Summary: The strategic warning report is intended to provide relevant and necessary intelligence to the senior policy-maker for the United States (U.S.) intelligence community (IC). The strategic warning report aims to identify the necessary posture and response to address the matter referenced in the strategic warning. The strategic warning report will convey to the policy-maker the urgency to respond and the potential consequences concerning national security (Gentry and Gordon 2019). Therefore, the intelligence professional must be clear, concise, and deliberate in presenting the strategic warning to a policymaker.
The national security matter addressed in this strategic warning report concerns the potential degradation and limitations of U.S. intelligence collection and analysis platforms due to the deliberate disinformation campaign directed by the foreign adversary (Frank, Dambre, and Clark, 2022). Contained in this strategic warning report are significant factors affecting the policies regarding national security. The pertinent factors include Assumptions, Analysis, Threats, Indicators, Opportunities, and the Strategic Intelligence Posture (SIP). The foreign adversary’s disinformation campaign may take many forms but is most often seen across virtual social media platforms. Social media platforms are a lightly controlled breeding ground for disinformation strategies. The intelligence professional’s strategic warning is thus that disinformation operations targeting U.S. intelligence collection and national interests represent a critical threat to the intelligence community infrastructure and its ability to provide valued strategic intelligence to senior policy-makers in the intelligence community.
There have been several flawed attempts to inhibit the spread of disinformation. The focus has always been on social media platforms. The role of actors other than social platforms is often ignored, particularly the historical part of mass media in spreading state propaganda or suppressing political expression (CITAP, 2022). Most recently, President Biden established the Disinformation Governance Board to study best practices in combating the harmful effects of disinformation. The board was later dissolved in May 2022. Following the false premise that “broken” social media is responsible for the ills it reveals, regulation will suppress speech (Cato, 2022). Social media restrictions will be viewed as an infringement on First Amendment Rights. Social media restriction is not an infringement when the rights being practiced impede national security. Focusing on the perpetrators and penalizing violators will minimize the spread of disinformation to manageable levels (DHS, 2022).
Disinformation has a long history of plaguing Americans. According to Marwick and Kuo (2021), it became apparent in the 2016 U.S. General elections that the spread of disinformation is driven by fundamental human tendencies to share shocking information and to prefer information that conforms with their existing beliefs (Haigh, Haigh, and Matychak, 2019). Disinformation happens in moments of crisis when people search for information to help them understand what is happening or how to stay safe (ShareVerified, 2022). There is evidence that certain groups purposely target U.S. intelligence agencies to discredit their reports. They have been named the ‘deep state’ on many platforms. The narrative is constantly repeated. As a result of this disinformation campaign against the U.S. intelligence agencies, the reports are questioned and often not believed.
Disinformation is crippling the credibility of the United States intelligence agencies. The political, economic, and cultural impacts limit the United States’ ability to govern effectively. In the wake of the crisis in Ukraine that erupted in 2013–2014, the Kremlin has been accused of orchestrating disinformation campaigns against the Ukrainian government and western countries by using online trolls, a person or group that intentionally incites discord in online conversations, and state-controlled online outlets such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today), Sputnik and Life News (Bjola and Pammet, 2016). Foreign news has led to a wave of counter-disinformation measures in the West to combat what is seen as a threat to democracy, international security, and stability (Golovchenko, Hartmann, and Adler-Nissen, 2018). Action must be taken immediately to quell the spread of disinformation to ensure the United States can continue supporting Ukraine effectively as Russia reconstitutes and continues its advancements in Eastern Ukraine. More people are beginning to support the narrative that Ukraine is corrupt and perhaps Russia is justified in launching an attack. Failure to counter anti-Ukraine messaging can have an irreversible impact on Western democracy when factual evidentiary data from the intelligence community is rendered propaganda from the ‘deep state.’ More than $40 billion in additional aid to Ukraine was approved by the U.S. Congress on May 19, 2022, bringing the total U.S. commitment during the Russian invasion to roughly $54 billion combined with the aid package passed in March (Pallaro and Parlapiano, 2022). The U.S. cannot sustain this level of support to Ukraine without U.S. support, and the disinformation campaign may prolong the war and the level of aid needed by the Ukrainian government.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, companies providing social media and messaging services have taken a wide array of steps to counter harmful disinformation, label or block state-sponsored or state-affiliated press, and introduce extra safety measures (Human Rights Watch, 2022). However, news media outlets in the United States like Fox News continue to traffic disinformation that erodes trust in American agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Mercieca conducted a ‘play-by-play’ assessment of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s communication strategy that outlines the harm disinformation played. Disinformation is furthering the divide politically, economically, and racially. Propaganda is a type of communication built for warfare (Mercieca, 2021). Communication is a kind of force, a weapon in and of itself (Mercieca, 2021). Specific programs hosted on Fox News can be dangerous because it hosts many of the highest-rated shows with a following that some believe the disinformation presented. Disinformation claims from a seemingly reputable news correspondent with such a massive following are dangerous. Conservative media has focused on the economy and demanded the U.S. spend more internally instead of supporting Ukraine. The cost of living and gas prices lend credence to the narratives that the U.S. is not economically able to support Ukraine without significant domestic economic support measures.
