Defense Department News

Challenging Russian Information Operations Requires Whole-of-Government Approach

March 14, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez

When it comes to competition “below the level of armed conflict,” such as information operations meant to influence adversaries, the U.S. can do more — and has the capacity to do so, the commander of U.S. European Command said yesterday.

“I think we could do more, that we have greater talent, we need more focus and energy,” said Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti during a hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee to discuss national security challenges and U.S. military activities in Europe.

Scaparrotti was joined by Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“Russia’s ability to make the West ... question its own institutions is one of the biggest challenges we have,” Wheelbarger told the House members. “It sort of takes a whole-of-government effort to respond to it. Militarily, I think we are very adept and I trust our forces to be able to always outmatch any adversary, including Russia.”

“But our ability as a society to ensure we trust our own institutions in the face of their particularly aggressive information operations and use of social media to undermine us is significant,” she said.

Russia Influence Group

Scaparrotti told lawmakers they’ve already contributed to at least one effort to counter Russian influence: the Russia Influence Group. Scaparrotti co-chairs the interagency group with the State Department and said over the last few years it’s grown in capability. The RIG, he said, and its subcomponent, the Communications Engagement Group, are already doing successful work in Europe. The general also cited work with NATO to counter Russian meddling.

“NATO has developed what I think is a pretty effective communications strategy and framework that they adjust over time,” he said. “We have actually shown that we can develop a message that has greater depth penetration and volume than the Russians have on the eastern side.”

“We’ve done this on several occasions, where we’ve set out early to be proactive,” Scaparrotti said. So to me it shows that we can do this. But we need to have greater focus and make this more the norm of what we do ... they are pretty agile at this and they are everywhere.”