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Bipartisan Russian sanctions legislation, proposed last month by Sens. Ben Cardin and John McCain, would expand it even further, dedicating an additional $100 million for the GEC and others to support objective Russian-language journalism, counter “fake news,” and support research on the effects of information warfare.
The interagency office, when it enters operation later this year, will mark the first centralized counter-propaganda pushback against the Russians since the 1990s, when the Cold War seemingly left such counter-propaganda obsolete.
The GEC will track foreign propaganda campaigns, analyze the tactics, and counter them through a series of grants to overseas journalists, civil-society organizations, and private companies.
“By directly countering false narratives and empowering local media and civil societies to defend themselves from foreign manipulation, this legislation will help support our allies and interests in this increasingly unstable world,” Senator Portman told The Daily Beast.
The grants would go to independent organizations. For example, websites like Bellingcat and StopFake.org—which provide access to truthful information and counter false Russian narratives in Ukraine—would be eligible for these resources.
”to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions, and their counterparts abroad". The United States Information Agency (USIA) was established "to streamline the U.S. government's overseas information programs, and make them more effective". The United States Information Agency was the largest full-service public relations organization in the world, spending over $2 billion per year to highlight America’s view, while diminishing the Soviet’s side through about 150 different countries.
Its stated goals were:
•To explain and advocate U.S. policies in terms that are credible and meaningful in foreign cultures;
•To provide information about the official policies of the United States, and about the people, values and institutions which influence those policies;
•To bring the benefits of international engagement to American citizens and institutions by helping them build strong long-term relationships with their counterparts overseas;
•To advise the President and U.S. government policy-makers on the ways in which foreign attitudes will have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of U.S. policies.
In a Senate Armed Services Hearing on January 5, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said that we need a strong agency "that deals with the totality of the information realm...in all forums and to include social media." He alluded to the once-venerable US Information Agency, which promoted American values during the Cold War but dissolved in 1999.
I agree with Director Clapper. We must brace ourselves for continued attacks in the information realm and prepare to fight back using non-traditional tools. Congress should explore making fundamental changes to how our government is currently organized to tackle the challenges of the digital age. A solution could be a re-invigorated US Information Agency or something entirely new. Regardless, it's time to "move on" to this stage of modern warfare before it's too late.
A recreated USIA faces an arduous task: to figure out how to engage a modern global audience, protect the nation from—and counter—influence campaigns, and dissuade foreign actors from interfering in the business of U.S. institutions.
Finally, the new USIA must resolve the most difficult problem of the Information Era: in an environment filled with propaganda, gossip, conspiracies, and falsehoods, how can the U.S. maintain a consistent narrative regarding itself? To this, perhaps the answer lies less in attempting to force a narrative and more in creating context; one in which the American message can exist.
Like it or not, the uncomfortable truth is that partaking in information warfare is an absolute necessity in the present world. Inevitably, this means engaging in not only defensive actions, such as countering disinformation, but also in responding in kind. An adherence to the truth is indeed of the highest of aspirational ideals, but in the modern context such a moral stance is not necessarily the wisest means of protecting lives and national interests. As other actors are cultivating information-manipulation outfits, the U.S. cannot afford to be left behind; it has a duty to safeguard itself and confront threats. Ultimately, the new USIA should not compete with other levers of American power and policy—it should complement them.
A recreated USIA faces an arduous task: to figure out how to engage a modern global audience, protect the nation from—and counter—influence campaigns, and dissuade foreign actors from interfering in the business of U.S. institutions?
Likewise, how should it be structured, given the complexity of its task and its need for a diverse set of experts? The new era of informational warfare is not just the domain of reporters and propagandists, but also of a variety of other specialists, including intelligence analysts, social media gurus, psychologists, linguists, and more.
One possible and particularly interesting model originates from a 2005 paper by Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Michael B. Prosser, where he argues for the weaponization and deployment of memes. Memes, as defined by Prosser, are “bits of cultural information transmitted and replicated throughout populations and/or societies.” In Prosser’s words:
…memes are metaphysical, express ideas and replicate for any number of reasons. A suggested logic progression is as follows: Memes influence ideas, ideas influence and form beliefs. Beliefs generate and influence political positions combined with feelings and emotions, eventually producing actions, which inform and influence behavior. Using this logic procession, any attack upon an ideology must consider an assault on a central or transcendent ‘idea’ or group of ideas as means of achieving success. Memes as ideas are then ‘in play’ as tools (or means) to attack ideologies.
To maximize the usage of memes, Prosser proposes the creation of a specialized organization—the “Meme Warfare Center,” or MWC—designed to advise and provide memetic warfare options to engage enemies in the informational battlefield. He describes this hypothetical organization as “at first an amalgamation of all elements of US national power, essentially a joint interagency formation with either a senior military or civilian leader.” This MWC would possess subdivisions charged with meme (information) generation, targeting, inoculation, analysis and assessment, and more. What sets this proposed organization apart from existing Information Operations, writes Prosser, is that the latter focuses on enemy “forces and formations,” while the MWC would “intentionally [target] noncombatants and seeks to provide a nonlinear method of cultivating or supplanting ideas favoring the Joint Force.” In other words, the MWC focuses on winning over a broader audience by directly challenging information and ideological bases. Overall, this sounds like a solid starting point for the realization of a recreated USIA.
So coming out of the covert operations to a more overt operation ...This too shall fail ...
So to summarize: there seems to be an appetite to create a specialized agency whose job is to disseminate advanced propaganda aimed towards all audiences, even friendly. What do you guys think? Are we going to see a sort of deep state plot to use the current information warfare mania as a way to establish this new sort of agency?