Sanger and Barnes (2020) write that the Russian military has recently taken a central role in the Russian Federation government, leading a disinformation effort against the U.S. Intelligence community. The effects of disinformation on intelligence collection and dissemination have been amplified by the U.S. own political system, which needs addressing. The purpose of a deliberative disinformation campaign against the U.S intelligence community is to distract, obstruct and render their collection effort difficult and less credible. These foreign governments’ efforts are relentless, and a recent example is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bennett (2021) reported that Iranian state actors are intensifying their disinformation campaign on social media to spread discord and anti-Semitic tropes inside the U.S. This deeply rooted disinformation will empower the enemies and make the U.S. vulnerable to attacks if we continue this path. Under these conditions, the U.S. intelligence apparatus becomes ineffective, and ultimately, democracy will not stand.
Disinformation knows no digital or physical borders, which has proven true time and again: disinformation poses a global threat to open and democratic societies (Pamment, 2020). How can disinformation be detected? Harvard Summer school published tips for people to consider when reading the news; the tips include evaluating characteristics such as author, publisher, website URL, author contact details, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, quotes or references, and the availability of the information on other sites (Marlin, 2019). The process for finding indications can be exhaustive. When Russia began amassing its troops on its Western border, social media depicted a different narrative, a clear sign of either disinformation or cover for operations that were not yet apparent. Russian President Putin methodically planned to invade Ukraine anddeflect Western retaliation. U.S. intelligence remained steadfast in analyzing Russia’s true intent; however, they were doubted. Providing indications, strategic warnings, and credibility is critical to U.S. intelligence operations’ success.
Sound decision-making relies on the ability of an individual to analyze the facts at hand and come to a rational conclusion about the best course of action based on those facts (American Security Project, 2022). Suppose the individual is making decisions based on false or otherwise unreliable information; in that case, those decisions may not be in the interest of that individual or the institution for which they work (American Security Project, 2022). We enjoy a close partnership with social media platform owners. We must now work with the news pundits and owners to stop spreading disinformation that harms national security and our ability to produce credible intelligence. The window is narrow, and if the U.S. President has to issue an Executive Order, he must do so immediately to prevent the spread of disinformation inhibiting our alliance from defeating Russia’s advancement on Ukraine. The intelligence agencies need their voices to be heard above the noise, and disinformation traffickers must be penalized.
Strategic Intelligence Posture (SIP)
Figure one below represents the Strategic Intelligence Posture (SIP). It is a graphic depicting the complexities of conducting intelligence operations in an environment filled with disinformation. It demonstrates critical challenges in collecting and disseminating factual data and the difficulty in managing collection and mitigating the risk of proliferating false data. Disinformation has no front line; potential battlefields are anywhere networked systems allow access (Molander, Riddile, and Wilson, 1996).
Figure 1. Strategic Intelligence Posture