Total information warfare said to be ‘threat to democracy’

A new Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report claims that “total” information warfare is a threat to free nations and that intelligence services in the U.S. and Canada have so far failed to grasp the depth and seriousness of the problem.

While the CSIS report said that Canada was doing a better job than the U.S., more could be, and should be, done.

“Nobody appears to be taking a totally holistic approach to this. The US seems to be grinding down the cyber road. The Facebook and Twitter road. Individual roads with no real impact on the holistic picture.  There is no roadmap, there is no plan, there is only floundering,” a summary of the report stated.

“We need a concept first, a strategy. The totality of the problem must be enumerated, roughly defined – allowing evolution as we learn, milestones established, working groups established, recommendations made, followed by tweaks and adjustments, then agreement. Only then should we begin passing common sense laws allowing for growth, learning, and security, while allowing us freedom of speech,” the summary continued.

At issue: The threats to democracy come in the form of mass media manipulation, disinformation, and propaganda campaigns — mostly through social media platforms but also through traditional journalism, which is suffering a major credibility problem, the CSIS report notes.

“Increases in data transmission capacity coupled with a shift toward programmatic advertising have resulted in a precipitous decrease in the ability of traditional journalism to mediate the quality of public information,” the report said.

“Conventional journalism has been partially displaced by a torrent of data from an infinite number of originators. Within that torrent is a current of lies and distortions that threatens the integrity of public discourse, debate and democracy.” [source]

Analysis: Given the current political times in the U.S., it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that hostile nations like Russia are mostly responsible for the growing problem of using disinformation, propaganda, and “fake news” to drive public opinion. But the CSIS report says that’s only part of the problem and a small part at that. “The problem of disinformation cannot simply be attributed to … deliberate actions of government-funded trolls” using Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media platforms, the report reads.

As an intelligence analyst and researcher — as well as a political scientist with 30 years’ worth of reporting and media experience — I can tell you with great confidence that the biggest problem by faris the purposeful manipulation of ‘news’ and information by the major U.S. media outlets. Partisanship in journalism is nothing new; what’s new in the age of Bush-Obama-Trump is hyper-partisanshipCoverage was extremely biased for and against during Obama’s administration, but since Trump has been elected major outlets like The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, etc., have completely lost any semblance of nonpartisan reporting journalistic ethics in reporting on the president and his administration. In many cases, these and other outlets have published information ‘leaked’ to them by political and intel operatives without doing the regular due diligence of confirming it with other independent sources.

All of this has led to a credibility crisis among all media, not just the so-called “mainstream” outlets. Media in America, with few exceptions, have divided themselves along ideological lines; this makes it easier for Americans to be influenced by outside sources, for sure, but it also compartmentalizes information. If you only listen to, watch, or read sources you ‘agree’ with, you’re not getting the full picture. That means we don’t have a fully-informed electorate, which is a primary function of a free press — to fully inform.

What’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be any quick solutions — though identifying the problem, as the Canadian intelligence service has done, is always the first step.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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