Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the United States and its allies are in a new Cold War with Russia that he calls a “shadow war” every bit as serious as the 20th-century struggle, but one using new indirect and amorphous tools and weapons.
America, Warner said Thursday, needs to bring this new war into the open and use all the new tools of technology to fight back hard.
“We are now engaged in a fight in the shadows and I’m not sure that’s a fight we’re currently winning,” he added.
Warner, whose committee is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, said that the government has “done too little to respond to cyberattacks against us and our allies” and that America needs a new “deterrence doctrine so our adversaries don’t see such attacks against us as a free lunch.”
Too often, Warner said, the United States has responded quietly and on a “one-off” basis, and “that has not been enough to deter our adversaries.”
The United States needs to make it clear, Warner said, that “If you go about using cyberwarfare and disinformation against us we’re going to call you out and punch back.”
The senior senator from Virginia also criticized President Donald Trump’s lack of leadership in responding to Russian cyberattacks and information warfare and his refusal to impose new sanctions on Moscow that Congress approved overwhelmingly last year in response to election interference.
“We are handicapped by a lack of presidential leadership,” he said. “We need a president who recognizes this problem and does not see any discussion of Russian interference as a personal affront.”
Warner was speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has started a new research and education program called Global Russia focused on Russia’s use of all the tools at its disposal to chip away at the liberal international order and to capitalize on the West’s inability to come up with a unified strategy to respond.
Warner echoed that theme, pointing out specific examples of how Russia has used the new tools of social media, disinformation and cyberwarfare to sew division and disruption in the United States and in our allies.
He cited Russian hackers promoting through social media and other means the racial divisions centered around the National Football League and black players kneeling during the national anthem, the divisions over guns in the wake of recent mass shootings, and even Russian bots active during the recent #ReleaseTheMemo controversy over a memorandum created by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that criticized the FBI and Department of Justice.
Warner said that Russian tactics can be divided into three areas — the targeting of election infrastructure, the hacking and subsequent weaponizing of information through selective leaks and full-on information warfare using social media. And all of it is designed “to perpetuate a state of chaos and instability” in the West that undermines people’s faith in democratic government, he said.
Warner said that the United States is spending too much on the expensive weapons of the 20th century and not enough on the the new and far cheaper weapons of cyberspace and disinformation.
Russian spent $68 billion last year on defense, Warner pointed out. “We spend 10 times that much.” The country is often spending too much, he said, on weapons well suited for a 20th-century conflict, in land, sea and air. But “we have not shifted near enough resources to take on the 21st-century conflicts where the battle will take place in cyberspace and in disinformation.”
The United States needs a whole of government, even a whole of society, approach to combat this new kind of indirect warfare, Warner said, expressing repeated frustration that the country is ill-prepared and not responding fast enough.
He said that U.S. elections are vulnerable in an era when “a presidential election can be swung by a few thousand votes in a single jurisdiction, in a single state.” And the Russians, he added, have an “ability to target that that is remarkable.”
“We are not prepared, across the nation, even for the 2018 election cycle which begins literally in a few days” in the midterm primaries, he said. America, he added, has to “shine a light on this shadow conflict; we have to get our heads together on this or we’ll keep shooting blindly into the shadows.”