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Failure in the National Security Influence community is habitual
It's not just Russia but our own failures
Yesterday’s TAT article was about the threat from mis/ disinformation and their insidious big brother, conspiracy theories. I also was quite critical of the failure of the US national security community to protect us in any meaningful way, from bad actors wielding influence campaigns against the US, her citizens and our allies. Russia was the majority focus of yesterday’s post and even more threatening that there is collaboration between Putin’s minions and the US right.
Today, I’d like to talk a bit more about influence and highlight a couple of the real bright spots in the fight against mis and disinformation.
First and foremost, I must begin with my personal definition of influence when it comes to supporting US national security and as outlined in our national security strategy.
“Influence, done well is achieved by a complex and intricate choreography of sustained actions, words and related activities, wrapped around a core narrative that continually modifies behavior in a manner supportive of natsec objectives.”
For those thinking that social media and messaging are all there is to influence, they could hardly be more wrong. Social media is but one tool in the influence toolbox. It can be a powerful tool if, employed in conjunction with other tools in the same toolbox, if the head practitioner/ operator knows how to use all of the tools and especially in conjunction with the other tools. This is one of my primary and regular critiques of the US national security community. Their toolbox is half full, there is no practitioner in charge and they have no concept at all of what is in my definition of influence.
There are though some bright spots developing but they are only a couple of the required tools and can’t support our NSS by themselves. I addressed all of this in a 2020, 20+ page report published in Homeland Security Today Magazine. That report has fallen on deaf ears at the decision-making level within the community. I could care less about credit because our nation’s security is my primary concern. I’m most concerned that our nation is at risk and that the community itself continues to fail. The problem with leadership is that they refuse to acknowledge that there are reasons for perpetual failure that they allow to go unaddressed.
Some of the reasons are:
- The community depends almost exclusively on hired academics for advice, many who work for big defense contractors.
- These big defense contractors often have significant input into the requirements listed in their contracts. This means that they are essentially including input they alone can fill. This kills any real innovation.
- US doctrine, no matter how much leadership crows about “something new,” is really the same old, useless nonsense with a new name. Since the US has almost exclusively failed at influence for the past 40 years minimum, you can see that we are pre-wired to continue failing unless leadership admits failure and actually attempts to solve problems instead of perpetuating them.
- Big defense contracting is incestuous and often the only things, allegedly new they “sell” are ideas from the private sector that they poach and fail to understand. This results in more failure.
- Most of all, national security leadership has failed at the most important aspect of problem solving… they haven’t defined the problem.
- If you refer to my definition of influence, you’ll see that it requires collaboration between so many US agencies, entities and allies. There hasn’t been a single effective mechanism within the community as long as I have been part of it. There is no chance, within any reasonable amount of time that this will improve. This is disgraceful beyond words.
- One final but critical point is that leadership, both in the national defense community and Congress, have incestuous relationships with large defense contractors who prefer to sell us CYBER, tanks, ships and planes because it makes those contractors…richer. President Eisenhower, a personal top 3 hero of mine warned us about the “rise of the military industrial complex.”
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
President, Dwight D. Eisenhower
January 17, 1961
I have merely outlined some of the critical vulnerabilities of our system but it’s a topic worthy of a book. Everything outlined above is fixable, if only someone would try. Even so, it will take years. That’s why the entire community largely ignores this critical point of failure. Like the proverbial ostrich, with their head in the sand, they refuse to see the threats of their failure in a meaningful way. The community, especially leadership see criticism as uninformed and unworthy of consideration. Their collective and willful failure to listen to experience on a substantive level, has become America’s “Achilles hell.”
I will also acknowledge that there are countless amazing and truly patriotic Americans involved in Defense contracting but their leadership has a nasty habit of putting their bottom line over the actual defense of our nation. Eisenhower was spot on, 61 years ago,
Some valuable bright spots of information
I will now give the national security community a breather and focus on some people and their organizations that are real bright spots in the field of understanding influence, analyzing current efforts and recommending solutions. I highly recommend everyone, especially those within the professional community, following these recommendations.
a. This non-partisan think tank not only does analysis but also research and products to help all of us better understand the seriousness of our threats from mis/ disinformation and conspiracy theories
b. From their disinformation page:
“The rise of the internet and online social networks has altered the scope and scale at which people access, consume, and communicate information. But the same technologies that have democratized access to information have also enabled malicious actors who seek to undermine our democratic values and processes. Disinformation is false or misleading information spread with the intention to deceive. It’s distinct from misinformation, which is the unintentional spread of false information. When left unchecked, disinformation has the potential to sow confusion in public dialogue, exacerbate political polarization, and promote distrust in our political systems and democratic institutions.”
2. The German Marshall Fund of the United States’, Alliance for Securing Democracy
a. Like the Atlantic Council, they are a non-partisan think tank.
b. Their website includes a remarkable, interactive search tool called “Hamilton, 2.0” that allows users to search in a variety of ways, what other adversarial nations are doing, including by hashtag, website, URL etc.
c. From their “about” page:
“We develop comprehensive strategies for government, private sector, and civil society to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on foreign state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance works to publicly document and expose these actors’ ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States, in Europe, and around the world.”
a. EUvsDisinfo is a European Union effort
b. From their about page:
c. EUvsDisinfo is the flagship project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force(opens in a new tab). It was established in 2015 to better forecast, address, and respond to the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns affecting the European Union, its Member States, and countries in the shared neighbourhood.
EUvsDisinfo’s core objective is to increase public awareness and understanding of the Kremlin’s disinformation operations, and to help citizens in Europe and beyond develop resistance to digital information and media manipulation.
4. Narrative Strategies, Tools and Resources to protect our Election
a. A set of tools, websites and programs put together by the think/ do tank of which I am the VP. This page was put together for free use in the runup to the 2020 election. There’s a lot available on this page. Tools for your local community, tools to fact-check, tools to verify photos and so much more. We don’t advocate for candidates and issues. We simply want voters to have the tools to know that they are getting credible information
From our page:
At Narrative Strategies, our core competency is influence, both offensive and defensive in support of national security and projects/ programs for the greater good. Our 2020 elections are on the near horizon and from a national security perspective, still relatively unprotected from foreign influence. For this reason, we have decided to do our part and add this page to our website as a free, no subscription required source for content and resources of value to both national security professionals and average voters.
a. The Society of Professional Journalists put this well stocked digital toolbox together for literally anyone. There are tools to verify information in so many ways and is user friendly. Their efforts here provide an excellent opportunity for us all to be better and far more accurately informed.
Thank you SPJ
Please take advantage of these resources and use them frequently. A well and accurately informed America is a far safer America. At the moment, the national security community is far beneath the required standards. Like 1776, we’ll all have to be “minutemen and women” if we’re to be well informed as we approach our upcoming election.
Have a terrific weekend,