Kremlin disinformation and practiced intimidation

December 29, 2016  |  News, Uncategorized

By Mike Rogers

Monday, December 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It seems that every day brings a new revelation of Russian aggression. From the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, to the situation in Syria today, the Putin regime’s actions have reached a level that not even the most paranoid Kremlinologists would have predicted just a few years ago.

Russia’s exercises in blunt, hard power are complemented by a covert soft-power campaign, designed to insulate the state from challenges at home and abroad. And with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee by operatives tied to the Russian government, many Americans are only now becoming aware of what once might have seemed like a foreign concern.

The hacking of government entities and public institutions, the use of “troll factories” to silence and intimidate critics, and the dissemination of disinformation are just a few of the tactics employed to exert influence and sow division among the Kremlin’s adversaries. Russia has always attempted to penetrate influential agencies and institutions that could give it a strategic advantage. But under Vladimir Putin, and using new technological means, the scope of these efforts has widened dramatically — with targets ranging from foreign governments and politicians, to Olympic athletes and NGOs.

In addition to the cyberattacks against entities such as the U.S. financial system, Europe is a particular target for manipulation — and perhaps an even more vulnerable environment, taking into account its physical proximity and adjacent borders. Russian military incursions into Ukrainian territory have been matched by an aggressive campaign to undermine core state institutions through cyberattacks. Most recently, Russians are believed to be behind this month’s malware attack on Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance.

Germany, France and the Netherlands will all go to the polls in 2017 amid fears of Russian interference; in Germany, the head of the foreign intelligence agency has warned that Russian hackers may attempt to interfere with the election in order to cause “political uncertainty” in Germany. German intelligence services believe Russian hackers working for the state were behind cyberattacks carried out against the German parliament in 2015. This combination of hacking to undermine trust in institutions and the dissemination of propaganda is corrosive to western democracy. It is one of the reasons the European Parliament is calling for institutional investment to raise awareness of Russian disinformation activities.

In the U.S., we must take action to prevent this activity, both for the sake of our own national security and the security of our European allies. The “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act,” co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, was included as part of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and represents an important step. This bipartisan bill will establish an interagency center at the State Department to coordinate counterpropaganda efforts across the U.S. government. The legislation would significantly expand the range of tools available to confront the effects of disinformation spread by the Kremlin and other authoritarian powers that seek asymmetric means to undermine stronger economic, political and military systems.

That this issue has inspired significant legislation is a testament to the seriousness of the threat. That is one of the reasons why I’ve become involved with IRI’s Beacon Project — an effort designed to expose and counter Russian disinformation in Europe, where the campaign to subvert democracy through these tactics is particularly aggressive. This month, the Beacon Project launched a new tool to collect and track the origin and dissemination patterns of these false narratives, helping decision makers gain insight into the nature of this problem in order to design effective policy responses.

Policy on such a strategic threat requires a concerted effort among the U.S. and our European partners, and that we further our constructive, communicative relationships. To push back against Russian propaganda, we must work together to maintain continuously factual, credible messaging that highlights the importance of our democratic institutions, as well as the irony and bankruptcy of Russian efforts to undermine them.

It’s important not only that policy and media leaders understand the reality of Russian aggression, and the diffuse and often innovative ways the Kremlin has found to exert influence and intimidate opponents, but that American and European constituencies do as well. Our leaders must marshal their resolve and ingenuity to highlight and oppose these tactics in all their forms, and integrate our public affairs, diplomacy, and intelligence efforts accordingly.

-Mike Rogers, a CNN national security commentator, is the host of CNN’s “Declassified” TV series, the past chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and a member of the Beacon Project.

Read full piece in The Washington Times here.

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CNN

U.S. must not overlook North Korea threat

December 3, 2016  |  News, Uncategorized

by Mike Rogers

(CNN) North Korea’s 32-year-old leader is often mocked online, on TV shows and in movies, but it is believed Kim Jong Un could have 50 to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020 — a reality that should give a chill to anyone tempted to dismiss Kim as anything less than serious. Recognizing the threat, this week the UN Security Council voted unanimously to introduce new sanctions, stating that North Korea should abandon its nuclear weapons program.

As the next administration takes power, it must recognize that we cannot use sanctions and food aid to bring North Korea to the negotiating table only to watch it continue its destabilizing behavior once it receives the aid. Let’s learn from our past mistakes and be sure we address the nuclear elephant in the room. An Iran with “the bomb” clearly would be catastrophic, but we already have a nuclear armed rogue state — and its sophistication is growing.

