Krem­lin dis­in­for­ma­tion and prac­ticed in­tim­i­da­tion

For the sake of na­tional se­cu­rity and the se­cu­rity of al­lies, the U.S. must deal with Rus­sian mischief

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Mike Rogers Mike Rogers, a CNN na­tional se­cu­rity com­men­ta­tor, is the host of CNN’s “De­clas­si­fied” TV se­ries, the past chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, and a mem­ber of the Beacon Project.

It seems that every day brings a new rev­e­la­tion of Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. From the in­va­sions of Ge­or­gia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, to the sit­u­a­tion in Syria to­day, the Putin regime’s ac­tions have reached a level that not even the most para­noid Krem­li­nol­o­gists would have pre­dicted just a few years ago. Russia’s ex­er­cises in blunt, hard power are com­ple­mented by a covert soft-power cam­paign, de­signed to in­su­late the state from chal­lenges at home and abroad. And with the hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee by op­er­a­tives tied to the Rus­sian government, many Amer­i­cans are only now be­com­ing aware of what once might have seemed like a for­eign con­cern.

The hack­ing of government en­ti­ties and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, the use of “troll fac­to­ries” to si­lence and in­tim­i­date crit­ics, and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of dis­in­for­ma­tion are just a few of the tac­tics em­ployed to ex­ert in­flu­ence and sow di­vi­sion among the Krem­lin’s ad­ver­saries. Russia has al­ways at­tempted to pen­e­trate in­flu­en­tial agen­cies and in­sti­tu­tions that could give it a strate­gic ad­van­tage. But un­der Vladimir Putin, and us­ing new tech­no­log­i­cal means, the scope of these ef­forts has widened dra­mat­i­cally — with tar­gets rang­ing from for­eign gov­ern­ments and politi­cians, to Olympic ath­letes and NGOs.

In ad­di­tion to the cy­ber­at­tacks against en­ti­ties such as the U.S. fi­nan­cial sys­tem, Europe is a par­tic­u­lar tar­get for ma­nip­u­la­tion—and per­haps an even more vul­ner­a­ble en­vi­ron­ment, tak­ing into ac­count its phys­i­cal prox­im­ity and ad­ja­cent bor­ders. Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­cur­sions into Ukrainian ter­ri­tory have been matched by an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to un­der­mine core state in­sti­tu­tions through cy­ber­at­tacks. Most re­cently, Rus­sians are be­lieved to be be­hind this month’s mal­ware at­tack on Ukraine’s Min­istry of Finance.

Ger­many, France and the Nether­lands will all go to the polls in 2017 amid fears of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence; in Ger­many, the head of the for­eign in­tel­li­gence agency has warned that Rus­sian hack­ers may at­tempt to in­ter­fere with the elec­tion in or­der to cause “po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty” in Ger­many. Ger­man in­tel­li­gence ser­vices be­lieve Rus­sian hack­ers work­ing for the state were be­hind cy­ber­at­tacks car­ried out against the Ger­man par­lia­ment in 2015. This com­bi­na­tion of hack­ing to un­der­mine trust in in­sti­tu­tions and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of pro­pa­ganda is cor­ro­sive to western democ­racy. It is one of the rea­sons the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is calling for in­sti­tu­tional in­vest­ment to raise aware­ness of Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the U.S., we must take ac­tion to pre­vent this ac­tiv­ity, both for the sake of our own na­tional se­cu­rity and the se­cu­rity of our Euro­pean al­lies. The “Coun­ter­ing Dis­in­for­ma­tion and Pro­pa­ganda Act,” co-spon­sored by Sen. Rob Port­man, Ohio Repub­li­can, and Sen. Chris Mur­phy, Con­necti­cut Demo­crat, was in­cluded as part of the FY 2017 Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act and rep­re­sents an im­por­tant step. This bi­par­ti­san bill will es­tab­lish an in­ter­a­gency cen­ter at the State Depart­ment to co­or­di­nate counter-pro­pa­ganda ef­forts across the U.S. government. The leg­is­la­tion would sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pand the range of tools avail­able to con­front the ef­fects of dis­in­for­ma­tion spread by the Krem­lin and other au­thor­i­tar­ian pow­ers that seek asym­met­ric means to un­der­mine stronger eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary sys­tems.

That this is­sue has in­spired sig­nif­i­cant leg­is­la­tion is a tes­ta­ment to the se­ri­ous­ness of the threat. That is one of the rea­sons why I’ve be­come in­volved with IRI’s Beacon Project — an ef­fort de­signed to ex­pose and counter Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion in Europe, where the cam­paign to sub­vert democ­racy through these tac­tics is par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive. This month, the Beacon Project launched a new tool to col­lect and track the ori­gin and dis­sem­i­na­tion pat­terns of these false nar­ra­tives, help­ing de­ci­sion mak­ers gain in­sight into the na­ture of this prob­lem in or­der to de­sign ef­fec­tive pol­icy re­sponses.

Pol­icy on such a strate­gic threat re­quires a con­certed ef­fort among the U.S. and our Euro­pean part­ners, and that we fur­ther our con­struc­tive, com­mu­nica­tive re­la­tion­ships.To push back against Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda, we must work to­gether to main­tain con­tin­u­ously fac­tual, cred­i­ble mes­sag­ing that highlights the im­por­tance of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, as well as the irony and bank­ruptcy of Rus­sian ef­forts to un­der­mine them.

It’s im­por­tant not only that pol­icy and me­dia lead­ers un­der­stand the re­al­ity of Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, and the dif­fuse and of­ten in­no­va­tive ways the Krem­lin has found to ex­ert in­flu­ence and in­tim­i­date op­po­nents, but that Amer­i­can and Euro­pean con­stituen­cies do as well. Our lead­ers must mar­shal their re­solve and in­ge­nu­ity to high­light and op­pose these tac­tics in all their forms, and in­te­grate our pub­lic af­fairs, diplo­macy, and in­tel­li­gence ef­forts ac­cord­ingly.

ILLLUSTRATION BY LINAS GARSYS

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