The in­vis­i­ble weapons:

Does Ukraine have enough re­sources and means to fight in­for­ma­tion war­fare?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Yuriy La­payev

Ukraine's role in the in­for­ma­tion war­fare

In­for­ma­tion war­fare, in gen­eral, is not a nov­elty. Since time im­memo­rial, de­cep­tion and pro­pa­ganda helped com­man­ders achieve suc­cess in bat­tles. The military quickly re­al­ized the op­por­tu­ni­ties that the skill­ful use of in­for­ma­tion can bring. With time and the devel­op­ment of in­for­ma­tion trans­mis­sion tech­nolo­gies, "in­vis­i­ble war­fare" meth­ods im­proved.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing and, most im­por­tantly, proven in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions was the naval bat­tle between the Greek and Turk­ish troops near the is­land of Paphos in 1974. The Greeks con­ducted re­con­nais­sance and planted mis­in­for­ma­tion so well that as a re­sult, a Turk­ish air­craft at­tacked the Turk­ish fleet. A Turk­ish de­stroyer was lost and two more damaged, an air­craft was lost and about a hun­dred mari­neskilled. It is also worth men­tion­ing the Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm car­ried out by the Amer­i­cans in Iraq in 1991. In this case, free ra­dio sets tuned to a fixed fre­quency were dis­trib­uted among the lo­cals, which al­lowed Amer­i­can pro­pa­ganda to reach the ears of the Iraqis. Bri­tons don't lag be­hind ei­ther. They can be cred­ited with or­ga­niz­ing one of the largest op­er­a­tions that was called Bar­ras and held in 2000 in Sierra Leone. Launched as a pris­on­ers of war search and res­cue ef­fort, it de­vel­oped into a com­plex multi-stage op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing deep re­con­nais­sance, leg­en­diz­ing, us­ing strong cover con­tin­gent, com­plex lo­gis­tics schemes for per­son­nel trans­fer, mobile phones track­ing, and an as­sault by para­troop­ers and Spe­cial Forces. All of that for the sake of five Bri­tish sol­diers. They were res­cued, and the Bri­tish cap­tured so many ter­ror­ists, re­calls one of the par­tic­i­pants, that they had to liq­ui­date some of them be­cause of the lack of room in he­li­copters. In 2010–2011, the world was shocked by the news: for the first time, a com­puter virus was able to pen­e­trate a se­cure NPP man­age­ment in­for­ma­tional sys­tem in the Ira­nian city of Bushehr. The no­to­ri­ous Stuxnet caused enough dam­age to put the clock of the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram a few years back. Later, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the causes of faults helped iden­tify the traces of the same virus in en­ergy man­age­ment sys­tems of a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries.

In fact, there are more such ex­am­ples than you would think. Some of them in­volve Ukraine. It is enough to men­tion one of the most suc­cess­ful brain­wash­ing op­er­a­tions, the "Rus­sian spring." Its good tim­ing al­lowed Rus­sian forces to cap­ture an en­tire penin­sula vir­tu­ally with­out a sin­gle shot and with no losses, cre­at­ing the pre­req­ui­sites for the out­break of hos­til­i­ties in East­ern Ukraine. What ex­actly was the key to the suc­cess of this cam­paign? Ob­vi­ously, it was care­fully planned and pre­pared. The work with the Crimean pop­u­la­tion be­gan back in the 2000s and moved into its ac­tive phase af­ter the Or­ange Rev­o­lu­tion. Un­der Yanukovych, Rus­sia im­ple­mented the fi­nal part of the op­er­a­tion, with Maidan only mak­ing some ad­just­ments to the an­nex­a­tion plans.

This dar­ing scheme be­came pos­si­ble only ow­ing to the pow­er­ful in­for­ma­tion im­pact of the ag­gres­sor coun­try. The main mes­sages of the Rus­sian TV at that time were: "Train of Friend­ship", "Right Sec­tor", "Berkut de­fended Crimea", "Kyiv banned the Rus­sian lan­guage", "Crimean self-de­fense" and "Military uni­form that can be bought in any store." To­day they are al­most for­got­ten, but back then they in­fil­trated the pre­pared minds and bore bit­ter fruit, mak­ing peo­ple dis­trust the au­thor­i­ties and even their own eyes and trust the ac­tions of the "good czar" Putin and re­sult­ing in the ref­er­en­dum and the "Crimea is ours" eu­pho­ria.

