The US National Security community is incapable of managing mis/ disinformation threats
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking, as when we created them
Miss and disinformation are serious threats to US national security. Look no further than Putin’s employment of influence campaigning, largely with “fake news” and all manner of conspiracy theories, which played a significant role in Trump’s victory in 2016. It has continued to this day. China, via all manner of campaigning is achieving influence advantages of importance. Iran, all manner of extremist movements, some state-sponsored and otherwise have taken a toll on US national security since before 9-11. Still, there is no real strategy to protect the US and our fellow citizens from such activity.
The entity, primarily responsible for domestic security is primarily DHS, Dept. of Homeland Security. There are others as well such as the FBI, DOJ, Federal Communications Commission and of course, the IC as a whole (intelligence community) and DoD. They are all failing miserably and even worse, wasting our hard-earned tax dollars, due to a failure in basic, problem-solving in a national security architecture that hobbles rather than supports real progress. We cannot afford to allow this to continue.
Since the US national security community won’t listen to innovators and practitioners, while continuing to depend on the same knowledge and expertise that has failed for the past 30+ years, maybe they’ll listen to Einstein, another thinker I have the highest respect for. Yes, the Einstein who is most famous for his work in theoretical physics, was also a philosopher, and made remarkable contributions to the philosophy of science.
This isn’t meant to be a piece on Einstein, but his quotes will punctuate today’s TAT about the immense threat of foreign and domestic influence, that still goes relatively unaddressed by our national security community. They are up to their ears in what it is shamelessly called, “paralysis by analysis.” There are plenty of reasons for their failure but there’s only enough time today to cover a couple of primary factors.
The community dedicated to ethical influence, in support of the US national security community, DoD included, is failing the first quote at the top of this article. They are looking at a problem, without defining it or at a minimum, poorly defining it based on the same, antiquated thinking that has failed the nation in this profession for decades.
The community at large, has fully reversed Eistein’s process. They spend 5 minutes being told what the problem is and then wasting 55 minutes on solutions to a poorly defined problem. Yes, this costs US taxpayers a fortune, for precious little in return.
The language of influence within the community, is unintelligible gibberish that hinders anyone, even if they tried from operating and campaigning. Even if they did, they still wouldn’t be able to, due to the institutional dysfunction of the community’s architecture. I have written on this often and from an experienced practitioner, not an outside consultant with little to no operational perspective.
Even the new DoD doctrine for this field, JP 3-04, is little more than old gibberish with new terminology. DoD has precious little to show for the little that they do spend on such activities.
Influence is the core of every single US national security objective as outlined in the US NSS, National Security Strategy. Ships, planes and other big-ticket, defense contractor hardware that are used in an operation are in support of influence. Every operation is designed to influence, yet influence is an afterthought in the backwater of the swamp of defense budgets.
Most of the community is nearly afraid of saying the word, “influence” out loud, let alone investing in its potential. This is the single biggest reason that the US has lost every modern conflict, after the shooting stops.
The bottom line: No one in the existing national security can communicate influence, to a “six-year-old.”
The US national security community is obsessed with CYBER and other supporting technology.
While that I approve of pushing development of CYBER tools and tactics, what the hell are they designing these tools for, if they haven’t defined the problem? Yes, this is a rhetorical question. They are clueless regarding the real problem.
Again, we are wasting and frittering away valuable tax dollars and time that we cannot afford to lose. Our adversaries though who are experiencing similar developmental issues, haven’t figured it out yet either. The difference, and this is part of the threat, our adversaries campaign in influence. We don’t. They will figure it out far faster and will also already have campaign experience.
The opinions expressed in ad nauseum staff meetings, are nearly always based on some book or other that is dedicated to rehashing old, tired and often, failed concepts. Occasionally, innovative concepts come up but are quickly shoved aside for, doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Yes, another quote often attributed to Einstein but quite likely… not accurate.
