The Russians Are Coming!
US Government International Media Information War Lost
By The Federalist
The warning may be a bit too late.
They are seemingly everywhere.
On January 5, 2017 Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding Russian cyber hacking and other activities related to the US national election in November 2016. In the course of his testimony, Director Clapper remarked,
“This is strictly personal opinion — not company policy — but I think that we could do with having a USIA on steroids to fight this information war a lot more aggressively than we’re doing right now,”
Our opinion: he’s right.
At the hands of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), through a collection of inept career government bureaucrats and former private sector entertainment media executives or ideologically-driven advocacy journalists with no substantive intercultural communications, foreign policy or public diplomacy experience, US Government international media has made enormous progress – in a steady if not accelerated deterioration in its ability to have meaningful resonance with global publics.
This lack of resonance has reached critical mass: the BBG has been overwhelmed by a steady advance of disinformation, misinformation and outright falsehoods. It is not and will not be an effective counter to this onslaught, particularly in the hands of current senior officials.
This agency is a mere shadow of what used to be the USIA (United States Information Agency). History speaks to the distinctions between the two agencies.
In addition to Director Clapper’s remark is a commentary by Joe Bruns on the Public Diplomacy Council website:
Mr. Bruns is a former agency senior official. Though a number of years retired, he knows the territory. His commentary offers a number of clearly articulated suggestions for what needs to be done.
Will any of these suggestions be acted upon by senior agency officials?
In our view, probably not. Doing so would be an acknowledgement that these officials have messed up and messed up royally. We know these people very, very well. Our sense of things is that their preferred strategy is to deny reality, continue to pursue business as usual and hunker down for whatever may come by way of the next administration. What should come is to see these individuals retire or be detailed elsewhere in the Federal Government where they can do the least amount of damage. They would still retain their pay and grade, unfortunately, but having them out of the Cohen Building indefinitely would be a major plus and would facilitate making necessary reforms.
The agency has no effective leadership. Not John Lansing (the agency CEO). Not Amanda Bennett (the Voice of America [VOA] director). In their hands, the agency is appropriately described as being in a state of chaos, flip-flopping wildly with shifting “priorities” and essentially hastening even more deterioration.
In addition, it allows for a group of malcontents to rail loudly about the false bogeyman that the agency will be turned into a propaganda mouthpiece.
Piece of advice for the malcontents:
Knock it off.
If the VOA newsroom was doing what it is supposed to do effectively, the agency would likely not be in the dilapidated position it finds itself today. Instead, they have chosen to adopt the tactics of stall, delay and make oversized allegations and criticisms against necessary remedial action to rehabilitate the agency’s mission performance.
And when this isn’t enough, they choose to engage in crude and vulgar political parodies, which for active Federal employees is being on the wrong side of their official status.
And it is evident that neither Lansing nor Bennett knows how to manage a federal organization.
This continued malingering is giving decision makers way above the pay grades of people in the newsroom and the Third Floor of the Cohen Building a whole host of reasons to get rid of the agency in its current form and not waste a whole lot of time doing it.
There is no such thing as a “fantastic leadership team” inside the Cohen Building. From the consequences to the agency’s mission, there may be a “fantastic demolitions team” at work: people who like to talk a BIG game but can’t deliver the goods as the agency further deteriorates.
It’s time to make some changes which are long overdue.
The Russians are doing their best to practice information dominance and information superiority. The BBG is hardly making it a contest.
“The Past Is Prologue”
Let’s take a short overview of where the Russians are and how they got here.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The Russians have been building their cyber/information capability for some time.
- One can go back to 2008 when the Russians invaded the Republic of Georgia. As part of their cyber warfare operations, they hacked into the Georgian government’s financial information – and proceeded to drain the government’s treasury. The war ended very soon thereafter.
- Though not focused upon as much as we believe it should be one should recall that the traitor Edward Snowden is in Moscow. It would be highly unlikely that the Russians are giving this individual free room and board. More than likely, Snowden is an active component in Russian cyber operations. One of the biggest mistakes of the Obama administration was not to nab this guy when they could have (and which the Russians most assuredly would have done if the situation was reversed). We’re paying the price for this now and likely the foreseeable future.
- Another tool of the Russians is the anarchist Julian Assange, hiding out in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. To all appearances he is working in tandem with the Russians in its hacking operations.