Then the turn of Don­bas came. The mes­sages there in­cluded "a cru­ci­fied boy", "Amer­i­can pri­vate military com­pa­nies", "a piece of land and slaves", "raped pen­sion­ers", and "a stormtrooper who downed the Boe­ing un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a Span­ish air traf­fic con­troller." Each "block­buster" of the Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda left a long trail of blood. Mes­sages heard from TV screens prej­u­diced lo­cals against their neigh­bors, en­sured the flow of mer­ce­nar­ies to the "peo­ple's re­publics" and helped un­leash a real war. To­day, de­spite the some­what de­creased in­ten­sity of the con­ven­tional shoot­ing war at the front, the in­forma-

tion bat­tle never sub­sides for a se­cond. The Rus­sian "trolls fac­tory," which had its first of­fice in Ol­gino, a his­toric district of St. Peters­burg, gen­er­ates a daily stream of neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion on pre­de­fined top­ics. Hun­dreds of pro­fes­sion­als write ar­ti­cles and pro­vide blogs and com­ments on the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in so­cial net­works. This is not al­ways done pro­fes­sion­ally, and quite of­ten one can see peo­ple of com­pletely dif­fer­ent age, gen­der or place of res­i­dence sud­denly and si­mul­ta­ne­ously dis­sem­i­nat­ing ex­actly the same ideas, with iden­ti­cal spell­ing mis­takes.

Ob­vi­ously, af­ter fol­low­ing the events of the war in Ukraine for the past three years, the civ­i­lized world is fi­nally start­ing to think about its own fu­ture. The ev­i­dence of this is the ap­proval by the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment of the res­o­lu­tion to counter Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda on Novem­ber 23. In this doc­u­ment, Rus­sian funds and news agen­cies are rec­og­nized as threats at the level of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. Now Euro­pean politi­cians are fac­ing a hard task: to find fund­ing for this ef­fort. For com­par­i­son, the an­nual bud­get of Rus­sia To­day alone is about EUR 8bn, whereas EU strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions task force (whose tasks in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing the events of in­for­ma­tion de­cep­tion on the part of Rus­sia and in­form­ing EU au­di­ences thereof) may re­ceive just EUR 8mn this year. While the Euro­pean politi­cians, as well as Ukrainian ones, are only get­ting down to work, all hope rests with vol­un­teers. For ex­am­ple, a Pol­ish jour­nal­ist Marcin Rey started a Facebook page "Rus­sian fifth col­umn in Poland", where he pub­lishes ma­te­ri­als on the ac­tiv­i­ties of "Pol­ish na­tion­al­ists" with Rus­sian con­nec­tions.

What can Ukraine op­pose to such re­sources and bud­gets? Ac­tu­ally, quite a lot. Of­fi­cially, in­for­ma­tion war­fare in the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Main Military In­tel­li­gence Direc­torate and the newly es­tab­lished spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces. Un­of­fi­cially, sim­i­lar to the con­ven­tional front, it has its own vol­un­teers, who al­ready have some­thing to sur­prise the en­emy.

One of the ma­jor achieve­ments was the cre­ation from scratch of the in­tel­li­gence sys­tem based on open sources in­ves­ti­ga­tion (OSINT, Open Source In­tel­li­gence). Bits of in­for­ma­tion are gath­ered from mass me­dia and so­cial net­works. This type of in­tel­li­gence has long be­come a norm for NATO coun­tries, but for Ukraine it is still a nov­elty. Nev­er­the­less, the achieve­ments of the newly es­tab­lished units are im­pres­sive. They helped con­firm the pres­ence of the reg­u­lar Rus­sian army in Don­bas and con­trib­uted to data har­vest­ing for the in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the down­ing of Malaysian Air­lines Flight MH17. In this work, the military are helped by vol­un­teers. The most renowned in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer com­mu­nity In­for­mNa­palm has re­peat­edly proved its ef­fec­tive­ness. Another vol­un­teer com­mu­nity, StopFake, took on coun­ter­ing in­for­ma­tion dis­tor­tion and now dis­trib­utes the di­gests of Rus­sian lies in nearly all Euro­pean lan­guages. Be­sides, com­mu­nity mem­bers reg­u­larly hold train­ing ses­sions on iden­ti­fy­ing and ver­i­fy­ing fake in­for­ma­tion for for­eign and Ukrainian jour­nal­ists.

