Monday, October 30, 2017

Readings in cognitive warfare — #6: Molly McKew on Russian information ops and the Gerasimov doctrine

Molly McKew is a leading analyst of Russian information operations. I’ve posted her writings three times before. Here’s her latest. It illuminates what’s called the Gerasimov Doctrine, which is constructed largely around soft-power measures for dividing and confounding people’s thinking and thus their behavior in a target society — in this case America.

Here’s an excerpt:
“The United States is the latest target. The Russian security state defines America as the primary adversary. The Russians know they can’t compete head-to-head with us—economically, militarily, technologically—so they create new battlefields. They are not aiming to become stronger than us, but to weaken us until we are equivalent.
“Russia might not have hacked American voting machines, but by selectively amplifying targeted disinformation and misinformation on social media—sometimes using materials acquired by hacking—and forging de facto information alliances with certain groups in the United States, it arguably won a significant battle without most Americans realizing it ever took place. The U.S. electoral system is the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, and now—thanks to Russian actions—we’re locked in a national argument over its legitimacy. We’re at war with ourselves, and the enemy never fired a physical shot. “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov writes. (He also writes of using “internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”)
“Not all Russia-watchers agree on the Gerasimov Doctrine’s importance. Some say this is simply a new and well-articulated version of what Russians have always done, or that Putin is inflated as an all-powerful boogeyman, or that competition among the various oligarchic factions within the Kremlin means there is no central strategic purpose to their activities. But there’s no question that Russian intervention is systematic and multi-layered. This structure challenges us, because we don’t necessarily understand how it has been put into practice; like all guerrilla doctrine, it prioritizes conservation of resources and decentralization, which makes it harder to detect and follow. And strategically, its goals aren’t the ones we’re used to talking about. The Kremlin isn’t picking a winner; it’s weakening the enemy and building an environment in which anyone but the Kremlin loses.
“Herein lies the real power of the Gerasimov-style shadow war: It’s hard to muster resistance to an enemy you can’t see, or aren’t even sure is there. But it’s not an all-powerful approach; the shadowy puppeteering at the heart of the Gerasimov Doctrine also makes it inherently fragile. Its tactics begin to fail when light is thrown onto how they work and what they aim to achieve. This requires leadership and clarity about the threat—which we saw briefly in France, when the government rallied to warn voters about Russian info ops in advance of the presidential election. For now, though, America is still in the dark—not even on defense, let alone offense.”

Here’s the full article:

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Sept 11.]

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