It’s Time to Bring Back This Cold War Agency and Stop Ceding the Propaganda War to Russia, by Adam Maisel and William Duval

*The following article was originally published with the Modern War Institute on August 15, 2017 and abridged for the KCSC Blog

The United States has recently been derided for losing the ongoing information war, and has fallen victim to successive propaganda and disinformation campaigns orchestrated by Russia without a significant response. Given Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US elections, along with other aggressive efforts against Western democratic institutions, it is imperative for the United States to adequately respond to Russian “active measures” in the information environment (IE).

Information warfare —or information operations (IO) in US military doctrinal parlance— requires a concerted approach across all disciplines to be effective. Currently, these efforts remain stovepiped within US government agencies. Of the four instruments of national power (“DIME”—Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic), the “I” has often been misunderstood or marginalized. But never before has the “I” been so significant than in the Information Age.

Optimizing efforts to deter foreign influence on the American public and conduct effective IO requires an independent agency trusted with a more extensive task than existing government and military entities operating in the IE. With adversaries and competitors continuing to demonstrate effective central planning in information warfare, the US government can no longer let each of its components fight piecemeal.

It is disconcerting that IO continues to be treated as a “soft discipline” in military circles. Despite the value added by US IO to conventional and unconventional military activities, the use of military IO is legally constrained by who it intends to affect (i.e., foreign audiences) and its use in nonmilitary environments. The Department of State has begun efforts to “coordinate counter-terrorism messaging to foreign audiences” through its interagency Global Engagement Center, and maintains relative control over interagency theme and message coordination in many parts of the world through  “public diplomacy.” Despite these efforts, the US government lacks a comprehensive approach to IO capable of coordinating resources and maintaining a consistent narrative across US agencies and geographical areas of interest.

The remedy is a revival of the Cold War-era United States Information Agency (USIA), albeit independent (formerly residing under the Department of State) and with a modern overhaul to optimize its effectiveness in an IE dramatically different than that of the Cold War. Critically, the new USIA’s Director should review and approve budget requests for agencies and offices that are stakeholders in the IE. Furthermore, the Directorate should maintain a seat on the National Security Council and have a staggered appointment timeline to ensure continuity between presidential terms. Such measures would reduce vulnerability to executive branch overreach, while ensuring that no single government agency monopolizes IO-related policy.

The proposed USIA should not primarily serve as a product-producing agency, but rather a coordinating entity that develops strategic communication priorities and counter-propaganda strategies. One option would be to create a Director’s Steering Board, with ex officio representatives from agencies such as the Departments of State and Defense, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the current oversight authority for all US nonmilitary international broadcasting such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). USIA should also be required to liaise with existing US and allied entities (such as NATO and the EU’s East StratCom Task Force) influencing the IE to ensure continuity and effectiveness at all levels while deterring foreign propaganda where it exists. Subsequently, the USIA should provide a convening mechanism to empower media, social media, and technology companies to spread best practices on identifying and removing disinformation, and social media “bots” and “amplifier accounts” that spread it.

Undoubtedly, there will be significant challenges: rules of engagement for US military IO efforts will often conflict with initiatives from civilian agencies, and the challenge of integrating key non-governmental stakeholders such as social media platforms will pose classification issues and necessitate avoiding the perception of inappropriate government co-opting of private companies. A clearly defined charter for the agency is vital to overcome these challenges.

Maintaining a USIA with the teeth and authority to steer IO and combat disinformation will require nonpartisan investment to avoid bureaucratic turf wars. The White House and Congress must approach foreign information warfare as a national security issue rather than a political one, and recognize its significant impact on public opinion and consequently the Western liberal order.

The Misconception of Mass-Surveillance, by Pedro Lagonegro

The information era in which we live today brings the process of strategic communication to the concerns of high-level policy makers. The global consequences brought about by the Snowden leaks of 2013 is explicit evidence of this. My aim is to promote awareness of the public misconceptions with regards to the notion of mass-surveillance and to explore why governments did not efficiently communicate with the public in the context of the Snowden case.

The exploitation of these leaked materials by the mainstream media promoted a misconstrued idea of governments infringing on people’s right to privacy, embedding misleading views deep within the public mindset, resulting in worldwide protests and, most worrying, misled legislative reforms. Firstly, to avoid such a dangerous fallacy, one central technicality should have been described and clearly explained to the public: the difference between mass surveillance and bulk collection. The former is an absolute self-explanatory concept; as defined in the Cambridge Dictionary, surveillance means “the careful watching of a person or place, especially by the police or army”. Hence, mass surveillance literally means the careful watching of millions of people, which is realistically impossible when considering today’s technology and available qualified manpower. What does happen is so-called bulk collection.

So why didn’t the US and UK governments create their own narratives to explain such a crucial distinction to the public? In my view, there was one main concern that explains why: intelligence agencies are naturally hesitant to reveal internal processes that could perhaps be explored by the enemy for counter-intelligence tradecraft purposes. And so, by failing to achieve a balance between informing the public and safeguarding intelligence trade-craft secrets, governments allowed these popular misconceptions to be perceived as the truth in the public eye.

To better illustrate the concept in question, imagine a paper shooting-target made of three circles, where the most outer circle represents the digital space of bulk collection. This space contains billions of bits of data extracted randomly through powerful algorithms, which operate on word-hunt and metadata analysis, meaning from and to where the data was sent, how frequently, and to whom and by whom. Information in this circle will seldom be looked at, if ever. The algorithms catch repetitions of words and other metadata patterns that might indicate suspicious activities or behaviour. When such suspicions are detected, the related information moves on to the next smaller inner circle. The process is repeated until the data reaches the most inner-circle, where true suspects are found (Figure 1). Nonetheless, current capabilities do not even allow for all of these individuals to be put under surveillance. Considering this limited capacity, I believe that intelligence agencies were likely trying to protect their own ability to still perform such essential tasks without giving a chance for perpetrators to develop evading tactics, which today may be possible considering that the process has become public, and yet this message has not been properly conveyed to the public.


Berlusconi – A New Style For A New Phase in Italian Politics, by Mirko Giordani

Italian elections are approaching and Italy is – once again – the forerunner of new trends in political communications. The image of the “tycoon” in politics, which is now represented completely by Donald Trump, was introduced more than 20 years ago by Italy. Do you remember the famous “discesa in campo” of Silvio Berlusconi? With Berlusconi’s return to politics, it is interesting to notice a shift in his style, from a buccaneer-like political communicator, the epic self-made man continually attacking the evil “communists”, to a calmer – even soft – communication style: the “good old savvy man”, trying to restore some order to the Italian political labyrinth. While the Five Star Movement and Democratic Party fight over issues like fake news, Berlusconi speaks about themes that matter to Italian voters; real issues such as welfare, tax cuts, and a new liberal revolution.

But Berlusconi’s new style of communication is not ephemeral; it reflects a new phase in Italian politics, replacing the failure of the so called “rottamazione” of Matteo Renzi. That’s why, after Renzi’s tumultuous years, the Italian people are asking for a calmer and more relaxed style of leadership, one that can restore some sense of serenity to the country. Berlusconi fits the Italian needs perfectly; an experienced elder statesman, whom many perceive as being unjustly persecuted by the justice system, who avoids stressing every political argument, and who has kind words for the popular Premier, Paolo Gentiloni.

Berlusconi, after the 2011 ousting from the Senate, is easily getting back in the political arena. And with his target to be the first party of the center-right coalition, and surpass the Northern League, we can still get a surprise from this 81-year-old.