Month: December 2016

Kremlin disinformation and practiced intimidation

December 29, 2016

By Mike Rogers

Monday, December 26, 2016


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.

U.S. must not overlook North Korea threat

December 3, 2016

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 here.