From one of our previous commentaries:
The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage
By Gordon Corera
431 pp. $29.95
(Reviewed in The Washington Post on Sunday, September 11, 2016 by Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio counterterrorism correspondent.)
Mr. Corera is a BBC journalist. (Why are we not surprised?)
Mindful of the oversized boast by Andre Mendes, BBG IT chief about kicking the Chinese out of the agency’s IT infrastructure, we offer the following quote:
“China’s programmers are said to employ well-known tools; Russians are more likely to write their own code. China’s hacking is often sloppier and easier to spot (hence all the attention), while Russia’s hackers are more expert and operate below the radar.”
The Chinese may be sloppier but they are nonetheless effective by the sheer volume of their cyber warfare efforts.
With the Russians, IF you find them, it maybe way beyond too late.
Of particular note, Ms. Temple-Raston observes in her review,
“Russian hackers also differ from Chinese ones, Corera reports, in that it is widely understood that leaders in Moscow will leave them alone on two conditions: first that they don’t attack Mother Russia, and second, that when the state calls upon them, they will do its bidding.
‘It has even been claimed that Russian hackers who are convicted are offered the chance to work for the intelligence services rather than go to jail…All of this would provide a significant but also largely denial capability for the Russian state, wielded in conjunction with intelligence services.’”
Thus, the axis between the Russian government with the likes of Snowden, Assange and others doing a good deal of the Russians’ dirty work.
In short, Russian cyber warfare capabilities are massive and have been constantly refined. They have been functionally and operationally successful long before the US national election in November 2016. By the time of the election, these assets were positioned and constituted to project the interests of the Russian state.
There are a multitude of motivations for Russian behavior. In the context of the US national election let us consider the following:
On October 9, 2016 The Washington Post published a “Five Myths” feature on Russia. The author of the piece was Masha Gessen, described by the Post as, “a Russian American journalist and the author of “Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”
Ms. Gessen also had a brief tour with the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in the capacity of its service chief.
Ms. Gessen titles Myth No. 1, “Russia is trying to throw the U.S. election to Donald Trump.” Ms. Gessen writes,
“The fact is this: Putin would rather see anyone but Hillary Clinton become president. He has blamed her personally for inciting the Russian protests of 2011-2012, saying that ‘she set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal’ that caused the demonstrations. But he is not exactly a fan of Trump, contrary to the billionaire’s own perception: Putin has called Trump “colorful,” not “brilliant” and (at the time of Gessen’s piece) has mentioned him only twice.”
All of the above is information obtained through public sources, none of which was marked “CLASSIFIED” or “SECRET” at the time of publication. And most importantly, all of it published well in advance of the national election.
With all of this known beforehand, the question arise: Why the belated recognition of and reaction to Russian actions by the US Government? Why the absence of effective countermeasures?
And for the Clinton campaign, it should have risen well above their radar that the Russians were prepared to wage a campaign to project their antipathy toward Secretary Clinton in such a way that they might be able to influence the outcome of the election. Perhaps Secretary Clinton underestimated the capability and willingness to act. If so, it may have been an incautious moment of hubris. And it cost Secretary Clinton dearly: as the person who identified the agency as dysfunctional and “practically defunct,” she ironically might be the greatest victim of the agency’s failure.
There are some lessons to be learned from this:
- The manipulation of global media and information has gone “nuclear.” Not only are there state actors but also individuals and organizations willing to project thought, it seems often intentionally erroneous thought, to influence events.
- The ability of the United States, at a government, private sector and individual citizen level, to prevent hacking is behind the curve when compared to the Russians who undoubtedly share their processes, procedures, technology and techniques with others when it suits their interests.
- Most worrisome is what has been remarked before regarding “confirmation bias:” namely, the willingness of people to gravitate and ascribe credibility to almost anyone with a website and calling themselves a “news” site, affirming their views. During the national election cycle, on Facebook in particular, we have seen people post or re-post for or against Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump, from organizations we never heard of before and then layering on top of these posts their own often toxic remarks about anyone in support of one candidate or the other if someone does not offer a favorable response to their views.
Reflecting on Director Clapper’s remark, one observer noted:
“We don’t have a USIA on steroids. We have the BBG dispensing placebos.”