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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.
Five people have been indicted in federal court in the Western District of Texas on charges of participating in a scheme to steal millions of dollars from benefits reserved for military members, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Wednesday.
As the military services each roll out new policies regarding hemp-derived products like cannabidiol, or CBD, the Defense Department is not mincing words.
"It's completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time," said Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
The warning, along with the policies issued recently by the Air Force, Coast Guard and Department of the Navy, comes as CBD is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across the country in many forms, from coffee additives and vaping liquids to tinctures, candies and other foods, carrying promises of health benefits ranging from pain and anxiety relief to sleeping aids and inflammation reduction.
The Navy has fired five senior leaders so far in August – and the month isn't even over.
While the sea service is famous for instilling in officers that they are responsible for any wrongdoing by their sailors – whether they are aware of the infractions or not – the recent rash of firings is a lot, even for the Navy.
A Navy spokesman said there is no connection between any of the five officers relieved of command, adding that each relief is looked at separately.
'We are a people organization' — Army leaders push renewed focus on soldiers amid rise in sexual assaults and suicides
After months of focusing on modernization priorities, Army leadership plans to tackle persisting personnel issues in the coming years.
Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday at an event with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that what people can to hear service leadership "talk a lot about ... our people. Investing in our people, so that they can reach their potential. ... We are a people organization."
Two U.S. military service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Resolute Support mission announced in a press release.
Their identities are being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the command added.
A total of 16 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan so far in 2019. Fourteen of those service members have died in combat including two service members killed in an apparent insider attack on July 29.
Two U.S. troops in Afghanistan have been killed in non-combat incidents and a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was declared dead after falling overboard while the ship was supporting operations in Afghanistan.
At least two defense contractors have also been killed in Afghanistan. One was a Navy veteran and the other had served in the Army.