Tim Kaine: We're in the new age of information warfare ... and we're losing
(CNN) When asked to comment on the Russians hacking the election, President Donald Trump has said it's time for our country to "move on." In a way, he's right. It's time that we move past questioning the intelligence community's findings and start accepting that our adversaries are waging a new kind of information war against us -- and we're losing.
Anti-democratic regimes view the free flow of information as threatening to their foundations of power. For decades, these regimes have perfected the arts of suppressing truth and spreading propaganda to protect their interests. They have weaponized the Internet against our democracies using these same tactics.
Russia's interference in the US election is the latest example demonstrating that the United States is ill-equipped to respond to information warfare in the 21st century. As the January 6 Intelligence Community Assessment states, Russia's "election operation signals a new normal" for future influence campaigns against the United States and other nations worldwide. A fundamental change in US policy is required to secure our democratic institutions and those of our allies amid the changing character of information warfare in the digital age.
Russia is not the only adversary waging an influence campaign. For years, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is another name for ISIS, has inspired new recruits around the world by spreading false narratives on social media. By convincing some young Muslims that Islam is at war with the West, ISIL has successfully conducted a robust online recruiting campaign at little cost to the organization.
Part of the problem is that our tools for responding are predictable and not always easy to deploy. The Obama administration's responses to Russia -- sanctions and expelling diplomats -- came too late and appeared to have no impact on Putin's calculus. Task forces and traditional intelligence gathering are invaluable assets, but they have not stopped ISIL from spreading its message.
The need for better tactics and analysis, a counter-message and an over-arching influence strategy is apparent. But who should develop this strategy? Should the Department of Defense be charged with countering ISIL's activities on Twitter, or should this responsibility transcend the military?
I am deeply concerned that we have failed to grasp the gravity of the challenge before us. While some view this debate through a partisan lens or merely as a continuation of the 2016 campaign, Russia has moved on to targeting the upcoming elections of our European allies, France and Germany. Already, adversaries appear to have begun eroding public trust in German Chancellor Angela Merkel through disinformation campaigns
And the nationalist candidate in France, Marine Le Pen, has been viewed suspiciously because of loans obtained by her organization from Russian banks.
When Le Pen was asked earlier this month to comment on the intelligence community's assessment of Russia's interference in the US election, she reportedly dismissed the findings as conspiracy theories. "I am not sure that there is really serious evidence behind these accusations of cyberattacks," she said. Sound familiar?
If the objective is to divide and undermine liberal democracies, future targets are in plain view. We need to focus on supporting them by ensuring that our government has the strategy, capacity and intent to combat misinformation campaigns and defend liberal values worldwide.
Some might argue that undertaking a large-scale effort to combat information warfare will distract from more important issues: mainly, protecting our critical infrastructure and deterring military campaigns overseas. Information warfare tactics should not compete with more traditional ones -- they should complement them. We need a team or agency charged with honing informational tools to be included among the instruments of national power that we use today to safeguard our economic, military, and diplomatic interests.
In a Senate Armed Services Hearing on January 5, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said that we need a strong agency "that deals with the totality of the information realm...in all forums and to include social media." He alluded to the once-venerable US Information Agency, which promoted American values during the Cold War but dissolved in 1999.
I agree with Director Clapper. We must brace ourselves for continued attacks in the information realm and prepare to fight back using non-traditional tools. Congress should explore making fundamental changes to how our government is currently organized to tackle the challenges of the digital age. A solution could be a re-invigorated US Information Agency or something entirely new. Regardless, it's time to "move on" to this stage of modern warfare before it's too late.