Four military officers who describe themselves as “researchers” at the Army’s highly respected Cyber Institute have published an article that adds to the growing concern about the ongoing politicization of the military. Published by the military’s National Defense University (NDU), their article purports to analyze the dangers of misinformation and disinformation and to advise the Biden administration about how to counter it.
The article’s authors all are military officers and at least two are professors at West Point. They say their article “is written in response to the Capitol insurrection.”
Ironically, the article is itself misinformation. That this misinformation is published by military officers associated with two highly prestigious institutions, the NDU and the Cyber Institute, makes it all the more inappropriate and dangerous.
The article attempts to address a real and dangerous issue: how mis- and disinformation can endanger national security. Preparing for and combatting disinformation is a complex issue that involves disciplines from sociology and psychology to highly technical cyberwarfare issues.
The difference between misinformation and disinformation is generally understood to be a matter of intent; disinformation is intentionally and maliciously deceptive. Disinformation is as old as warfare itself; only the techniques vary. The U.S. military has been practicing and studying it and related disciplines for many years. Misinformation has been a staple of military operations since the days of the Trojan horse and Sun Tzu.
Jan. 6 Capitol Riot Caused by Disinformation?
The Cyber Center authors’ thesis is that the “insurrection” at the Capitol building on Jan. 6 was a mortal danger to the country that was caused by disinformation, namely the idea that the 2020 presidential election was rigged or stolen. The “insurrection” spawned by this alleged disinformation then becomes the justification for the authors’ proposed government censorship (although they eschew the term) of free speech.
The article suffers from a number of flaws. One of the most notable – and dangerous – is that the authors wade deeper into the political wars by advocating more government control over speech that they regard as outside the mainstream or, as they put it, contrary to a desired “shared reality.”
The authors’ misinformation begins in their very first paragraph: “On January 6, 2021, long held assumptions about the meaning of American national security were challenged when insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol, attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election” (bolded emphasis added here and elsewhere).
Warming to their theme, the authors then claim “recent polls indicate that nearly 20 percent of Americans approved of the insurrection” and that their article is “written in response to the Capitol insurrection.” This purported support for an “insurrection” then becomes the compelling force for the authors’ advice to the Biden administration that it should clamp down on free speech.
But that initial premise is false: Although some politicians have used the term, there was no “insurrection.” “Insurrection” is a violation of the federal criminal code, 15 U.S.C. §2383. If there had been an insurrection on Jan. 6, Attorney General Merrick Garland would have brought related criminal charges against the alleged insurrectionists. Although almost 300 people arrested for the events of Jan. 6 have been charged with “parading” in the Capitol building, not a single one has been charged with insurrection, indicating prosecutors don’t have evidence to charge them of this crime.
Additionally, the authors’ citation does not support their claim that almost 20 percent of Americans support the “insurrection.” The polling data that they cite in their very first footnote does not even mention the word “insurrection,” much less claim that one occurred on Jan. 6.
As these Cyber Institute scholars fully appreciate, in disinformation warfare, words matter. Yet they falsely equate “insurrection” with “riot” or “protest.” It is ironic that, in an article decrying the dangers of mis- and disinformation, the authors engage in misinformation by falsely claiming that 20 percent of Americans support an “insurrection.”
The authors then use that frightening but false statistic to support their call for more government control over speech. Because they argue the “insurrection” was caused by the false idea that the presidential election was rigged or stolen, they use that purported crisis to call for the government – aided by private actors – to squelch views of which they disapprove. They urge such censorship because they say mis- and disinformation are “America’s most urgent national security challenge.”
The Definition of Disinformation
So, how would these military officers identify “disinformation”? It is difficult to know, since the authors never define either mis- or disinformation. But apparently it is anything that is contrary to what they call “shared reality.”
They repeatedly call for a “shared reality,” which can be aided by, in their words, government “pressure, if not regulation” to “bury spurious sources.” They give an example: “It may be necessary to consider requiring social media companies to adjust their algorithms to ensure users view a variety of legitimate professional news sources.”
The authors acknowledge (in a footnote) that it may be difficult to secure “universal agreement” on just which news sources are “legitimate.” They never identify just who should be the arbiter of truth; they just leave that to unidentified actors in “the private sector, the government, and the public.” And they do not say how they would identify what needs to be censored, other than speech that departs from groupthink shared reality.
But, of course, some person must be the arbiter, even if only by writing the tech companies’ algorithms. Who shall it be? A 23-year-old intern at Twitter? A committee of Mark Zuckerberg-approved techies? The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and serial liar Adam Schiff? Government bureaucrats such as Anthony Fauci, who lied to the American people because he thought they “can’t handle the truth”? The authors provide no answer.
Hunter Biden Coverage Shows How It Would Work
The folly inherent in the Cyber Institute researchers’ heavy-handed proposals for government and private collaboration to limit speech to some “shared reality” was on full display in a disinformation campaign the authors ignore. That is the successful efforts by the Biden team (which includes the media and much of the intelligence community) to effectively censor The New York Post’s revelations about Hunter Biden’s laptop and emails evidencing his and President Biden’s corruption.
Just two weeks before the presidential election, and while early voting was in progress, Biden allies falsely portrayed the New York Post’s revelations about Hunter’s laptop and emails as Russian disinformation. In an article headlined “Russian Disinfo,” Politico reported that “More than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter” outlining their shared reality that the recent disclosure of Hunter Biden’s emails “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” They concluded: “It is high time that Russia stops interfering in our democracy.”
These former “senior intelligence officials,” including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, claimed that they were doing exactly what the learned researchers at the Cyber Institute advocate in their article – countering the Post’s alleged disinformation. And their bogus “Russian Disinfo” theme quickly became a “shared reality” among Democrats, the media, and other Biden supporters.
But they were dead wrong. It can no longer be seriously disputed that the laptop was indeed Hunter’s and the emails were genuine. The “shared reality” published by the 50-plus learned “senior intelligence officials” was itself disinformation that, unlike the Capitol riot, may well have been decisive in the election.
A serious and intellectually honest article about the dangers of disinformation would also have mentioned the biggest and most effective disinformation campaign in recent history – the Big Lie that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians. That was disinformation of the first order. It was spread by lies concocted by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in collusion with Russians, to overturn the results of the 2016 election.
Yet these Cyber Institute researchers ignore this disinformation and that Biden allies such as Clapper publicly spread disinformation about Trump’s supposed collusion with Russians to undermine the election, while admitting under oath in closed-door sessions they knew of no evidence to support that. Such glaring omissions create, at a minimum, the appearance that the authors are reluctant to accuse prominent Democrats of disinformation lest they be perceived as aiding Trump when they are seeking to advise the Biden administration.
As this author has previously pointed out in The Federalist, there is no greater long-term danger to the country than the politicization of the military. For that reason, the military has a culture of not publicly wading into partisan disagreements.
The regrettable direction of the NDU article by the Cyber Center authors creates an unfortunate appearance that this nonpartisan culture may be at risk. These authors have shown little hesitation about wading into partisan thickets. Let us hope that this is an outlier, not a trend.