True, many of North Korea’s policies seem wildly belligerent. But they have often produced specific returns in the form of diplomatic or economic concessions. The big question, though, is where the political and military leadership align with Kim’s own impulses.

Kim is ruthless in his pursuit of power — he has had dozens of senior officials executed, including reportedly by anti-aircraft cannon. And, like his father, Kim has continued policies that have left many thousands starving. Indeed, he is a man who has an absolute authority that rests on his whims — Kim is not the head of a democratic republic with political checks and balances, nor does he have to juggle the power structure within a more autocratic nation like China.

But he may not always be a rational actor. He executed his uncle not long after taking power, an official who was his strongest connection to China, his nation’s economic lifeline. In a country that relies on aid packages and black market goods to try to feed its people, that should give you pause.

Continuing to demonstrate his autonomy from his patron state, Kim also recently ignored Chinese warnings about his weapons tests. This past summer, Kim tested a missile that for the first time landed within the Japanese air defense zone. It was fired from a submerged submarine, which passes a high technical threshold, and could present a greater detection difficulty to regional missile defense systems. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) are a technology few nations possess and allow force projection far outside of a nation’s boundaries.

Kim’s antagonistic behavior has apparently so ruffled the Chinese that they have joined the United States in facilitating sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations. Yet many Americans are probably more familiar with Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il.

The second-generation ruler of North Korea tested two nuclear weapons during his 17-year reign, a number already surpassed by his son, who since becoming leader in 2011 has tested three nuclear devices. North Korea conducted its largest nuclear weapon test yet in early September, showing it is progressing in its development, not just deploying its current models to saber rattle.

Since taking power, Kim has continued anti-US rhetoric, brushed off warnings from China, increased his rate of nuclear and missile tests in continued defiance of UN sanctions and now has SLBM technology. The level of concern was enough to prompt reaction by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who stated last month that any nuclear attack on the United States or our allies would result in an “overwhelming” response.

All this suggests that while the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — and the siege of Mosul — dominate what US TV news airtime is not spent on postelection coverage, the growing belligerence of North Korea under Kim should be getting greater attention.

The United States should leverage its diplomatic, economic, intelligence and military capabilities to deter and prevent continued North Korean weapons development. We must strengthen our regional allies’ missile-defense capabilities, ramp up pressure on Russia and China to exercise their influence on the regime, convince China to end the black market flow of goods across the border and increase sanctions on the North Korean elite so they feel the consequences of their actions.

Periods of presidential transition in Washington, DC and the first days of a new government have been times in which our adversaries have tested us in the past. It is imperative that our national security leaders are ready to do more than simply fight terrorism, because our adversaries don’t wait patiently in line.

Read full piece at CNN.com here.

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CNN

US military prepares for the next frontier: Space war

November 29, 2016  |  Uncategorized

Since man first explored space, it has been a largely peaceful environment. But now US adversaries are deploying weapons beyond Earth’s atmosphere, leading the US military to prepare for the frightening prospect of war in space.

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Can Special Forces defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

November 11, 2016  |  News, Uncategorized

by Mike Rogers

(CNN) President Obama said his current strategy on ISIS is working and that the death of 129 people in Paris is a “setback.” He also said ISIS is contained, despite ISIS claiming credit for the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, the death of dozens in a bombing in Beirut, and the other 31 successful global attacks by ISIS and its affiliates this year.

The recent announcement by the White House that not more than 50 special operations forces will be dispatched to help coordinate the fight against ISIS was heralded by some as evidence of the administration’s seriousness on the issue. As CNN reported, this represented “the most significant escalation of the American military campaign against [ISIS].” Unfortunately, enthusiasm must be tempered by reality. Though it was a very small step in the right direction, it does not represent a grand strategy.

Time after time, military advisers have said special operations forces are not a cure-all. And we have bombed ISIS in Syria for over a year, yet three of their deadliest attacks have happened in the last three weeks.

To understand how special operations forces are properly used, and where they can be successful, it’s necessary to rewind the clock and examine Iraq at the peak of special operations-led actions there in the mid-2000s.

Under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command developed a system that linked forceful action with immediate processing of intelligence and real time analysis. Special operators launched missions at dusk and continued all night; hitting one safe house after another, analyzing the information gained in one strike and launching subsequent raids based on what they found, in hours.

