The director of the National Security Agency warns that China and Russia are weaponizing information to try to "control a populace with disinformation" that includes both their own nations and ours, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
In remarks to a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads NSA and Cyber Command, said the U.S. military and government are taking steps to counter the digital-age threat triggered by the 2011 Internet-fueled Arab Spring uprisings that rocked governments in the Middle East and North Africa, the Free Beacon reported.
"We looked at this as an indicator of how powerful a free and open internet can be in the world, and we looked at this from that lens," Nakasone said. "But I would also say that our adversaries looked at it from a completely different lens: As an existential threat to their existence."
Following the uprisings, he said, both Russia and China stepped up internal Internet controls and other internal security measures.
"And so what have you seen since then, I would say, is the weaponization of information," Nakasone said, the Free Beacon reported. "The idea of being able to control a populace with disinformation."
"I think that is an incredibly important trend that we're starting to see," he said, adding both China and Russia are "operating below the threshold of war."
America is going to have to address the threats from those adversaries, Nakasone asserted, and "have some manner upon which we're going to have to be able to contest them in places like cyber space."
"If we don't, if we decide we're going to stand on the sidelines, that we're not going to bring the powers of our nation against our adversaries in cyber space . . . I think we run the risk of our adversaries defining what they are going to do in this domain," he said, the Free Beacon reported.
He offered as examples Russia's recent information warfare ops can be seen in its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, while China has taken steps to restrict access to U.S. social media outlets and is engaged in government-backed influence operations on Chinese social media outlets like WeChat and Weibo, the Free Beacon reported.
"We've recognized the importance of hybrid warfare within our Army, within our Marine Corps on the ground," Nakasone said, the Free Beacon reported. "We've already started to take action to train at places like the National Training Center that incorporates the idea of information warfare with a ground combat element."
But the United States needs "a whole-of-nation of approach," he said.
"And I do think our nation is capable of it," Nakasone said. "It's not something new. This is something we have. I certainly grew up with it during the Cold War, and [we] have done it very effectively, and I think we will do it again."
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