Weaponized Information: The storm after the flood

By David MillerJuly 8, 2020

JOINT BASE LANGLEY- EUSTIS, Va. -The information dimension is continuously changing with the explosion of data and hyper-connectedness enabled by social media, the Internet of Things, and emerging technologies. Weaponized Information will permeate our daily existence, fundamentally changing how we compete and fight.

Today, actors seek to quickly spread false information to erode public trust in traditional alliances and institutions. In the near future, a comprehensive assault on authenticity could be achieved through disruptive technologies like deep fakes, artificial influencers, AI-generated news and dialogue, and virtual/augmented reality.

On July 1, 2020, The U.S. Army Mad Scientist Initiative. Georgetown University, Center for Security Studies and the Center for Advanced Red Teaming (CART), University at Albany, State University of New York, executed a realistic wargaming exercise that highlighted a natural disaster in the Philippines in 2027.

The event explored the challenges, considerations, and opportunities that government and military leaders need to be cognizant of in their decision making in an environment in which information has been weaponized by our adversaries.

The Red Team exploited the natural disaster to simultaneously diminish U.S. influence in the Southeast Asian Area of Responsibility and exacerbate political instability and the weakening of the social fabric of the United States.

The Blue Team consisted of multiple U.S. Government agencies that worked together to develop solutions to scenarios that highlighted misinformation across traditional media and social media platforms.

The exercise started with two scenarios consisting of cyberattacks on the Philippines telecommunications infrastructure and a disinformation campaign to increase isolationist sentiment in the United States.

Col. Christopher Reichert, Director of the Force Modernization Proponent Center, playing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command deputy commander, explained the need for government agencies to work together in a real-world or exercise scenario.

“The event highlighted the fact that our adversaries are adept at executing information warfare activities during competition, which requires a whole US government coordinated response,” said Reichert.

As the exercise continued, attendees were polled, and the responses drove scenarios built on the initial problems that the team continued to address.

The United States humanitarian efforts and motivations to help the Philippines recover from the natural disaster came under attack from the government's highest levels.

The Philippines president accused the National Security Agency of gathering intelligence related to China's economic and military cooperation.

Additionally, the use of deep-fake images on social media pushed the narrative that U.S. service-members were working with drug cartels. This misinformation would continue to degrade trust between the people of the Philippines and the U.S. military.

The Blue Team emphasized the need for the U.S. to communicate its intent across all government agencies. The increase of public affairs efforts highlighting recovery efforts and aid to the country should be televised through trusted Philippine news agencies.

As the team focused on the problems in the Philippines, a new scenario was introduced.

A misinformation campaign was emerging in the United States as false intelligence reports were leaked to media outlets. These stories claim the NSA collected data on U.S. citizens in America that are part of growing labor movements. These labor movements threatened Fortune 500 companies that are deemed essential to national security.

All of the approximately 250 attendees also had the opportunity to participate in the wargame by influencing and reflecting on the scenario faced by a panel of experts, including leading academics and United States Military operational personnel.

The panelist agreed that the exercise demonstrated the complexity of Information Warfare and the difficulties associated with attribution. The training also showcased how difficult it is to coordinate simultaneous domestic and international responses.

According to Reichert, “The event was top-notch, professionally planned and executed with some of the brightest minds in their fields. The event highlighted the fact that in today's environment, the first to act holds an initial decisive advantage that requires a swift response.”