How was this operational tempo achieved? First, the United States was working with the full support, consent and backing of the elected Iraqi government. The U.S. dominated the battle space, there was relatively sizable local support, and these teams enjoyed full air support, including medical evacuation, in the event an operation went poorly.

Similar conditions in Syria do not exist — Bashar al-Assad’s government forces represent a threat, and are not supportive of any foreign intervention except for that of Russia and Iran, and the United States does not dominate the battle space.

Where ISIS operates, it operates with near impunity. While there is often local hatred of Assad or ISIS, much of the allied ground support in the region actually comes from Kurds, not Sunni Muslim Syrian locals.

So if a similar operational tempo is not an option in Syria, and major Syrian domestic support is unlikely to emerge, what can the special operations forces achieve?

The administration said these troops are intended to advise and train local forces — Syrian Arabs, Kurds and other groups. Teams may be able to launch limited strikes against high-value targets in Iraq and Syria, and augment these Syria- and Iraq-based forces during their raids. It is likely these troops will also act as forward air controllers and observers, directing strikes launched from Turkey and elsewhere against ISIS positions.

Will this be enough to defeat ISIS? It’s a start, but it is unlikely. We have been sporadically bombing Raqqa and other ISIS strong points for more than a year, and still ISIS has recently ramped up external attacks. To a large extent, relying on proxy forces presents us with quality control problems as well as divergent long-term interests.

Tactical successes, such as snatching an ISIS oil minister or engaging in airstrikes, will not be enough if they are not translated into operational momentum paired with an overarching plan. A minimal number of special operations forces can achieve a great deal but they are incapable of achieving strategic success. Like airstrikes, they are tools that are supposed to be used in executing a strategy, but they are not a strategy in and of themselves.

Special forces committed to the fight must be accompanied by better on-the-ground intelligence operations, combined with constant targeting and degradation of ISIS leadership, and a more robust disruption of the ISIS logistics chain, executed simultaneously in Iraq and Syria.

Read full piece at CNN.com here: http://cnn.it/1S7bFXe

An American Strategy for Cyberspace: Advancing Freedom, Security, and Prosperity

June 15, 2016  |  Uncategorized

The Internet is an American success story, generating tremendous benefits at home and globally, and helping to advance American values of freedom, security, and prosperity. It has also created challenges, among them its use by authoritarian states to repress political freedoms, by criminals to steal property and commit extortion, and by America’s adversaries and potential adversaries to use malicious code and cyber-warfare to threaten our economic and national security.

Chinese jets intercept U.S. recon plane, almost colliding over South China Sea

May 26, 2016  |  Uncategorized

Two Chinese tactical fighters intercepted a U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea earlier this week, a Pentagon spokeswoman announced Wednesday.

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Crowdsourcing Perspectives on Defense Reform

May 18, 2016  |  Uncategorized

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, and interest in defense reform is high around Washington, D.C. The process for developing the 1986 legislative package is well-known for its focus on problem identification. CSIS has a proud role in that history, having housed the Defense Reorganization Project beginning in 1983 and published its February 1985 report, Toward a More Effective Defense, an influential predecessor to the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act. CSIS is once again using its bipartisan, independent platform to help analyze defense reform prospects and possible solutions. As in the early 1980s, the reform process today must begin with strong problem definition if it is to succeed.

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New York Times

Lack of Plan for ISIS Detainees Raises Human Rights Concerns

May 13, 2016  |  Uncategorized

WASHINGTON — The Islamic State calls them “inghimasi” — zealous foot soldiers who intend to fight to their deaths. And as the American-backed coalition has reclaimed territory from the group in Iraq and Syria, that fervor has kept prisoners from being much of a problem: The shooting only stops when almost every Islamic State fighter has been killed.

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Washington Post

Chinese ballistic missiles dubbed ‘Guam Killer’ pose increasing threat to U.S. island, report says

May 13, 2016  |  Uncategorized

While China has long had the ability to strike Guam with long-range nuclear missiles, the Chinese military is expending an increasing amount of resources to hit the key U.S. island with more conventional weapons in the event of a conflict, according to a government report released Tuesday.

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Reuters

U.S. activates Romanian missile defense site, angering Russia

May 13, 2016  |  Uncategorized

The United States switched on an $800 million missile shield in Romania on Thursday that it sees as vital to defend itself and Europe from so-called rogue states but the Kremlin says is aimed at blunting its own nuclear arsenal.

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