Putin Is Waging Information Warfare. Here’s How to Fight Back.
Mark Galeotti writes in the NY Times:
Welcome to 21st-century conflict, more Machiavellian than military, where hacks, leaks and fake news are taking the place of planes, bombs and missiles. The Russian interference in the United States presidential election is just a taste of more to come.
How can countries protect themselves from such methods? As with nuclear weapons, deterrence is better than confrontation. The United States and its allies in the West need to find a way to discourage Russia, the leading practitioner of this kind of political warfare, from striking first.
With nuclear weapons, deterrence relies on demonstrating the possession of similar capabilities — and the will to use them. This won’t work with political warfare.
It is not as though the United States hasn’t dabbled in destabilization and disinformation campaigns. But these tactics are less likely to work in Russia, where the news media is mostly state-controlled, the security apparatus quickly stamps out political threats, and citizens have few illusions about their leaders. (For example, when the Panama Papers revealed that President Vladimir V. Putin’s cronies had secret bank accounts, most Russians simply shrugged, unsurprised.) All that such efforts would do is show Russians that Mr. Putin is right to say the West is no better than him.
What Russia’s president fears is failure. His macho political persona relies on the conceit that he never gets things wrong, and that he can, with the help of hackers, special forces or brutal allies, outmaneuver the West and consequently regain Russia’s status as a global power.
This is why the United States and its allies should pursue a strategy of deterrence by denial. Mr. Putin shouldn’t fear retaliation for his information warfare — he should fear that he will fail.
There are several ways to go about this. First, United States institutions need better cybersecurity defenses. Political parties and major newspapers are now targets just as much as the power grid and the Pentagon are. The government has to help provide security when it can — but people have a duty to be more vigilant and recognize that their cybersecurity is about protecting the country, not just their own email accounts. The leaked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, revealed how easily hackers fooled intelligent political operatives with phishing attacks.
Instead of trying to combat each leak directly, the United States government should teach the public to tell when they are being manipulated. Via schools and nongovernmental organizations and public service campaigns, Americans should be taught the basic skills necessary to be savvy media consumers, from how to fact-check news articles to how pictures can lie.
Deterrence can also take the form of . . .
Unfortunately the response of most in Congress, particularly GOP members, is a cowardly silence with an eye for their own advancement.