Finally, under this point, the US must write its own book. If we continue to hire authors whose only track record is failure, we will have failed, every principle, Einstein conceived of in his philosophical approach to science. Also, this failure equates to another, ruthlessly true admonition to, “not throw good money, after bad.”
How do we fix this problem? Well, Einstein once again helps us to find our way. With a dysfunctional community, during operations, mostly when deployed, I have long had to depend on solving problems via the commonsense Einstein summarizes so succinctly in these and a library of other, equally priceless quotes. Don’t get me wrong, the community itself is full of highly trained and motivated patriots, wanting to operate but are handcuffed by incompetent, gutless leadership that has little to no vision.
Here’s a bit of insight from my long career as an operator.
Define the problem.
The problem is influence. Influence is a human endeavor that highly paid contractors are mostly trying to solve with machines (technology).
In order to influence humans, you must know how humans work and make meaning out of what they experience throughout their lives. This is called narrative.
To support this understanding and focus on strategy, all manner of other fields must be woven into the mix, such as neuroscience, psychology, cultural nuances, historical nuances and so on. The IC rarely if ever collects the intelligence required to come to actionable solutions to influence.
Fix the IC
Make the process of solving the problem as simple as being able to, “explain it to a six-year-old.” This means tossing aside existing doctrine and language.
Understand that one size does NOT fit all. Every audience is different and must be approached based on their NI, Narrative Identity
Once you understand the problem and the NI of audiences, devise a strategy that widely separated communities can operate with, and without the obscene level of top-down, micromanagement.
Campaign, campaign, campaign
influence requires sustained engagement, human and tech. This is the antithesis of current approaches.
Build agility into campaigning.
Find where technology and other influence tools fit into supporting campaigns and stop doing the opposite.
Write your own book, looking forward, not backwards. Old concepts with new names is NOT innovating, no matter how much some useless defense contracting firm says they are on the “cutting edge.”
Finally, listen to operators, not the same old big defense contracting firms with a long, unbroken history of failure.
I will close this out with some insights for those entrusted with our domestic security. I will focus these comments on DHS but also will note that the other entities mentioned above also share responsibility in some form or another with our national security.
DHS, stop believing that you can do this by technical means alone. The concept is patently absurd. If your community and the FBI, don’t begin sustained narration of these threats, directly to US citizens about prevalent and persistent miss/ disinformation, you will continue to fail. Simply putting information on a website is useless. Working through state and local authorities must become a sustained effort to warn Americans of the external and internal threats from malign influence actors like Russia, extremist organizations, and any number of other global states.
Stop believing that tech is a “silver bullet.” If it was, it would have already worked. Our problems are now worse than ever. After 9-11, most of the US government engaged the US populace with critical information regarding security, constantly. Now that the primary extremist threat is tied to a major US political party, nary a word from anyone.
For heaven’s sake USG, go on the offensive against our adversaries wielding a much sharper influence blade than ours. Influence is both art and science and to date, no one seems to understand how to operate with either art or science.
Law down the law to those with big contracts for these efforts. Paychecks depend on progress, not just existing and recycling old BS with new names.
US State, IC, DoD, DHS, FBI etc. invest in innovative training. The nation is at risk and y’all aren’t getting the job done.
Finally, most of our worst miss and disinformation threats exist because politicians, especially on the right side of the aisle, have benefited from domestic and foreign influence during the Trump era. If these people sit on committees and vote, their threat must be mitigated as well. This is up to voters but… they cannot make informed decisions unless the USG actually begins narrating to the American people. This requires leadership and integrity.
We may be able to get away with a band-aid while we do a dramatic rework of the national security community, but time is running out. AI is on everyone’s lips and if we don’t double-back and get the basics right, our threats will increase exponentially.
As it pertains to technology, Einstein offers us the most prescient of closing quotes:
Once again, Mr. Cobaugh, you have expertly and precisely defined the very serious problem. And provide suggestions to address/mitigate the problem. I have deep skepticism that somewhere within the morass of DHS there exists a critical mass of sentient beings willing and able to act.