Category Archives: Online Supplement

Active Cyber Measures: Reviving Cold War Debunking and Deterrence Strategy

By Nicolas Aalberg

Department of Justice and National Intelligence Center reports on active cyber measures (ACMs) carried out by U.S. adversaries on social media display a staggering manipulation of American conversations, journalism, and electoral processes. Unlike Cold War active measures conducted through human intelligence (HUMINT) operations, creating or manipulating an online intelligence asset requires exponentially fewer resources and yields results with far greater scale. However, the U.S. responded to Cold War active measures through defensive counterintelligence and misinformation-debunking programs and through offensive, active HUMINT deterrents, and that same strategy can be used to combat ACMs today.

The Intelligence Community (IC) must work defensively using signals intelligence (SIGINT) and open-source intelligence (OSINT) to detect and neutralize enemy social media accounts, and Congress must create a bipartisan committee (the “Committee”) to communicate declassified information to the American public to expose manipulation of online conversations. At the same time, USCYBERCOM and CIA must work in tandem offensively through a new blend of cyber warfare and HUMINT to deter ACM proliferation and respond in kind, and once again set global military and intelligence standards on U.S. terms.

I.   Defensive Posture: Congress Must Create a Bipartisan Committee to Counter Active Cyber Measures

Given that U.S. adversaries are successfully laying siege to the fabric of American political conversations, the U.S. needs to adopt a Cold War-era defensive posture consisting of counterintelligence efforts and increased transparency with the electorate about manipulated conversations. Historically, CIA has collaborated with FBI on counterintelligence efforts to remove compromised and planted HUMINT assets. NSA, CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) must similarly identify active personas and botnets through a combination of SIGINT and OSINT and collaborate with the social media industry to remove these accounts.

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Turning US Vetting Capabilities and International Information-Sharing to Counter Foreign White Supremacist Terror Threats

By Terence Check

In June 2021, the Biden Administration released the United States’ first ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. While nominally directed at all domestic terror threats, which include anarchist attacks and acts of violence against Asian-Americans regardless of the race of the perpetrator, the Strategy makes clear that the greatest domestic violent extremist (DVE) threat comes from White racially motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) who believe in the superiority of the White race. The emphasis on White RMVEs permeates the Strategy, and rightly so. The Intelligence Community’s (IC) 2021 assessment of the threat of domestic violent extremism made clear that—while domestic terrorism runs across the political spectrum and can be found in any demographic group—White militia extremists and RMVEs pose the most serious threat.

White RMVEs in the United States have an attribute that makes this threat different: they share ideological links to other like-minded White RMVEs in other countries. In the words of the IC, “US RMVEs who promote the superiority of the white race are the DVE actors with the most persistent and concerning transnational connections.” After all, many White supremacist and White nationalist ideologies leverage and use iconography from foreign past and present White nationalist groups. The IC assessed that US-based White RMVEs influence (and are in turn influenced by) other foreign extremists motivated by their belief in the superiority of the White race. The IC Assessment made an even more concerning observation: not only do foreign and domestic White extremists collaborate on the internet and social media, but “a small number of US RMVEs have traveled abroad to network with like-minded individuals.”

It is possible that foreign RMVEs may also travel to the US and to other foreign countries for similar purposes. With the growing rise of violent White nationalist movements and the propensity of lone actors affiliated with such ideologies to commit attacks in other Western democracies abroad, the federal government should consider how existing traveler screening tools can address the transnational movements of foreign White RMVE actors as an important part of the new Strategy. This article examines how these existing tools can address this resurgent threat.

The current Strategy rightly focuses on the need to share information and to focus on transnational dimensions of white RMVE terrorism movements. Strategic Goal 1.2 calls for broader and enhanced information-sharing within the federal government and with other “external partners.” The text of this Strategic Goal, however, focuses primarily on other governments within the United States, wisely looking to facilitate information-sharing and the distribution of intelligence products with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. This Strategic Goal, however, remains silent on the question of international information-sharing with allied foreign governments to address the international movement of foreign RMVE terrorists. Strategic Goal 1.3 does focus on the international dimensions of the domestic terror threat, but limits said focus to countering malign influence and dissemination, designating foreign terrorist organizations, and constraining the financial activities of terrorist groups.

There is no mention of the traveling foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon, as hinted at in the IC Assessment, and thus no description of the importance that curtailing such travel would have to furthering the goals of the Strategy. This is an oversight. Luckily, however, the US can call upon a robust travel and border security screening framework that already exists.

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War, What is it Good For? Almost Everything: Chinese Strategic Thought and a New U.S. Approach to Gray Zone Competition

THE OPINIONS AND CONCLUSIONS EXPRESSED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF EITHER THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, MARINE CORPS COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE OR ANY OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY.

By Lt. Col. Peter C. Combe II

It has become a recurring theme: in the aftermath of various Chinese or Russian gray zone operations, Congress calls military and government leadership to testify as to whether the subject action was “an act of war.”  From a purely legal perspective, this is the wrong question; rather, the questioner should ask if a particular gray zone action rises to the level of a use of force or armed attack as contemplated in the U.N. Charter, such that the U.S. would be legally justified in using force as a response.  Elizabeth K. Kiessling, Gray Zone Tactics and the Principle of Non-Intervention: Can “One of the Vaguest Branches of International Law” Solve the Gray Zone Problem? (2020).  The reason these tactics are in the “gray zone” is that the answer is frankly uncertain, an ambiguity China seeks to exploit.  In general, some countries posit that physical damage or injury is required before an action rises to that level; others do not.  Bret A. White, Reordering the Law for a China World Order: China’s Legal Warfare Strategy in Outer Space and Cyberspace (2021)This is further complicated in cyberspace, as China in particular argues that the traditional Law of Armed Conflict is always inapplicable in cyberspace.  That is not the end of the inquiry, however, as the legal construct is a binary distinction between the presence or absence of armed conflictSee Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, Common Arts. 2, 3.  The question of whether a gray zone action amounts to an “act of war,” is (at least domestically) a political rather than legal determination, to be made by Congress and the President.

The weakness in the Constitutional framework used to determine whether the United States is “at war” is the binary nature of the question.  This is inconsistent with the Chinese conception of the nature of war.  Furthermore, this binary approach is inconsistent with nearly two centuries of theory on the practice and application of war.  Carl von Clausewitz conceptualized an “ideal” war, in which maximum force was used to achieve maximum political ends.  However, this “ideal war” was merely a theoretical construct, never approached in practice, as a host of real-world factors played a moderating influence on war.  Carl von Clausewitz, On War (1832).  In this construct, war exists as a spectrum between “ideal war” and absolute peace.  Christopher Bassford,Clausewitz’s Categories of War (2020).  Finally, the binary nature of war is also undermined by U.S. legislative practice, in which Congress has repeatedly authorized the use of force absent a declaration of war.  Against this backdrop, the U.S. must revisit the binary construct of war, revising it to reflect a spectrum from armed conflict to peace, leveraging all elements of national power.

  1. China at War

China does not view war as limited to armed conflict.  Chinese strategic thought is heavily influenced by ancient military theorists.  Sun Tzu for instance articulated the value of winning a war without engaging in armed combat.  Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Oxford Univ. Press. Ed.), (1963). Sun Tzu also advocated the importance of undermining or disrupting an opponent’s strategy or alliances as preferable to fighting an army in the field. Ancient Chinese military theorist Zhuge Liang discussed the importance of opportunity, and how by recognizing trends the prudent strategist may plan for and exploit opportunities when they present.  Zhuge Liang, Mastering the Art of War (Thomas Cleary Ed.), (1989).  In this way, the general “conquers an enemy already defeated.”  The Art of War.

This predilection to view war as extending below the threshold of armed conflict is also reflected in modern Chinese thinking.  This is perhaps best represented by China’s current Three Warfares construct, comprised of: (1) Psychological Warfare; (2) Media Warfare; and (3) Legal Warfare.  Psychological Warfare seeks to impede the enemy’s decision-making through deception, propaganda, and coercion.  Media Warfare seeks to influence public opinion, both domestically and abroad, through widespread information operations campaigns.  Finally, Legal Warfare seeks to advance China’s interests through both domestic and international law as a means to deflect or frustrate negative reactions to China’s gray zone activities.  Orde F. Kittrie, Lawfare: Law as a Weapon of War (2016)Examples of these can be seen in China’s practice of establishing Confucius Institutes—public education and cultural outreach programs affiliated with the Chinese Government—to advance its ideological views overseas, or China’s advocacy of controversial legal interpretations with respect to maritime rights, or outer space.  Through tactics like these, China seeks to influence and take advantage of the natural propensity of events in order to achieve its goals as a sort of fait accompli or foregone conclusion.

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