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Disinformation and special operations in the Gray Zone

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A hearing was recently held on “Disinformation in the Gray Zone: Opportunities, Limitations, and Challenges” by the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations. The purpose of the hearing was to receive testimony on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) efforts to address malign activities of our adversaries below the threshold of armed conflict.

Hearing. The event was approximately one hour long. It began with opening statements by the Committee chairman, Representative Gallego, and the witnesses. The three witnesses had submitted one witness statement for the record that incorporated the comments of all three witnesses. Then the format moved to a question and answer session. This open session was followed by a closed session for more sensitive or classified topics.

Takeaways. Our defense information operations (IO) are not keeping up with those of Russia and China. Currently, Russia is the main IO threat to the US but China will soon catch up and move ahead of Russia. The DoD has to relearn how to conduct IO (like we did during the Cold War). The conduct of IO falls primarily to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The various DoD cyber organizations are working IO into their activities. One of the limiting factors is personnel – recruiting and training an individual who is knowledgeable of language, culture, behavioral science and other disciplines is a time-consuming and long-range venture.

Four Lines of Effort. The DoD has organized its efforts to combat disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda in four areas.

  • countering propaganda by adversaries
  • force protection
  • countering disinformation abroad
  • deterring and disrupting adversarial malign influence capabilities

Conclusion. The hearing starts off a little slow but then gets more interesting during the question and answer period. If you are tracking events in the information operations world and USSOCOM’s involvement in IO activities then this hearing could be of interest. The 9-page witness statement is very informative.

Video of the hearing on disinformation in the Gray Zone.

These are the expert witnesses who testified in the hearing: Mr. Christopher Maier Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict; Mr. Neil Tipton, Director of Defense Intelligence, Collections and Special Programs (DoD); Mr. James Sullivan, Defense Intelligence Officer for Cyber, Defense Intelligence Agency

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