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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.
Gold Star family members might finally see an end to the so-called "Widows Tax" thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.
The top Pentagon watchdog has announced it would be investigating all deaths of recruits during initial military training over the past five years, the agency said in a statement last week.
In a Dec. 4 memo, the DoD Inspector General said it was changing the scope of an investigation it had opened on Nov. 18 that was titled Evaluation of Medical Resources and Guidance to Trainers at Recruit Training Centers in the DoD. Its new title, the IG said, would be Evaluation of Medical Protocols and Deaths of Recruits in the DoD.
While its original objective of looking into the medical resources available to recruits would remain the same, the IG said it would now also review all deaths of recruits at military basic training facilities between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2019.
The move comes in the wake of several deaths at basic training facilities over the past year. In April, the Navy announced a safety review after two prospective sailors died at its recruit training facility in Great Lakes, Illinois. Seaman Recruit Kelsey Nobles died after a fitness test that month; Seaman Recruit Kierra Evans also died after the run portion of the fitness test.
In September, an 18-year-old soldier died following a "medical emergency" before a training drill at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has disciplined more than 20 Marines over misconduct at its San Diego boot camp since 2017, according to The Washington Post. The action came in the wake of a scandal involving the death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit named Raheel Siddiqui, who fell 40 feet to his death at the Parris Island training facility, where he and other Muslims were targeted for abuse by their drill instructor (the instructor was later sentenced to 10 years in prison at court-martial).
According to the IG, Pentagon investigators will visit all DoD recruit training facilities and interview personnel from each service's education and training commands. They will also speak with personnel at military medical facilities, the Defense Health Agency, and those assigned at the Military Entrance Processing Command, which does the initial intake for civilians going into military service.
The number of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against senior Army officials increased this year, according to an Army Inspector General report recently presented to service leaders and obtained by Task & Purpose.
The document, which lays out broad details of IG investigations undertaken in fiscal year 2019, looks at investigations specific to senior Army officials, which includes "promotable colonels, general officers and senior executives," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz.
Marine Corps senior leaders have begun to express cautious openness to the idea of making the service's boot camps fully co-ed. But if Congress has its way, the service may be pushed toward full integration sooner than expected.
The final conference version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the service to integrate both its East Coast and West Coast entry-level training facilities within the next eight years.
An Indiana National Guard soldier died Saturday at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, located about 75 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
Cpl. Larry Litton Jr., of Martinsville, was 30 years old and an assistant squad leader with the 384th Military Police Company when he was found unresponsive at the facility.