Dr. Theodore Karasik
AMID the flurry of accusations that Russia is conducting an information operation to get US Republican nominee Donald Trump into the White House, it is important to understand the context when multiple information leaks are involved. The ongoing information war between Russia and the United States is now taking a nasty turn.
Russian information operation theory is rooted in Soviet military doctrine. The prime directive in information sciences was, and still is, protecting information. Psychological operations, from where information operations originated, were a key tool from diplomacy to military action.
Today, Russia sees information war as including control of other states’ information resources, deterring the development of information technology in countries that are potential enemies, possibly disrupting or completely shutting down information networks and communication systems, and developing information weapons and systems for safeguarding its own information structure and information flows.
Moscow’s information war in Syria differs from its actions in Ukraine. In Ukraine, Russia possessed a ramified and multi-dimensional local capability that, since at least 2006, traced directly back to the Kremlin. In Syria, the information effort is at the state level, with inputs and analyses shaping the information space.
The peak to date was when the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra held a special concert in Syria’s historic city of Palmyra to symbolize Russia’s successful campaign to oust the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the UNESCO site.
In the West, Moscow uses deception (maskirovka) to distract, deceive, mislead and confuse opponents regarding migrants, economic sanctions against Russia, and playing a blame game with the tragic shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.
The Russians excel in the study of the impact of the information-psychological aspect of information warfare. Thus this idea that Moscow is plotting to hand the US presidential election to Trump is remarkable. The US Congress is likely to investigate these allegations, which will likely further roil American politics before election day on Nov. 8. Any investigation needs to understand the historical context if Russia, as a state actor, is truly involved.
Perceptions of the US The Russians see the United States actively engaged in an information confrontation that has been ongoing since the Kosovo conflict. Theorists see that Washington uses disinformation and information warfare in the global information space.
Russia’s geopolitical doctrine treats the United States as a dangerous country that uses information and force to break Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq for strategic gain. This current is popular with some Arab countries that share Moscow’s viewpoint regarding America’s quiet proxy wars in the region. In this vein, the Syrian battlefield serves as the ultimate confrontation to date in the information sphere, where deception and trolls are ubiquitous.
The idea that the Kremlin would carry out an information operation to get Trump to the White House is absurd. Nevertheless, his position on Ukraine and NATO plays into Moscow’s plans.
It is quite possible that the US-Russian information confrontation is reaching a new peak with unknown consequences based on the evolution of information and its use and manipulation. The information hacked by a Romanian national tied to Russia is but one of the leads in who attacked and stole sensitive data from the US Democratic National Convention (DNC) database.
The idea that the Kremlin would carry out an information operation to get Trump to the White House is absurd. Nevertheless, his position on Ukraine and NATO plays into Moscow’s plans. Furthermore, there is room to believe that a Trump presidency will alienate America’s Gulf allies. If Russia is using information to get Trump elected, Gulf states should be very concerned about the potential fallout.
In a world where transparency and compliance demand that information be made public, sensitive information can be used in a number of creative ways, including affecting others’ actions. Russia’s Trump card may be just a fallacy, but in the information age echo chambers seem to rule the day. Whatever the truth, the Kremlin must be laughing very loudly.
[Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik].