Discover more from Truth About Threats
Fake news is a self-inflicted, near mortal wound for our democracy
And... the national security community is willfully impotent
Eight weeks ago, the Dept. of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, issued the results of their audit of DHS and their mandated task of protecting the nation from mis and disinformation. The result was both blunt and spot on.
The full memo: extension://elhekieabhbkpmcefcoobjddigjcaadp/https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-08/OIG-22-58-Aug22.pdf
Results of Audit
During the past few years, some DHS components have taken actions to counter disinformation campaigns that either pertained to the election infrastructure or distinct mission areas. However, as disinformation represents an emerging and evolving threat, DHS does not yet have a unified strategy or top-down guidance from the Secretary to mitigate disinformation. Without a more unified approach, DHS cannot effectively mitigate emerging threats or unify its work to counter disinformation campaigns that appear in social media from both foreign and domestic sources.
-Office of the Inspector General, DHS
The DHS OIG, Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, is spot on and it’s not just DHS. As the IG, noted, not only is there no strategy at DHS, but there is no comprehensive strategy within the entire USG, US Government. There are several reasons for this but only enough space in this article to put the problem into context. If there is any single, most important failure by the national security community, it is the inexcusable failure to effectively deal with any type of influence, defensive, offensive or otherwise.
While that DHS did an extraordinary job protecting our last election from a technical perspective, the “fake news” epidemic forges on, unabated. Mis and disinformation both, are but one type of influence that is a critical vulnerability to a nation, revering free speech. We have long suffered far more than we should have from the effects of coordinated influence campaigns by foreign actors like Russia and China, domestic politics, dishonest marketers like those supporting tobacco, big oil, big pharma, etc. It must stop and the national security community needs a massive shake-up before they can make even a small difference.
My only real disagreement with the IG’s quote is that “mis and disinformation represent an emerging and evolving threat.” It is not an “emerging threat” but a threat as old as humans walking upright. The US national security community spent decades during the Cold War fully engulfed in influence campaigning against the threat of Soviet-styled, communist influence called Active Measures. Influence, good and bad has been a part of US and global operations longer than written history. Remember the Trojan Horse? How about “liberty gardens” during WW II and patriotic bond drives to support our war efforts against global fascism? Yes, these are just a handful of well-known historic examples of influence tactics. Yet today, the US today hasn’t had anything more than tactical or local success in influence, since end of the Cold War.
Every single issue in our NSS, national security strategy, requires influence as the core of our attempts to deal with the detailed threats. Sadly, we are almost completely, unarmed and at the mercy of our adversaries. Congress and the NS community overall, prefer to invest exclusively in CYBER, tanks, planes, ships etc., rather than the missing core of our efforts, influence. Even if they tried, their current available expertise are the ones who’ve also failed for the past few decades. It’s time to scrap the whole effort and start from ground up and with real expertise leading the effort, not the same thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.
To get back to our topic, failure to address mis and disinformation puts our nation at significant risk. Most of us will never forget the Russian interference in the 2016 elections that in my professional opinion and others, swung the election to a Kremlin supported candidate. The evidence is quite clear in both classified and unclassified intelligence reporting, including the massive, SSCI, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s five-volume report on Russia’s 2016 and ongoing campaigns.
DoD, the Department of Defense, who has the lion’s share of the US national security budget, unveiled their new approach to influence last week and despite the hard work by consummate professionals over the past 4 years, it’s still grotesquely inadequate to reestablish influence’s role in our national defense. Outside of DoD things are no better. DHS, who has the responsibility for domestic protection, has zero chance so long as DoD, Dept. of State and the IC, Intelligence Community and others remain willfully impotent.
What the DHS IG and other experienced professionals are finally beginning to understand, is that CYBER is a supporting tool but can never solve mis and disinfo attacks alone. US national security professionals, in and outside of government must engage in active and sustained campaigns to narrate the risk and solutions to the American people. This is where my core specialty of narrative-centric influence comes in. In order to steadily and effectively engage both domestic and foreign audiences, we require a large team of narrators who actually understand what narrative is and how it works. At the moment, I can count on two hands, the number of professionals within government that actually, “get it.” Also true is that I won’t need all ten fingers to count them.
This is not the only critical vulnerability within the so-called, influence community of professionals. There are countless reasons why we fail at this type of offensive and defensive campaigning. I detailed much of this a couple of years ago in a white paper. The new DoD doctrine doesn’t make any measurable progress in any of the discussed failures, detailed in that paper.
If we are to ever achieve our NSS objectives, we cannot continue ignoring the core issue of ethical influence. There is plenty of blame to go around, including Congress, DoD, Dept of State, the IC and especially, big defense contractors that continue to regurgitate the same old, feckless nonsense, for which they collect huge sums of our tax dollars in exchange for pablum.
To bring this article home and back to the hard-working patriots at DHS, I will remind everyone that with our Mid-term elections, just weeks away, mis and disinformation is still as large a threat as it ever has been. To be blunt, both political parties still operate on conspiracy theories and mis/ disinfo. the current version of the Republican party to an extreme. No nation, especially a democracy can survive when conspiracy theories, born in 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia and their current derivatives within the extremist majority on the right, are seen as facts. We are still defenseless as a nation to this threat, leaving it up to the private sector to do the work the USG government has refused to do since the 90s. In this case, I will ask the rare favor of readers, to share this PSA and stern warning. We must all become the modern version of “minutemen” in the absence of any reasonable and professional effort by those entrusted with the mission. Either the national security community shapes up or we end up as Thomas Jefferson warned at the birth of our nation:
“Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free,
expects what never was and never will be."