For years, the Russian-backed TV channel RT America has been airing a series of deceptive reports on the dangers of upgraded cell technology known as 5G. These reports have linked 5G signals to all manner of diseases—including brain cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s disease. All these claims are scientifically baseless. The likely goal of this spurious reporting is to sow doubt about a technology that the U.S. believes is key to its future high-tech dominance—and for which Vladimir Putin’s Russia has no equivalent. If Russia can’t compete in the lab, it can try to spread confusion on the airwaves.
The story of RT’s attack on 5G is a glimpse of the near-future. Adversaries such as Russia, Iran and China look for ways to harass American interests without triggering all-out conflict. As trade wars proliferate, technological rivalries intensify, and multinational corporations take public positions on hot-button social issues, this form of “gray zone conflict”—coercive actions that lie somewhere between diplomacy and warfare—will likely increase in scale and scope as competitors seek a strategic and economic advantage over the United States.
American businesses will increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of nation-state-sponsored disinformation operations.