For years, the world has been treated to a view of the Kremlin’s information war.
Now, we see the first nascent Western democratic version.
Call it tactical information war, Washington and London style.
This CNN article discusses the Biden administration’s strategy of declassifying intelligence on Russia’s moves around Ukraine and releasing it in an effort to frustrate the Kremlin, communicate with the public, and potentially help shape the outcome of the event. According to the article: the Biden administration “believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has been caught off guard by some of the releases.”
The strategy shows an evolution since 2014, when the West watched seemingly helplessly as Putin deployed his unmarked troops to Crimea, which they soon took over.
Since then, the modus operandi of Russia has been to use anonymous or proxy voices to sow doubt: about troop movements, as well as about political reality.
Interestingly, the US model relies not on doubt but trust. Trust that the US isn’t cooking the intelligence. Also the public’s trust that on this matter the US government is accurate.
In mid-January, the US intelligence officials said Russia had already prepositioned operatives to conduct a false-flag attack as a pretext for invasion in eastern Ukraine. In late January, the British foreign office disclosed what they said was a plot to install pro-Russian leadership in Kyiv. The White House repeated its claim of a “false-flag” operation – with details of “graphic propaganda video” in early February.
There have been other benefits. Apparently Russian officials have been “grumbling about the exposure of their plans” forcing Moscow to fear it has a mole among its staff.
One western intel figure told CNN: “Sometimes, if you put enough doubt in the system, they may actually remove some competent people who they suspect of being spies who, in fact, aren’t spies at all.”
This approach is a cousin to the broader US insistence that accurate news reporting will do the work of supporting democracy’s values in a contest with authoritarian nations. But rather than a persistent, open-ended, strategic approach, these “fact-bombs” around a possible Ukraine “further”-invasion are tactical, released as a series of slashes and parries in a fencing battle with the Kremlin’s thrusts and counter-thrusts.
US officials say there are signs the strategy is working, per CNN. The question is: will the strategy be enough to dissuade Russia from invading?
I suppose we’ll have that answer soon enough.