A cre­ative re­sponse to the Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda is Army FM ra­dio, another in­ter­est­ing tool of in­for­ma­tion con­fronta­tion. The ra­dio sta­tion started off as a chan­nel cre­ated by the military for the military in the ATO area. To­day, Army FM is grad­u­ally gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among Don­bas res­i­dents. In­creas­ingly of­ten, this military chan­nel can be heard in cafes and shops in Donetsk Oblast. They had prob­lems with ob­tain­ing fre­quen­cies in some cities, but now the ra­dio's cov­er­age grows. This means that peo­ple who live in the coun­try’s trou­ble spot will fi­nally be able to hear ob­jec­tive news.

The train­ing of "in­for­ma­tion fighters" is grad­u­ally im­prov­ing. The process is greatly com­pli­cated by the unique­ness of the pro­fes­sion and the large scope of nec­es­sary skills. Un­like teach­ing gunners or driv­ers, train­ing in­for­ma­tion war­fare spe­cial­ists takes longer and re­quires more re­sources. Much more time is needed to re­store the po­ten­tial of an in­for­ma­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal op­er­a­tions unit than, say, of a tank el­e­ment. How­ever, with the right ap­proach, such ex­perts can de­liver con­sid­er­able ben­e­fits. To­day, for­eign part­ners, es­pe­cially in­struc­tors from Canada, Lithua­nia and the United States, help con­duct the train­ing. The ac­quired knowl­edge is tested dur­ing the an­nual Ukrainian-US Rapid Tri­dent military ex­er­cise. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to its par­tic­i­pants, not all for­eign coun­ter­parts are will­ing to share their ex­per­tise, while some in­struc­tors say that they don't know very well them­selves how to deal with the threats that Ukraine is fac­ing.

Of course, nu­mer­ous prob­lems re­main, the key one be­ing the lack of un­der­stand­ing of the in­for­ma­tion war­fare im­por­tance by the high­est state and military lead­er­ship. In most cases, op­er­a­tions are held not ow­ing to, but de­spite the old state ma­chin­ery. Un­like NATO of­fi­cers, not all Ukrainian top-level com­man­ders un­der­stand the ad­van­tages of us­ing in­for­ma­tion weapons. In­for­ma­tion war­fare pro­fes­sion­als are re­garded as morale of­fi­cers and are given odd tasks or pre­vented from work al­to­gether.

Another sore spot is fund­ing. Same as at the con­ven­tional front line, of­fi­cers do large amounts of work on their own ini­tia­tive and at their own ex­pense. Vol­un­teers help a lot as well. One re­cent ex­am­ple is the dis­tri­bu­tion of leaflets over Donetsk with drones dur­ing May 9 cel­e­bra­tion. The op­er­a­tion was con­ducted by the Vic­tory Sis­ters vol­un­teer fund, since the Armed Forces cur­rently have no UAVs to per­form such tasks.

In this way, de­spite the con­tin­u­ous in­for­ma­tion im­pact of the en­emy, Ukraine was able to with­stand and, with the help from part­ners, to start de­vel­op­ing its own po­ten­tial in the field of in­for­ma­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare. Given its pol­icy line and geo­graphic po­si­tion, Ukraine will have to, one way or another, pro­vide a shield to pro­tect the Western world from Rus­sia's am­bi­tions, whether as part of NATO and other al­liances or on its own. This means the need for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment of its own means of in­for­ma­tion war­fare: train­ing of the military, im­prove­ment of tech­ni­cal means, and sup­port from the au­thor­i­ties. In turn, the Ukrainian so­ci­ety, from or­di­nary ci­ti­zens to coun­try lead­ers, should also learn to fil­ter and check the in­for­ma­tion, and to be re­sis­tant to ex­ter­nal in­for­ma­tion at­tacks.

The an­nual bud­get of Rus­sia To­day alone is about EUR 8bn, whereas EU strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions task force (whose tasks in­clude iden­ti­fy­ing the events of in­for­ma­tion de­cep­tion on the part of Rus­sia and in­form­ing EU au­di­ences thereof) may re­ceive just EUR 8mn this year

Army FM. Launched as a chan­nel cre­ated by the military for the military in the ATO area, this ra­dio is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among Don­bas res­i­dents and acts as a cre­ative re­sponse to the Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda

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