Russia is suspected of being behind a sustained hacking attack against the Italian foreign ministry last year that compromised email communications and lasted for many months before it was detected, The Guardian reports.
The U.S. does not fully understand Russia’s cyber capabilities and lacks a playbook to respond to future Kremlin-directed cyberattacks, a Senate hearing on U.S.-Russia relations heard this week.
“Russia’s ability to wage information warfare has been greatly aided by its heavy investments in cyberspace, where the United States remains ill-equipped to counter or deter its aggressive probing,” wrote Julianne Smith, director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for New American Security in a prepared statement to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
In his 2007 address to the Annual Security Conference in Munich, Vladimir Putin threw down a gauntlet to the West, hinting that Russia would build its capability in information warfare to counter the West, the University of London’s David Stupples notes:
In the same year, a Russian policy doctrine noted that as the world became more digitally connected, the well-being of nation states would become dependent on data and its rapid movement. … In the decade since, Russia has rapidly developed its information warfare capability and deployed it in conflicts in Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine….A further downside is that China, North Korea and Iran seem to be copying this model.
“We believe our objective and balanced channel will serve as an alternative to disinformation and lies that sometimes we see coming from Russian state-sponsored outlets,” Kenan Aliyev, executive editor of Current Time, told Reuters. “We are not counterpropaganda at all. We are objective and balanced, verified news. We are an open platform for anyone who wants to engage in a civilized discussion.”
What is needed beyond protecting the media landscape from Russian myth-making is to increase the “media literacy” of news consumers, some suggest:
In an experiment last year sponsored by Canada and run by the nonprofit IREX, more than 15,000 Ukrainians participated in workshops that trained them to be more discerning in reading and watching media reports. Participants, for example, were taught how to “resist fakes,” how to check the truthfulness of headlines, and how to better understand when information channels are credible and reliable. Many went away eager to share their newfound skills.
A bipartisan initiative led by Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy has authorized $160 million over two years to fight propaganda state actors through the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC). The GEC would also make grants would go to independent organizations like Bellingcat and StopFake.org—which provide access to truthful information and counter false Russian narratives in Ukraine, The Daily Beast reports.
“We cannot respond to state propaganda with more state propaganda. The proper response is to use the main advantage that Western societies still have over authoritarian regimes: a really robust, pluralistic civil society,” said Alina Polyakova, who is the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center deputy director and was an early supporter the GEC legislation.
Ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last year made a persuasive case for revealing more of that information. In response to Russian hacking during the U.S. elections, Schiff urged President Obama to start “revealing corruption within the Kremlin and Putin’s own corruption.” Weakening Putin at home and upsetting his narrative that Russia is on an equal moral plane with the United States should be part and parcel of our national security approach to Russia.
Information warfare is not the only weapon in Putin’s arsenal. The Kremlin is also said to be plotting to provoke a new refugee crisis to influence the outcome of elections in the EU.
Join the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication & The Atlantic Council to address the issue of ‘Dealing with New Competition’ and ‘The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.’
- Professor Ben O’Loughlin, Professor of International Relations and Co-Director of the New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London.
- Professor Alister Miskimmon, Reader in European Politics and International Relations and Co-Director of the Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
- Christopher Walker, Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group (NED).
- Alina Polyakova, Deputy Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and Senior Fellow for the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
2/28/2017 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM