Heather Conley: disinformation is part of Moscow’s military doctrine

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Heather Conley: disinformation is part of Moscow's military doctrine

Helsinki Commission experts believe Russia will try to influence the 2020 US presidential election with fears of the COVID-19 pandemic

The US Helsinki Commission, along with other congressional committees and commissions, is discussing preparations for this year’s national presidential elections and the possible influence of foreign states on them. To assess what this influence may be in the information field, the Commission turned to experts from scientific centers in Washington..

In a virtual roundtable hosted by Helsinki Commission Senior Adviser and former US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, analysts from the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) and the Wilson Center spoke on the topic, emphasizing that anticipating ways to influence for the 2020 elections and learn how to neutralize this influence today.

Mark Toner, opening the discussion, said: “We see that the volume of actions of state and non-state actors to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections through attacks containing coordinated and targeted disinformation, is increasing in both the size and complexity of the methods used. The latest technology is involved, and the tactics used in 2016, and even in 2018, look outdated against their background. “.

The challenge, the senior adviser to the US Helsinki Commission believes, is very real: “State actors, mainly from Russia and China, deliberately use disinformation to undermine the democratic process and sow discord in the transatlantic community. Local forces and those who do not represent the state use similar tactics to blur the perception of reality and turn public opinion in the right direction. “.

CSIS Vice President Heather Conley is confident that disinformation from Russia about the upcoming US elections should be perceived in the context of Moscow’s overall military-strategic line: “For Russia, such actions are part of its military doctrine. This is part of a strategy of influence aimed at destroying the internal cohesion of the hostile system, as they see the West with its democracy. This does not only apply to elections, because Russian disinformation campaigns, and in a broader sense, Russian influence campaigns, are ongoing. Two, three years before any elections take place, we see attempts to hack the e-mail of parties and their leaders. “.

Heather Conley believes that the American political environment, being in a state of disunity, helps Russian disinformation achieve its goals: “The seeds of future influence on the 2020 elections in the United States were sown back in 2016, now we see the fruits of actions from that time. Russia does not create vulnerabilities in our system – it uses existing ones. And in many ways it uses our division according to the party principle. The most effective way to undermine the system is to create an atmosphere of disbelief in institutions, mistrust of the system and its leaders, fanning inter-party conflicts that have been growing since 2016 “.

“It is also important that disinformation has become less Russian and more American – when we hear the names of those who are now spreading disinformation according to the Russian model, these are the names of Americans. This is distributed in online chats, in groups on social platforms, “says the vice president of CSIS..

Heather Conley: disinformation is part of Moscow's military doctrine

Nina Jankowicz, an expert at the Wilsonian Center for Disinformation, points out that in the turbulent information world, under additional pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult for people to distinguish truth from lies: in a society of contradictions and passions, those who do this try to frustrate voters. And the mixed flow of news from reliable and unreliable sources makes the information space so muddy that people, including myself, are forced to “dose the reception”.

“The pandemic has shown how much the society lacks understanding of the techniques and tools of disinformation, and how much we must invest in helping people understand the digital environment in order to protect our democracies. Media literacy is sometimes called too soft a solution that is incapable of solving the problem of disinformation, but it is still a way – for generations to come – to develop a good understanding of this environment, as is already done in countries that are at the forefront of the information war, ”says Nina Jankovic.

The expert cites the example of Estonia, which has been fighting a disinformation campaign since 2007 and has created explanatory mechanisms, including in Russian, as well as the Czech Republic, where civil servants are taught to distinguish and expose disinformation.

Answering the question of the Russian service “Voice of America” ​​”how can disinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic affect the course of the 2020 US presidential election?” The United States by other countries are already clear:

“Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela are taking advantage of this opportunity to the fullest, and without saying a word. I’m sure that they are not sitting in virtual meetings now, coordinating their propaganda, but at the same time they give out quite the same narratives about the West supposedly coping with the pandemic, and so on. If we talk specifically about the elections, then I suppose that there will be, first of all, whipping up concerns about how safe it is to go to vote, because people really have ambiguity and uncertainty about this. “.

An expert from the Wilson Center shares the opinion of his colleague from CSIS that disinformation is gradually being localized, and there will be more sources inspired by Russian narratives, but located in the United States itself: “We are already seeing a lot of our, local disinformation about whether the vote by mail legitimate. And I suppose it will also be an issue for those trying to sow discord between us. “.

  • Danila Galperovich

    Reporter for the Russian Voice of America Service in Moscow. Collaborates with Voice of America since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and host of programs for the BBC Russian Service and Radio Liberty. Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.

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