The United States is Losing the Cyber War Race (I)

by edwardmroche

Part I

Much of the original thinking about Cyber War was developed in the United States. But America has fallen behind. Russian cyberwar doctrine is more comprehensive, more integrated, has more powerful weapons, and is more up to date.

Cyber Warfare must be seen as part of a larger strategy of “Information Warfare”, known in Russia as “Информационная война“. Information warfare is a very broad subject, and includes a number of actions outside of the cyber domain. (Derkachenko writes that “information warfare” as a term is being changed to the term “information operations”,   but the term “cyberwar” is becoming more popular. The United States does not have a regular television show on information warfare, but Russia does. Dimitri Taran runs a very comprehensive show on Channel 1 TV Crimea.

Much Russian writing about Cyber Warfare and Information Warfare draws upon a number of different examples and case studies of conflicts that had, in the Russian view, an important information content. Information warfare is seen to be a type of Twilight Zone somewhere between a Cold War and a “Hot” War. “Thus, by its nature information warfare it occupies a position between the “cold” war . . .  and actual combat with the participation of the armed forces.” See Svargaman, Что такое информационная война? who describes the so-called “next-generation” information warfare as including:  Substitution — Information warfare can take the place of traditional military action, or as Svargaman writes “contactless destruction” [“бесконтактного поражения”]. Use of TV as Weapon — Television channels can be used to manipulate public opinion either by highlighting or obscuring crucial events. The Russian view is that information warfare has limited power, but should be thought of as complementing and enhancing “traditional methods of warfare”. [“информационная война имеет свои границы возможностей . . . дополняет  и усиливает традиционные средства ведения войны”]

In the Russian view, the state (the government) has a strong role to play in management of information on a national basis. According to Pocheptsov, this includes tactical mass mind control, agenda-setting (information management), and strategic  management of mass consciousness. [“Тактическое управление массовым сознанием; Управление информационной повесткой дня; Стратегическое управление массовым сознанием”]  One can just imagine what would happen in the United States if the President asked for budget authority to conduct information operations so as to accomplish “mind control” or “strategic management mass consciousness”. Pocheptsov sees films and other cultural exports of the United States as being a type of “sociological propaganda” [Социологическая пропаганда], and even fine arts are seen as a type of information warfare. The Cold War is seen as a “war of mass culture” with abstract expressionism pitted against socialist realism.  ” [“холодная война оказалась войной массовых культур, например, абстрактный экспрессионизм против социалистического реализма”]

This viewpoint is generally more comprehensive (larger in scope) that views in the United States.

Cyber War in Crimea and Ukraine

This blog is not intended to take a position on the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea. The Crimea has been controlled by different powers through history: Greece, then Rome, then the Byzantine Empire, the Empire of Trebizond, control by Venetian Republic. Catherine the Great in 1783 got the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, which had occupied Constantinople. In 1921 it was a Soviet Socialist Republic, and became a state of Russia from 1945-54, then the Ukrainian SSR from 1954-1991. (Khruschev transferred the Crimea to the Ukraine.) After 1991 it was slightly separate from the Ukraine as  the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea with Sevastopol City. Now it has been annexed by The Russian Federation. Most of the people who live in the Crimea are ethnic Russians (61%) and speak Russian and many are inter-married with families living in Russia proper. Nevertheless, Russian actions in 2014 were viewed as being a violation of international law by Europe, and this triggered a series of sanctions. But here, we want to look at the information or cyber warfare aspects of the Russian annexation.

The annexation of the Crimea took place within the context of the revolution in the Ukraine. During those events, the Ukrainian leadership which was friendly to Russia was thrown out. Ukraine was divided ethnically. Away from the Crimea, the ethnic Russian share of the population drops off sharply. In the simplest terms, in the West, Ukrainians are in the majority, in the East, ethnic Russian are in the majority.

As events unfolded, there was a military component, but the information component of the takeover was stunning. The Russian operations should be studied as a textbook case of superiority. Public meeting, newspapers, radio, television, social media, and other informational networks was quickly harnessed by what can best be described as a coherent trans-media strategy. It went well beyond anything that happened in Libya or during the “Arab Spring” in Egypt.

Interviews with citizens Crimea showed evidence of a completely different sense of reality. The ethnic Russians there were 100% convinced that Ukrainian fascists from Kiev were marching towards the Crimea. These fascist invaders were “burning Russian homes and raping Russian women”.  There was a complete sense of panic, and the scarcity of information (except what was being supplied), made the uncertainty even greater.  Having watched the speeches that were being streamed on YouTube, this writer can attest to their emotional content and dramatic content.

When the time came, it was a foregone conclusion that the vote would be overwhelmingly in favor of union with the Russian Federation.

In terms of information warfare doctrine, the Ukraine is a perfect example of how a coherent and well-managed campaign can complement other actions, here the use of military force, much of which was covert.

If we compare US actions in the Middle East, there is no such coherency between military action and information operations. The Russian actions in Crimea appear to indicate the United States has lost the ability or does not have the skills to conduct an equally integrated cyber strategy. If there is a “cyber race”, the Americans are losing.

In the next part of this blog, we will examine other examples and cases of cyber and information warfare.



References (courtesy of

Ярослав Деркаченко, Эволюция понятия «информационная война», 2016.

Георгий Почепцов, Информационная политика и безопасность современных государств, 2011.