Clapper: United States Must Beef Up Information Warfare Capabilities

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee

Photo: CSPAN

The United States must increase its investment in information warfare as it faces cyber attacks from Russia, the Director of the Office of National Intelligence James Clapper said Jan. 5.

Moscow was behind a series of cyber attacks that sought to influence the 2016 presidential election, Clapper said. It also orchestrated a wave of “fake news” to attempt to sway voters, he said.

“This was a multifaceted campaign,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The hacking was only one part of it and it also entailed classic propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”

The United States must counter such actions by revamping its own propaganda machine and potentially reopening the United States Information Agency, he said. The USIA — which existed from 1953 until 1999 — was a foreign affairs agency that focused on public diplomacy.

“I do think that we could do with having a USIA on steroids,” he said. “[We could use] the United States Information Agency to fight this information war a lot more aggressively than I think we’re doing right now.”

SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed with Clapper. “One of the areas where we’re lagging and lagging more than any other areas is social media,” he said. “We know these young people in the Baltics are the same as young people here. They get their information off the internet and we have really lagged behind there.”

There is widespread agreement in the intelligence community that Russia was behind this past summer’s Democratic National Committee hack that exposed private emails, Clapper said. He noted that Russia continues to attempt to infiltrate U.S. networks.

Clapper’s office plans to release an unclassified report on the Russian hack early next week, he added. It will include multiple motives for Moscow’s interference in the election.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the United States must be prepared to retaliate against Russia for its involvement. Sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama did not go far enough, he added.

“When it comes to interfering in our election we better be ready to throw rocks,” he said. “I think what Obama did was throw a pebble. I’m ready to throw a rock.”

Graham noted that during another election it could be Republicans who are targeted. “It’s not like we’re so much better at cybersecurity than Democrats,” he said.

During the hearing, Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of United States Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency, said Russia’s capabilities, and that of other major nation states, are growing.

“The Russians are a peer competitor in cyber,” he said. “If you look broadly beyond the Russians to cyber writ large, the level of capability of nation states and actors around the world continues to increase.

“I can’t think of a single significant actor out there who is either decreasing their level of investment, getting worse in their trade craft or capability or in any way backing away from significant investments in cyber,” he added.

According to a joint statement from Clapper, Rogers and Marcel Lettre II, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, more than 30 countries are developing offensive cyber attack capabilities.

“Iran and North Korea continue to improve their capabilities to launch disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support their political objectives,” Clapper said.

China is also continuing efforts to spy on the United States, but he noted that cyber attacks aimed at fleecing U.S. companies of intellectual property for China’s own economic gain have dropped.

“The intelligence community and security experts … have observed some reduction in cyber activity from China against U.S. companies since the bilateral September 2015 commitment to refrain from espionage for commercial gain,” he said.

Topics: Cyber, Cybersecurity, Infotech, Intelligence and Surveillance, Defense Department

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