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'Unprecedented' challenge in countering adversarial propaganda, official says

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The U.S. is facing an unprecedented challenge in countering the propaganda of adversaries who recruit and easily spread misinformation through the Internet, a top defense official told a House panel Oct. 22.

While there are many benefits to being in a cyber-connected world, there is also a "dark side" that adversaries are taking advantage of, according to Michael D. Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

"The scope of our current challenge in the informational space is unprecedented," Lumpkin told the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

Joining Lumpkin at the hearing were Army Maj. Gen. Christopher K. Haas, the director of the force management and development directorate for U.S. Special Operations Command, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles L. Moore Jr., the deputy director for global operations on the Joint Staff.

Immediacy, wide reach of social media

The military has a critical role to play in countering adversarial messages, Lumpkin said, noting it is a contributor of unique capabilities and a partner to the whole-of-government effort led by the State Department.

The SOCOM's Military Information Support Operations (MISO) force provides a critical capability in supporting the needs of the military and the overall strategic messaging effort of the State Department, Lumpkin said.

"The rise of (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the ability for other state and non-state actors to conduct recruitment operations and spread propaganda almost certainly and with minimal cost highlights the dark side, one that requires the whole-of-government response," he said.

Unlike television or radio broadcasts, social media and other Internet communications allow for interactive discussions "anytime and in almost any location with virtually unlimited reach," Lumpkin said.

"Social media and other communications technologies have enabled the virtual and, in some cases, actual mobilization of dispersed and demographically varied audiences around the world," Lumpkin said.

The communications allow non-state actors to "reach across the globe with multiple, simultaneously targeted and tailored approaches to motivate or manipulate a spectrum of audiences," he said.

Limitless reach

Preparing the MISO forces for current and future conflict is an important role for special operations units, Haas said.

Citing what he described as the "extensive propaganda efforts employed by both ISIL and Russia," Haas said the role of the SOCOM in manning, training and equipping is especially critical.

While significant improvements have been made over the last decade, challenges remain, he said.

To address capability gaps, SOCOM is developing a plan to expand MISO training into social media use, online advertising, web design and other areas, he explained.

Global military information efforts

MISO forces are currently deployed to 21 U.S. embassies, working with country teams and interagency partners to challenge adversary information and support broader U.S. government goals, Moore said.

The military information forces use existing Web and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to support military objectives by shaping perceptions while highlighting ISIL atrocities, coalition responses to ISIL activities, and coalition successes, he said.

MISO personnel have the training and cultural understanding to assess enemy propaganda activities and propose unique solutions that support U.S. military objectives, he said.

Moore said MISO efforts in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility are focused on challenging violent extremists. In the U.S. European Command's area of responsibility, he said, the efforts of military information forces include "exposing Russian mistruths and their concerted efforts to mislead European audiences as to their true intentions."

Also at the hearing was Matthew Armstrong of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal entity that oversees government broadcasting including Voice of America.

Moore said EUCOM is looking to expand its engagement with the BBG to further improve information dissemination capabilities.

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