Since I’ve spent the last few weeks revisiting areas of the JFK assassination, it’s time for me to return to more contemporary interests and affairs – turning my attention back to an area that Stu Wexler and I explored in Shadow Warfare. If anyone has any outstanding JFK questions or a topic you want addressed, post a comment and I’ll do my best. However current affairs are calling and if nobody has any requests that’s where I will be going.
“Hybrid Warfare” is one of the buzzwords being tossed around in relation to what the Russians have been doing in Eastern Europe, SW Asia and now North Africa during the last two to three years. It also applies to the practices they have initiated against the American political system and as importantly – to them – the deconstruction of traditional American global alliances. If such a strong statement surprises you, then you did not read my posts on information warfare last fall (leading up to the election) or perhaps you think such charges are simply political whining or paranoia. I assure you they are neither and I’ll be exploring that in my ongoing posting.
If you read Surprise Attack, it should be no “surprise” (I don’t know if that’s a bad pun or not, most of my puns are unintentional). It became clear while I was researching Surprise Attack that Russia under a resurgent Putin was dramatically changing. I detailed that at some length in the final chapter and laid out what I thought were developing trends – which unfortunately proved to be far too accurate. I would have preferred to be wrong. In the interim there have been lots of articles about a return to the Cold War, Cold War 2.0 etc., but I’m pretty sure that is way off the mark. What’s going on is not about parity, or even deterrence. It’s not about returning Russia to Super Power status.
What it is really about is creating chaos in international affairs, leveling the playing field and deconstructing traditional alliances to create a free a global free for all. Putin (and the KGB political warfare groups of the past) thrives on chaos and random action and the creation of tensions – does that sound vaguely familiar. Where have we seen that recently, yes we have, you can fill in the blank yourself – the clue is “think domestic politics”. Or better yet think about the stated political agendas of President Trumps most influential advisor.
So what does all that have to do with Hybrid Warfare, actually a great deal and that is where I will be going. In reality, Hybrid Warfare is a return to deniable warfare, with the same fundamental tactics but simply different tool sets. Stu and I coined the term “shadow warfare” to describe deniable military operations using non state actors and deniable surrogates – think military contractors, think Black Water. But it also involved the use of very real military and intelligence personnel in extremely low profile operations, some military, some political action – think JSOC and the very special task forces around the globe, originally a concept tested in Iraq and Afghanistan but extended fair beyond that in following years.
What we didn’t explore was the information warfare side of that, largely because it was not something the US was doing in contemporary times – not that we hadn’t done it before, especially in the immediate post war years. For over two decades the CIA carried out information warfare (psychological warfare in those olden days) and political action in Europe, SW Asia and Latin America. Unfortunately the tables have now turned and it’s being played from the other direction, particularly in Eastern Europe and now domestically against the U.S. It’s a very sophisticated specialty, and a very cunning and indirect one.
Which leads me back to the title of this article, and the subject of much dialog in Washington DC over the weekend and no doubt this coming week. Check the following for what I mean.
Do I expect to find actual evidence of collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign in terms of some sort of planning on how to win the election, tactics to influence voters or to leak information? No, not at all. That would be the worst sort of tradecraft on the Russians part, they have never been that unskilled.
Information warfare (psychological warfare) is far more subtle, and far more manipulative. Which is actually the scary part….I don’t think the current administration is nearly sophisticated enough to know when they are being manipulated; they do have intelligence assets that could educate them but it’s pretty clear they are not listening to them (which may in itself be the result of some absolutely brilliant information warfare).
It’s not a pretty picture, but I’ll do what I can to paint at least parts of it in coming posts.
Update: Further details emerging in the committee hearings offer a great illustration of how manipulation can occur without what might be legally called “collusion” – the White House response also illustrates the risk of denial. Check out the following, its a virtual lesson in covert Russian political action, played by true professionals.