Report: Intel agencies, media render U.S. helpless against hostile foreign disinformation

by WorldTribune Staff, April 4, 2017

Russia has unleashed a torrent of hackers, Internet trolls and fake news reports aimed at undermining American democracy and the U.S. has done little to defend against it, cyber intel specialists said during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Eugene Rumer, former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia between 2010 and 2014, testified that, while Russia remains weak militarily despite modernization and a growing nuclear arsenal, its “leaders have embraced a different toolkit, information warfare, intimidation, espionage, economic tools, and so on.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman  Richard Burr, right, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner at the panel’s March 30 hearing. /AP

The federal government has been unable to stop Moscow’s propaganda and influence operations, witnesses told the panel on March 30, according to a report by the Washington Free Beacon.

“Americans should be concerned because right now a foreign country, whether they realize it or not, is pitting them against their neighbor, other political parties, ramping up divisions based on things that aren’t true,” said Clint Watts, a cyber security expert and former FBI special agent.

Social media companies and journalists also are failing to deal with the wave of disinformation.

“The media needs to improve. Our U.S. government institutions need to improve and we’ve got to help Americans understand what the facts are, because if we don’t, we are lost,” Watt said.

Rumer said: “It is the totality of Russian efforts in plain sight to mislead, to misinform, to exaggerate that is more convincing than any cyber evidence. RT, Russia Today, broadcasts, Internet trolls, fake news and so on are an integral part of Russian foreign policy to date.”

In addition to the hacking and leaking campaign during the 2016 presidential election, Russian intelligence agencies “engaged in covert influence operations that falsely reported terrorist attacks in the United States and against the key U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey,” the Washington Free Beacon reported on April 4.

Moscow “also backed the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and trumpeted racially charged news to sow social unrest.”

Retired Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, said the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with information warfare and adequate defenses for protecting private sector infrastructure from attacks.

“The consequence is if there were a massive attack, we’d have to go back and get authority to act,” Alexander said. “Where, if it were missiles coming in, we already have rules of engagement. So, I think we need to step that up as well.”

Alexander, who once led the military’s Cyber Command, said the military “wouldn’t have the right people set up to react” to a major cyber attack.

“The American public, indeed all democratic societies, need to understand that malign actors are using old techniques with new platforms to undermine our democratic institutions,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican.

“We’re all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary and we must engage in a whole of government approach to combat Russian active measures,” Burr added.