What Europe Can Teach America About Russian Disinformation

[From The Atlantic. Read the whole piece here.]

By Jed Willard

In 2014, United States officials encountered a new form of Kremlin disinformation in Ukraine. As “little green men” streamed into the country’s south, blatant falsehoods over anything from the history of World War II to weapon-system deployments spread across the internet and the airwaves. Propagandists disguised as professors, activists, and journalists sowed confusion about what was actually happening on the ground: soldiers bearing no flag had occupied strategic territory. Intelligence collectors supplied propagandists with tapped calls and hacked emails containing compromising language, and the Kremlin leaked all of this to the media at key moments.

U.S. officials engaged in an aggressive campaign to build a global understanding of what was actually happening in Ukraine, and united Western allies in a chorus of condemnation. As a result, the West backed a sanctions regime that, remarkably, remains intact. But over time, with a peace process theoretically underway and the situation cooling, the State Department’s focus on counter-influence campaigns waned, and the unit leading the charge dissolved. Two years later, disinformation campaigns using very similar tactics targeted the U.S. electorate in the run-up to the 2016 vote, spreading so-called “fake news” and encouraging divisiveness in an effort to influence the election and American democracy itself….

[Read the rest of the article at The Atlantic, here!]

Foreign Interference in Elections: Advice for 2018 (from Denmark)

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, after fourteen months evaluating the Intelligence Community’s work on Kremlin interference in the American election, announced on May 16 that the foreign effort was “extensive” and “unprecedented.” Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the Committee’s Vice Chairman concluded that “one thing is already abundantly clear – we have to do a better job in the future if we want to protect our elections from foreign interference.”

How does one go about doing that? In an effort to find out, we interviewed officials and academics from eleven countries, asking them how they go about defending their elections, what the U.S. should learn from them, and what keeps them up at night. Country by country, we’re going to share their advice here at FDRfoundation.org. Up first: Denmark!

It turns out the Danes were already paying attention to us. “The real wake-up call for Denmark was in 2016, when we saw the coordinated Russian influence campaign that targeted the US election, Jesper Møller Sørensen, Political Director at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained. “This was an example of the whole Russian toolbox of active measures which we need to counter with democratic means.”

The Danes, like many others, suggested a focus on education and coordination. Helping the general public understand that sometimes “fake news” is actually fake news is key. “In the end,” said Sørensen, “psychological resilience comes down to education.” “In our view an important part of education is also making public the ways influence campaigns are conducted and engage openly in these debates.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. (for now) lacks the Dane’s superpower: trust in institutions. “We have a well-educated and informed population, Sørensen noted, “but the greatest strength the Danes possess is the high amount of trust toward our government and institutions in general. This makes it harder to sow distrust and polarize debates.” Distrustful and polarized nations, like America, are easier to manipulate with disinformation.

Another Danish superpower is their ability to coordinate with friendly neighbors. “Close cooperation with like-minded countries is crucial to exchange experiences about the threat, said Sørensen, “we are engaged in a well-established and extensive cooperation with the Nordic and Baltic countries on this issue.” Can America do this?

Awareness, education, coordination: advice from Denmark for defending our 2018 elections.

Lecture and Signing with Paul Poast: Organizing Democracy 9/27

Paul Poast, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, will present on his new book Organizing Democracy.

Adams House, 5:00-6:30pm, September 27, 2018. More details as the date approaches!

“In the past twenty-five years, a number of countries have made the transition to democracy. The support of international organizations is essential to success on this difficult path. Yet, despite extensive research into the relationship between democratic transitions and membership in international organizations, the mechanisms underlying the relationship remain unclear.  With Organizing Democracy, Paul Poast (University of Chicago) and Johannes Urpelainen (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies) argue that leaders of transitional democracies often have to draw on the support of international organizations to provide the public goods and expertise needed to consolidate democratic rule. Looking at the Baltic states’ accession to NATO, Poast and Urpelainen provide a compelling and statistically rigorous account of the sorts of support transitional democracies draw from international institutions. They also show that, in many cases, the leaders of new democracies must actually create new international organizations to better serve their needs, since they may not qualify for help from existing ones.”

 

Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats

Democratic societies, institutions, and individual citizens are facing entirely new challenges in the modern era. Today’s threats can include network-based intrusions, misinformation and ‘fake news,’ influence campaigns, and many more. These threats have the potential to disrupt economic activity and development, threaten the national security of like-minded nations, jeopardize individual privacy, and sow mistrust among citizens towards their national and collective democratic institutions.

The seminar will seek to highlight a wide range of threats that democracies face today and may face tomorrow as well as provide strategies for institutions and individuals to understand and deal with these threats. General themes presented will touch upon how to recognize disinformation and influence campaigns, media literacy and the role of media organizations and individual journalists, security in digital spaces, and positive examples of how democracies are currently countering these threats.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at 13:00-17:00
Location: Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Grand Festive Hall, Bulevardi 31, Helsinki

http://www.fulbright.fi/en/making-democracies-resilient

American Diplomacy in the Trump Era 3/7

Asking the Right Questions About U.S. International Broadcasting

Asking the Right Questions About U.S. International Broadcasting

By Matthew Wallin & Jed Willard

Published on-line in The Diplomat on June 03, 2014

[An excerpt is reprinted here, see the original source at thediplomat.com for a complete reading.]

Congress is currently examining the government’s role in international news broadcasting, but are they asking the right questions?

The House Foreign Affairs Committee recently passed a bill to reform the U.S. Government’s international broadcasting apparatus. There have been issues with America’s international broadcasting for years, and the legislation makes long needed management adjustments that will streamline processes and generally enhance the official American voice around the world. But while there are many good things in the bill, it brings to mind the open question as to why America has international broadcasters in the first place.

On one hand, public diplomacy, which includes international broadcasting, is intended to build relationships and advertise our nation’s purpose, ideals, culture, and exceptionalism. On the other hand, public diplomacy also supports, explains, and defends foreign policy in an effort to achieve specific goals.

These are both perfectly rational objectives for public diplomacy and for the nation. But do they conflict? Does the U.S. want its state broadcasters to serve as independent journalists providing objective news coverage for populations otherwise subjected to nothing but propaganda and conspiracy theories? Or does it expect its state-funded broadcasters to strictly advocate U.S policy? Are these choices mutually exclusive?

Can Voice of America be assigned, for instance, to produce – as worded in the pending legislation – “accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and related programming that is consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States?” Or is that asking the impossible – assigning an entity to perform two potentially opposing tasks? To examine the potential complications, let us consider VOA’s assignment in depth.

Read more at thediplomat.com

Matthew Wallin is a fellow specializing in public diplomacy at the American Security Project [external link]. Jed Willard is the Director of the FDR Center for Global Engagement at Harvard College.