Military Needs to Step Up Its Efforts to Combat Disinformation, Experts Tell Congress

Defense and Intelligence Community Experts and Members of Congress examined how to improve U.S. military training and capabilities to counter adversaries’ information operations in the “gray zone” at a hearing March 16 of the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations of the House Armed Services Committee. Witnesses noted that U.S. military capabilities are not evolving fast enough to keep up with the concerted efforts of China and Russia, and that a whole of government approach is needed to adequately compete in the information environment. Experts also focused on the need to better train and recruit all U.S. military forces to operate against adversaries adept in influence and misinformation.

“We recognize we do not have a monopoly on U.S. government capabilities to combat disinformation,” said Chris Maier, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, Special Operations/Low-intensity Conflict at the Department of Defense. Maier said the DoD’s efforts, with the support of the Intelligence Community, focus on countering propaganda, force protection, countering disinformation, and deterring and disrupting adversary malign information activities. “We must first acknowledge… that we will actively support elevating diplomacy as a tool of first resort.”

Both Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS) noted a letter received from nine Combatant Commanders requesting additional support from the Defense and Intelligence organizations to combat disinformation and foreign malign influence. Gallego said he wanted to address how the Commanders concerns were being addressed. Neill Tipton, Director of Defense Intelligence (Collections and Special Programs) at the Department of Defense, said the Intelligence Community is addressing the issues raised in that letter, by increasing the use of open source intelligence and declassifying intelligence information, among other efforts, and will complete current efforts by September 2021.

Defense One quoted a former senior defense official, who said the Department’s problems go beyond improving recruiting and training U.S. Special Operations Command, the DoD’s key player in information operations. “DoD is poorly prepared to conduct influence operations,” which the official said are “viewed as an afterthought and something the combatant commanders, especially after kinetic operations, rather than something that the E-ring must be engaged in 24/7/365. They are more concerned with countering disinformation rather than going on the offensive. All of this needs to change.”

You can watch the full House Subcommittee hearing, “Disinformation in the Gray Zone: Opportunities, Limitations, and Challenges” at this link. Defense One’s coverage is here.