OPINION: Disinformation In The New Cold War

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Gregory Keeley National security analyst
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I was taught that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War — yet an increasingly pugnacious Moscow has thrust the United States and Europe into another tense global standoff.  

Simply put, the Kremlin has effectively weaponized information dissemination. Washington must confront this burgeoning menace forcefully, and engage and support former foes in the tussle.  

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, the Baltic States, coupled with other former Soviet satellites should be fundamental U.S. allies in countering the new disinformation and propaganda war being waged by a belligerent Kremlin.

We must heed Riga and Vilnius’ battle scars and adopt tactics from the Eastern European frontline of Russia’s diplomatic, cyber and propaganda warfare. Media is firepower for President Putin.

Trying to discredit every piece of propaganda disgorged by the Kremlin and its proxies will not win the war. Mikk Maran, Chief of the Estonian intelligence service, Välisluureamet, stated unassumingly, “Russia has been active. The West has been reactive.” Mr. Maran is spot on.

The U.S. administration should be mindful of the Estonian chief spy’s words and lay bare Russian disinformation and propaganda masquerading as authentic news analytically and purposefully.

The United States already has the toolbox: the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the little-known agency Polygraph, a fact-checking site, which is doing incredible work. Without exception, they appear under-funded, under-resourced and certainly under-utilized.

This needs to change. American resources, intelligence and resolve would strengthen our Baltic allies’ capabilities and bolster U.S. efforts overall.

In the Baltics, the threat from Russia is disturbingly real. Moscow’s sabre rattling and barely veiled menaces grow increasingly forbidding. Putin exploited the Obama/Clinton “reset” with no mercy.

The Russians also stepped into the vacuum in Syria and pressed emboldened into the Middle East. They now stand cheek to jowl with Iran, Turkey and Syrian leader Bashar al Asad. First Crimea fell, and then the proxy war against Ukraine. All a direct result of the failed Obama Administration gambit — that no foreign policy was considered policy.

The United States must engage our Baltic allies and take the information warfare fight to the Russians and launch a vigorous information operation on Russia’s doorstep. As the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee (and my former boss), California Republican Rep. Ed Royce suggested, “ … and why not go on the offense to release information exposing corruption at the Kremlin?”

The Baltics would stand no chance in a conventional military showdown with their giant neighbor, but they can certainly unsettle and influence the information warfare battlefield. The digitization of the Baltic states is plucky and innovative.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are now not deferential to the Kremlin. They are legitimate, respected allies, punching well above their weight within NATO. Estonia is one of only four alliance countries spending the requisite two percent of GDP on defense.

Russia is actively trying to interfere in the U.S. 2018 midterm elections. Moscow is also active in the Baltics, Macedonia, Greece and throughout Europe.  The Kremlin’s arsenal includes “fake news”, misinformation, control of broadcasting outlets, and publishing inaccurate “news” via state-run media. There are millions of automated “bots” on social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn designed to propagate dissonance and upheaval.

The United States for its part must deploy every available instrument: TV, radio, social media, algorithms, cooperation with technology companies, intelligence, diplomacy and importantly, harness indigenous outlets, forums and experts from the Baltics to Poland to Finland.

We need to ask our allies for support, provide the resources and intelligence and take the fight to the heart of mother Russia.

According Ben Heap, of the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, a NATO think tank based in Riga, Latvia, “…If you only focus on countering, you’re on their territory.”

Greg Keeley is managing partner of Dreadnaught and a retired information operations officer in both the U.S. and Australian Navies.  LCDR Keeley served as senior advisor to the vice chairman of the House Armed Service Committee & chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Congress. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.