DOD intelligence officials ‘revamp’ efforts to combat Russian and Chinese influence campaigns
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s intelligence agencies are overhauling efforts to combat foreign influence and disinformation campaigns in response to a request from combatant commanders for help in fighting information attacks from Russia and China, a Pentagon official told House lawmakers Friday.
“We need to revamp the training that we have today to ensure that people are properly focused on this issue,” said Ronald Moultrie, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for intelligence and security.
Moultrie also said the department is prioritizing getting information out to combatant commanders by using open source intelligence and declassifying information that can be unsealed.
“But, we’re also trying to protect those sensitive sources and methods. So, malign influence and activity in the gray zone… we’re really focused on it and within the enterprise – the Defense Intelligence Enterprise – we’re revamping ourselves to be able to get after this problem,” Moultrie said during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee subpanel on intelligence strategies.
The Defense Intelligence Enterprise are organizations and infrastructure related to intelligence, counterintelligence and security at the Pentagon, the Joint Staff, the combatant commands and other parts of the Defense Department that deal with national intelligence and security.
In April, POLITICO uncovered a memo sent from nine of the eleven combatant commanders, pleading for spy agencies to find ways to declassify and release more information about bad behavior from Russia and China.
“We request this help to better enable the U.S., and by extension its allies and partners, to win without fighting, to fight now in so-called gray zones, and to supply ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives," the commanders wrote in January to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, according to POLITICO.
Russia and China have been using “gray zone” tactics, or nonmilitary actions, such as election meddling to compete against the United States.
In April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced the establishment of a new center tasked with tracking overseas efforts to wage disinformation and influence campaigns in the United States.
ODNI said the center “will be focused on coordinating and integrating intelligence pertaining to malign influence, drawing together relevant and diverse expertise to better understand and monitor the challenge,” according to media reports when the center was announced.
Intelligence officials have increasingly raised alarm over the threat of foreign efforts to interfere in the U.S. elections, especially after Russia in 2016 waged a campaign to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Moscow also targeted the U.S. midterm elections in 2018 and the 2020 presidential election, according to assessments from the National Intelligence Council.
The discussion in the House on Friday came after Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., chairman of the subcommittee on intelligence and special operations, raised the issues described in the POLITICO report. He asked Moultrie to explain how his office is working across the defense intelligence community to ensure coordination to combat the information war against China and Russia.
Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency, said a lot of the work at the agency is “written for release,” however that’s not the “end all.”
“The end all is, as we take a look at that, working with a specific combatant commander, looking at the private sector, looking at the tools and the information available. How do we do this in the quickest manner possible,” Nakasone said.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the agency is ensuring analysts write reports with the mindset that “this product will be released to the max level of audience or consumer.”
While it’s a good start, Berrier said those who are collecting sources and developing information reports are writing at the lowest classification level possible when they can.