem is, and I’ve personally spoken with the CEO of the BBG, John Lansing, about this, is that they are only beginning to study instituting Measures of Effectiveness and they have a plan to institute them.  It’s been six months, Mr. Lansing, and I haven’t seen or heard a thing about MOE.  ... 
The article offers a nice framework for future operations in the information environment. ...
In 1953 the United States Information Agency (USIA) was established by President Eisenhower. The mission of USIA was to “understand, inform, and influence foreign publics in promotion of the U.S. national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions, and their counterparts abroad.” The USIA consisted of a number of programs, with the Voice of America broadcasting service likely the most familiar among them.
In 1999 most of the broadcasting programs were moved to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG’s mission is to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” It functions with five divisions: Voice of America broadcasts most widely, while the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti) transmits to Cuba, and both are holdovers from USIA; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia are both geographically focused and also trace their roots back to the Cold War; and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks form the newest division, broadcasting on the radio since 2002 (Radio Sawa) and on TV since 2004 (Alhurra TV). Regardless of the division each is responsible for providing objective, accurate, and relevant information.
And that responsibility brings us to the “yes, but . . .” answer. These programs give the United States a similar tool as RT gives to Russia, but unlike their Russian counterpart, they are bound by truth.
The BBG provides objective, accurate, and relevant information bound by truth because, as our National Security Strategy states, American leadership is a global force for good. And however “good” might be defined, deliberate and consistent falsehoods of any form, disseminated by these strategic messaging programs, could hardly be described as consistent with this self-description.
Russia, by contrast, does not have this concern. And although many who don’t typically watch RT might roll their eyes if they did, much of the network’s audience has little exposure to credible charges of the network’s propaganda purposes. The most notable example came in 2014 when Liz Wahl, an American Russia Today correspondent, quit while broadcasting live from RT’s Washington, DC studio. “My grandparents came here as refugees during the Hungarian revolution, ironically to escape the Soviet forces,” she said on air. “I cannot be a part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. That is why after this newscast I am resigning.”
The Challenge Ahead
In the current global operating environment, truth, accuracy, and objectivity may not always be enough to counter an adversary that is not bound by the same. This has been proven in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. Commitment to those principles, especially with tools of mass communication, is integral to our national identity and vital to maintaining the credibility necessary for the United States to win conflicts, especially ideological ones, over the long term. Few serious strategists would advocate for outright lies, deception, and clandestine information operations.
And yet, Russia Today offers a window into a strikingly difficult challenge. How can the United States influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp an adversary’s ability to make and share decisions without crossing some of the boundaries we have set for ourselves? Are we doing everything we can to operate most effectively in the complex current information environment? Propaganda works—whether in the form of narrative-shaping broadcasts with global reach and cannily adorned with the hallmarks of an objective news network, or as fake news aimed at influencing elections and supporting military campaigns. Countering it and insulating against its effects is the task at hand, and it isn’t an easy one.

Curtis Kimbrell is a major in the United States Army and instructor within the Defense and Strategic Studies program at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He holds a Master of Arts degree in communication from Johns Hopkins University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

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