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President-elect Trump Needs To Prepare To Fight A Massive Information War

The U.S. faces conceptual, operational, organizational, legal and technical challenges in dealing with hybrid/grey zone strategies and tactics regardless of whether the adversary is Russia, China, regional actors or terrorist groups. First and foremost, there is no common agreed definition or understanding of terms such as hybrid warfare or grey zone. Also, there is no agreement regarding the nature and magnitude of the hybrid warfare threat. Second, the U.S. understanding of hybrid operations limits them to the period prior to conflict.  Our leaders have not come to the realization that hybrid activities are in themselves a form of warfare and will be conducted in all phases of a conflict. Third, there is no common strategy or organizational construct for conduct of either defensive or offensive operations in a hybrid conflict or within the grey zone. For all the talk in U.S. defense plans about “whole of government” approaches to conflicts short of war, there is no agreement on what to do, how to do it or who should lead such efforts. Fourth, there is a lack of adequate authorities and appropriately defined responsibilities to support U.S. hybrid operations. Finally, the U.S. military, security organizations and intelligence community lack the tools, trained operators and experience to successfully conduct defensive operations against hybrid actions.

The challenges posed by hybrid strategies, particularly as practiced by Russia, are both political and military. Responses need to be in both spheres. The political challenge is perhaps the more difficult because it requires that the West accept the reality that Putin views them as an existential threat to his regime and his country. It also requires offensive measures equal to or greater than what we do to defend our networks, critical infrastructure and information sources. Admiral Rogers warned the Committee that a defense-only strategy would fail. So, this means that the West must respond to the Kremlin’s efforts to use non-traditional/military means to destabilize the U.S. political system, NATO and the European Union (EU) with similar measures against Russia and its allies.

The United States, NATO and the EU need to invest in an array of public information assets for the purpose of countering Russian disinformation warfare and deception operations targeted at the nations of Europe. There have been some efforts in this regard with respect to cyber threats. NATO and the EU need to set up information cells to track Russian disinformation campaigns. These cells should also possess a quick reaction capability to rapidly counter Russian disinformation and propaganda. A number of European nations have national legislation or regulations designed to ensure that information carried in the media is reliable and objective. The penalties for knowingly providing false or misleading information should be made tougher and include not only fines but suspension of licenses to operate. Beyond these things, efforts to combat corruption, improve effective and honest governance, build credible partnership capacity and integrate minorities need to be significantly increased. Lieutenant General Clapper talked in the hearing about creating a U.S. Information Agency “on steroids” to fight the information war.

Virtually all of the political measures that need to be implemented to counter Russian efforts to destabilize Europe and undermine its collective organizations are defensive in nature. What has received almost no attention is the potential to conduct an information campaign against Moscow and the Kremlin regime. In 2015, the House Armed Services Committee sought to add $30 million to the budget for U.S. Special Operations Command for the purpose of expanding “global inform and influence activities” against Russia and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Much more than this is needed. Moreover, the money should go to an organization dedicated to countering hostile information operations.

At the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham accused the Obama Administration of throwing pebbles at Moscow, saying that he wanted to throw a rock. Well here is a big rock. A Western version of WikiLeaks directed at exposing corruption and the criminal behavior of the Russian elite could have a devastating impact on the Kremlin’s domestic credibility. Russia is expected to continue to refine and improve its techniques for information operations, including expanded use of social media. It would make tremendous sense for the West to exercise its enormous capabilities to do the same to Russia.

Dr. Dan Goure is a Vice President of the Lexington Institute. He served in the Pentagon during the George H.W. Administration and has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities and the National War College. You can follow him on twitter @dgoure and you can follow the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC

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