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Military Leaders Are Starting To Freak Out Over Russia's Information Warfare Dominance
Russia has become so good at information warfare that American and allied military leaders are (rightfully) starting to freak out about it.
“The Russians are really good at this. Better than us,” UK Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney said at the AUSA Conference, according to Defense One. “We saw a very clever, assiduous information campaign aimed at discrediting the campaign of the coalition [in Iraq and Syria]. And I would argue [that] in many of our nation’s capitals, we didn’t realize we were being played.”
As was the case during the 2016 election, Russia is sometimes better at stoking division among ordinary Americans than your uncle at Thanksgiving dinner — through the coordinated use of bot networks, fake social media profiles, and production of misleading or partisan content that gets widely shared.
Moscow has also carried out similar campaigns in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere. Its efforts at influence can shape perceptions, while also having surprising effects on the battlefield.
As Tom Ricks wrote about in his column earlier this year, Russia's military has carried out some eye-opening operations that combine information ops, cyber, and good old-fashioned targeting.
“In one tactic, soldiers receive texts telling them they are ‘surrounded and abandoned.’ Minutes later, their families receive a text stating, ‘Your son is killed in action,’ which often prompts a call or text to the soldiers. Minutes later, soldiers receive another message telling them to ‘retreat and live,’ followed by an artillery strike to the location where a large group of cellphones was detected.”
Meanwhile in Syria, Russian military operations are sometimes being conducted for the sole reason of getting photos or videos that can later be used against their enemies, according to Gedney.
U.S. Marines fire an 81mm mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Hajin, Syria, August 4, 2018. The training is a portion of the building partner capacity mission, which aims to enhance the capabilities of Coalition partner forces fighting ISIS in northeast Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook
“This is not a battle that can be fought by public affairs writing lines to tape,” Gedney said. “It’s got to be be operationalized down into a genuine multi-domain battle."
To be fair, the U.S. does carry out its own information and cyber operations. But as Army Cyber Command's Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone testified earlier this year, most are being done at the tactical level.
Russia spends between $400 million and $500 million per year on foreign information efforts, while the U.S. spends about $20 million, according to a paper published by the Army War College, leaving Washington "far behind."
It's a fact that most top leaders realize and can't really ignore. Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, listed information warfare among just two other capabilities where NATO "urgently" needs to modernize during an interview in January (the others were cyber and missile defense).
Put simply, Russia seems to be playing chess, while the U.S. is trying to figure out how to set up the board to play checkers.
The War College paper recommended a national counter information strategy and center, technological solutions to fight back against fake news, and the pursuit of international partnerships to go after things like Russia's "troll factories."
Similarly, retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, while Russia uses its skills to attack the foundations of democracy, the U.S. could respond with its own "tools to attack their foundations of autocracy."
But whether the threat is taken seriously at a national level remains to be seen. The State Department's Global Engagement Center — tasked with countering Russian disinformation — doesn't have a budget, hiring authority, or, it seems, much support from The White House.
"Because near-peer states such as Russia have demonstrated how much relatively small but well-coordinated capital investments can have disproportionate effects on an adversary, it is imperative the U.S. government rise to the occasion and utilize existing, often open-source tools and methodologies to tackle this threat," asserted a recent article in AFCEA's Signal Magazine.
The Navy is investigating reports that a female Marine discovered a hidden camera in one of the women's restrooms aboard the USS Arlington, an amphibious transport dock that's currently on at port in Greece, NBC News originally reported.
Today, an American service member died in a "non-combat incident" in Ninawa Province, Iraq according to a statement by Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.
"I held one [sailor] in my hands as he passed. He died in my arms."
It's been 30 years since an explosion inside the number two gun turret on the USS Iowa killed 47 American sailors, but for Mike Carr, it still feels like yesterday.
"I knew all 47 guys inside that turret because as part of the ship's policy we had rotated between all three turrets," Carr, who served as a gunner's mate in the Iowa's aft 16-inch turret, told Task & Purpose. "We all knew each other rather intimately."
On April 19, 1989, the day of the blast, the ship was preparing for live-fire training at Vieques, Puerto Rico Naval Training Range.
Carr was wearing headphones that allowed him to hear what the crews in the other turrets were saying.
"At 10 minutes to 10 a.m., somebody came over the phones and said, 'We're having a problem, Turret 2, center gun,'" Carr recalled. "Then approximately two minutes later, I recognized Senior Chief [Reginald] Ziegler, who was the chief in charge of Turret 2, yell into the phones: 'Fire, fire, fire! Fire in center gun, turret 2. Trying to contain it.'"
Then came the blast, which was so strong that it ripped the headphones right off Carr's head.
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The two-star general in charge of the roughly 15,000-strong 2nd Marine Division has turned micromanagement into an art form with a new policy letter ordering his Marines and sailors to cut their hair, shave their faces, and adhere to a daily schedule that he has prescribed.
In his "Policy Letter 5-19," Maj. Gen. David Furness lamented that he has noticed "a significant decline in the basic discipline" of troops he's come in contact with in the division area, which has led him to "FIX IT immediately," instead of relying on the thousands of commissioned and non-commissioned officers below him to carry out his orders.