At a glance.
- Disinformation in the cases of Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
- Sweden's Psychological Defence Agency.
- The Cyberspace Solarium Commission reports on disinformation.
- Agent 0.07.
Disinformation as battlespace preparation (and a combat multiplier).
Defense One reports that the US Administration has called out a Russian disinformation campaign surrounding current tensions with Ukraine.
Some background and context are probably in order. Russian President Putin has consistently framed Russian pressure on Ukraine as either 1) a rectification of borders, as in the case of Russia's annexation of Crimea, or 2) protective solidarity with the legitimate aspirations of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, as in the Donbass and the nominal separatists found in that part of eastern Ukraine, or, finally, 3) a defensive reaction to aggressive NATO expansion into the Near Abroad, with attendant forward deployment of NATO (and especially US) forces. (Especially missiles, with the claims normally accompanied by pictures of a Patriot air defense fire unit.
A case can be made for any of these, not necessarily a strong case, but a case. Russian fears about security and encroachment of menacing neighbors historically run deep. Nonetheless there are elements of the Kremlin's current messaging that seem explicable only as deliberate disinformation. Sputnik, for example, has characterized US warnings that Russia intends to invade Ukraine as "nonsensical" (ignoring the 2014 occupation of Crimea, perhaps on the grounds that this by now amounts to an internationally accepted fait accompli, and characterizing the Donbass as a "breakaway region"). It's also retailed quite preposterous claims that the US is staging unspecified "chemicals" into Ukraine, as well as deploying tanks there:
"On 21 December, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a ministerial gathering that private US military firms had delivered tanks with unidentified chemical components to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman, in close proximity to Ukraine's breakaway Donbass region, for apparent provocations. The Pentagon denied that US companies are preparing chemical provocations in Ukraine."
Russian forces have also this week entered Kazakhstan at the request of Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who sought the intervention under provisions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO, the Guardian reports, is an organization composed of six former Soviet republics: Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Thus the Russian forces are nominally there by invitation as peacekeepers. The proximate cause of unrest in Kazakhstan has been the high cost of fuel, but the protests have also addressed widespread corruption and inequality. Various Russian sources have put the disturbances in its Central Asian neighbor down to American inspiration and instigation, a claim that the White House dismisses, the New York Post reports, as ridiculous. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said:
“There are some crazy Russian claims about the US being behind this. Let me just use this opportunity to convey that as absolutely false, and clearly a part of the standard Russian disinformation playbook.”
Sweden's "Psychological Defence Agency."
The Record describes a new effort to counter disinformation being organized by the Swedish government, a Psychological Defence Agency that will seek to identify misinformation and organize opinion against it. The agency's mission statement reads:
"The agency’s main mission is the coordination and development of agencies’ and other actors’ activities within Sweden’s psychological defence. We offer support to agencies, municipalities, regions, companies and organisations and contribute to strengthening resilience within our population. "
The Agency envisions itself as a leading player in a whole-of-nation approach:
"The purpose of psychological defence is to safeguard our open and democratic society, the free formation of opinion and Sweden’s freedom and independence.
"Psychological defence must be able to identify, analyse, meet and prevent undue information influence and other misleading information that is directed at Sweden or Swedish interests both nationally and internationally. It can be disinformation aimed at weakening the country’s resilience and the population’s will to defend itself or unduly influencing people’s perceptions, behaviours and decision making.
"Psychological defence must also strengthen the population’s ability to detect and resist influence campaigns and disinformation. Psychological defence contributes to creating resistance and willingness to defend among our population and in society as a whole.
"The Swedish Psychological Defence Agency works both preventively and operationally and must be able to fulfil its tasks in peacetime and in war. We will contribute to a strong Swedish total defence that prevents conflicts."
How this will work out in practice, of course, remains to be seen. The Agency seems, at least, to be alive to the risk such undertakings can pose to civil liberties, and freedom of speech and thought in particular. Its director, Henrik Landerholm. explicitly disavows any Orwellian intent. “This is not the Ministry of Truth or a State Information Board like we had during the Cold War,” he said. “We want to protect freedom of opinion in our country.”
The Cyberspace Solarium Commission's recommendations on countering disinformation.
The US Cyberspace Solarium Commission has wrapped up its work, and is in the process of transitioning from a Government commission to a not-for-profit organization. As it moves on, it leave a report on countering disinformation that recommends the US Government take measures that seem similar, on the surface at least, to those that inspired Sweden's Psychological Defence Agency, The Solarium commissioners offer seven high-level recommendations, which we quote in summary form:
- Recommendation 1: Congress should establish a Civics Education Task Force, enable greater access to civics education resources, and raise public awareness about foreign disinformation.
- Recommendation 2: Congress should ensure material support to non-governmental disinformation researchers
- Recommendation 3: Congress should fund the Department of Justice to provide grants to nonprofit centers seeking to identify, expose, and explain malign foreign influence campaigns to the American public
- Recommendation 4: Congress should create a capability within DHS to actively monitor foreign disinformation
- Recommendation 5: Congress should create a grants program at the Department of Homeland Security designed to equip SLTT governments with the personnel and resources necessary to identify foreign disinformation campaigns and incorporate countermeasures into public communications strategies
- Recommendation 6: Congress should reform the Foreign Agents Registration Act and direct the Federal Communications Commission to introduce new regulations in order to improve media ownership transparency in the United States
- Recommendation 7: Congress should grant a federal entity the authority to publish and enforce transparency guidelines for social media platforms
How many of these will eventually be adopted remains, again, to be seen, as is how effective they'll prove.
James Pond, Agent 0.07.
Connoisseurs of data theater owe it to themselves to watch this brief Xinhua video, "No Time to Die Laughing," which lampoons Anglo-American concerns about the security risks they see in Huawei equipment. We offer it without comment, since it requires none. Except maybe yabba-dabba-doo. Listen to the whole thing.