Friday, June 9, 2017

War by Other Means; The following article by Max Bergmann and Carolyn Kenney was posted on the Center for American Progress website June 6, 2017. [Footnote references can be found in the original article]

Image from article, with caption: The Kremlin is seen behind the Moskva River in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 7, 2017 [...]

Russian active measures, specifically the use of disinformation, or dezinformatsiya, attempt to undermine public trust in the authenticity of information crucial to a healthy and lively democratic society. Russia uses disinformation in sophisticated and complex information operations that use multiple and mutually reinforcing lines of effort—through cyberhacking, the employment of cyber trolls, and overt propaganda outlets. Today’s online media environment is rich with increasing political polarization, growing distrust of traditional media sources, the hardening of echo chambers, online dialogue that is caustic in nature, and the ability to spread information easily—true or otherwise—through the body politic. These factors make U.S. political discourse a ripe target for disinformation efforts. Notably, this is not a media environment or online culture that Russia created, but it is an environment that Russia has aggressively sought to exploit. The disaggregated news and social media landscape has enabled Russia to intervene in elections, discredit governments, undermine public trust, and foster internal discord in ways that it could only have dreamed of during the Cold War.
These information operations are a key line of effort in Russia’s continual geopolitical competition with the United States and its liberal democratic allies.1 Following the end of the Cold War, U.S. and European strategy toward Russia focused on integrating Russia with Europe and bringing it into the liberal global order. However, Russia remained fixed in a realist balance-of-power outlook and saw eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union not as a pathway to Russia’s eventual inclusion but instead as Western encroachment and a geopolitical threat.2 As Eastern European states joined NATO and the European Union and as the liberal color revolutions swept through former states of the Soviet Union—the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan—President Vladimir Putin saw these events as a potentially mortal threat to his rule and as undermining Russian influence in its near abroad—the new republics that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union. In the eyes of the Kremlin, the liberal color revolutions were American plots fostered through U.S. democracy promotion programs.3 In a speech to the Russian Ministry of the Interior in March 2015, Putin said that the West was “using so-called color technologies, from organizing illegal street protests to open propaganda of hatred in social networks” to foster revolution.4 From the Kremlin’s point of view, it faced a twin threat of NATO and EU encroachment from the outside and a potential liberal uprising from within.
The Kremlin saw these two threats converge with the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2014. Protestors in Kyiv, braving the cold Ukrainian winter, occupied Maidan Square for months demanding that their corrupt government turn toward Brussels and sign an association agreement with the free and democratic European Union, a move that meant turning away from Moscow and its offer of an autocratic Eurasian Union.5 After Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed president of Ukraine, fled Kyiv, ceding power to the Maidan protestors, the Kremlin responded. Russia illegally seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea and instigated an insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that continues to this day.6
The situation in Ukraine also led to a clear break in relations with the West. The United States and the European Union put in place sanctions against Russia and evicted Russia from the G-8. Additionally, the United States froze lower-level diplomatic contact and greatly expanded U.S. security assistance and military deployments to Europe.7 This new geopolitical environment has led many analysts to note that the United States and Russia have entered a new Cold War.8However, while the events in Kyiv led to a freeze in relations, the approaches of the United States and Europe were also designed to facilitate an eventual thaw. For instance, sanctions were designed to be temporary and would end if there was progress in the Minsk negotiations over eastern Ukraine.9 However, Moscow saw relations with the West after Ukraine not as frozen but as broken. For the Kremlin, if the allure of Western liberal democracy as embodied by the European Union was such that Russia could “lose” Ukraine—a place so valued by Putin and Russian nationalists that they sometimes refer to it as Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” a reference to the czarist Russian empire—it meant that liberal democracy itself posed an acute geopolitical threat to the Kremlin.10 A threat that, in Putin’s mind, had to be matched.
As stated above, this geopolitical competition is at its core an ideological and political contest for the Kremlin. Moscow’s goal is to discredit democratic governance and the international system, as well as “globalism”—shorthand for the embrace of open markets, limited borders, international institutions, and cultural liberalism and multiculturalism.11 Today, disinformation campaigns are but one of the tools that Russia deploys to undercut democracy, especially in Eastern Europe, within the European Union, and along Russia’s periphery. Russia is also using its economic clout, including its network of oligarchs, to gain leverage in eastern Europe—and in the case of the latter, effectively using corruption as a political tool.12 Russia has also funded far-left and far-right political parties and set up pro-Kremlin front organizations to advance pro-Kremlin narratives and polices.13 The Kremlin is seeking to discredit and disparage liberal democratic governance both to undercut the allure of democracy to its own citizens and to weaken democratic rule from the inside.
In effect, Russia has reverted to a counterrevolutionary foreign and military policy that harkens back to the Russian foreign policy of the 19th century. In the past, Russia-led efforts were crucial to countering liberal movements and protecting traditional Europe: from defeating Napoleon and marching on Paris; to Russia’s participation in the Holy Alliance of states that put down liberal advances in Italy, Portugal, Greece, and Spain in the 1820s; to the 1848 revolution in Hungary where Russian forces came to the aid of the Habsburg monarchy.14 Soviet strategy during the Cold War was similarly focused on countering liberalism and its appeal, especially in Warsaw Pact Eastern Europe.
The re-emergence of this ideological challenge has caught the United States and Europe off guard. While the United States has scaled back its public diplomacy and democracy promotion efforts, Russia is treating the information domain like a new theater for conflict and has invested in developing its capabilities just as it would in developing a new weapons system ...
Unlike Western public diplomacy efforts, Russian information efforts enjoy broad funding support, and since there is no focus on accuracy or avoiding unwanted international or domestic blowback, there is no detailed bureaucratic organizational chart through which these operators must work. These troll farms can thus operate rapidly and with agility ... 
Establish an independent commission to conduct a top-to-bottom assessment of the U.S. government’s tools and capabilities to counter the Russian threat
The United States needs an independent commission modeled on the 9/11 Commission to conduct a top-to-bottom examination of the U.S. national security bureaucracy to identify new approaches, reforms, and actions necessary to confront the threat of foreign information operations. This should involve a thorough review of U.S. cyber, intelligence, homeland security, law enforcement, diplomatic, and public diplomacy tools and provide recommendations to better posture the United States to tackle this threat. ... 
  • Structure intelligence disclosure policies and practices to give greater priority to countering disinformation and advancing public diplomacy goals. The United States could potentially use its intelligence tools to counter disinformation in a more effective manner and in so doing advance public diplomacy goals. In general, the United States is extremely reluctant to make intelligence information public to advance public diplomacy policy goals. This reluctance is sensible, but it can also severely limit the United States’ ability to make its case to a foreign government or public or to push back on incorrect information. For instance, U.S. diplomats are often put in the position of pressing countries to take action on nonproliferation cases—such as providing warnings to a country to stop and search a cargo ship in its port carrying illicit nuclear materials—but cannot fully disclose the information in order to protect intelligence sources and methods. This often leaves the United States in a “trust us” mode—a posture that can hinder the ability to convince countries to take action. In the case of information operations, this means that even if the United States has information that could advance U.S. public diplomacy objectives vis-à-vis Russia or could be effective in countering Russian disinformation or in embarrassing the Kremlin—information akin to Russian kompromat, such as knowledge that a senior leader has a mistress or evidence of corruption—that information is rarely injected into the public domain. Admittedly, this is a difficult balance to strike, but in weighing intelligence disclosure decisions, it is likely that greater weight should be given to the policy objectives of countering disinformation and advancing U.S. public diplomacy. After all, the intelligence community should serve broader U.S. policy objectives. ...
Significantly expand public diplomacy efforts
Efforts to counter disinformation are defensive and reactive in nature. But the United States can go on the offensive in the information space by significantly expanding its public diplomacy efforts. In testimony to the Senate in January, James Clapper, then-director of national intelligence, said that America needs a “USIA [U.S. Information Agency] on steroids,” as we need “to fight this information war a lot more aggressively.”108 While an independent commission should assess recreating the USIA, as a first step Congress should increase funding for the existing, though severely underfunded and neglected, public diplomacy tools.
As the United States cut funding for public diplomacy efforts after the Cold War, Russia—as well as countries such as Iran and China—significantly expanded funding of state-supported media.109 Meanwhile, many Western news networks decided it was not profitable enough to invest in foreign language media in small markets in places such as the Balkans. Russia has sought to fill this gap in the news media marketplace through the expansion of Russian-state funded media. Many of the local media environments are increasingly Russian-dominated—where anti-U.S., anti-NATO, anti-EU, and anti-democratic messages carry the day.110
Yet despite the urgent need for increased U.S. efforts, the Trump administration is proposing massively cutting funding for the State Department and, as a consequence, cutting efforts to counter Russian propaganda. Specifically, President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a 31 percent cut in funds to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which, if enacted, would reduce spending as a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product to its lowest levels since World War II.111 While Trump’s budget was light on details, these cuts would seriously affect critical diplomacy programs aimed at countering attacks on the United States and its allies. This is exactly the wrong approach.
The United States needs to support and expand efforts to provide an independent alternative to Russian disinformation. Doing so requires significant expansion in funding efforts for U.S.-sponsored outlets such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, which are funded by the United States but governed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors; therefore, the U.S. government has no operational or editorial input. Like the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) here in the United States, these outlets serve as a source of independent news and as the surrogate free press where the press is stifled, producing content in more than 25 languages. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America also launched “Current Time” earlier this year, a fact-based Russian language 24-hour news channel designed to provide a fact-based alternative for Russian speakers.112 These efforts, however, remain woefully underfunded and fall short of what is needed to challenge Russian-backed media, which has become entrenched in many countries.
As part of this investment, the State Department should also revamp its approach to public diplomacy. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA), expanded the mandate of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) beyond countering the Islamic State messaging to countering disinformation from state actors. The NDAA also authorized a significant increase in the GEC budget from $5 million to up to $80 million.113 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should implement the changes authorized in the NDAA and prioritize the expansion of the GEC, including expanding its collaboration with NATO and the European Union. Additionally, the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs Rapid Response Unit, which monitors foreign news and reports trends, should feed its efforts into the GEC.114
In addition, the State Department should prioritize public diplomacy tours and trainings for its foreign service officers, and Congress should support education and cultural exchanges that are supported by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The State Department should also take steps to end a climate of caution prevalent among public diplomacy officers, who fear being punished if their engagement with the public ever goes awry. For example, Senior Public Affairs Officer Larry Schwartz, in Egypt, was recalled from Cairo back to Washington because of a tweet directed at an Egyptian audience with which some on the U.S. far right took issue.115 His recall to Washington sent a chilling effect throughout the State Department—engaging the public could put your career at risk. The State Department and the U.S. government need to develop a thicker skin if public diplomacy efforts are to be effective. 
The unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 election requires a strong and robust American response. As then-FBI Director James Comey explained in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee about Russian intentions, “[T]hey’ll be back. And they’ll be in 2020, they may be back in 2018” because “they were successful … they introduced chaos and division and discord and sewed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.”131 If the United States continues to do nothing, foreign interference in American democracy will become the new normal. How the United States responds in the coming days, months, and years to this challenge will determine the future course of American democracy. It is a challenge that the United States cannot fail to meet.

About the authors

Max Bergmann is a senior fellow on the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress.
Carolyn Kenney is a policy analyst with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center.

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