The US is Losing the Cyber War Race (II)

by edwardmroche

The United States has Squandered its Cyber and Information Power

The United States has lost its edge in Cyber. But at on time is had a substantial edge.

In brief, the United States built up a substantial amount of informational power during the Cold War, and used that power first in Europe. This was done in conjunction with the Marshall Plan, which funneled billions of dollars into Europe. As the Second World War concluded, Europeans were living on less than 1,500 calories per day, and aid from the United States was essential to get the economies of Europe to revive.  Otherwise, people would starve to death. The British could not feed the people under their control in occupied Germany.  There already was an emergence of competition between the East and the West, between the United States and Russia, between “unbridled” capitalism and communism.

The struggle was intense; the shape of the power-war system in Europe had not yet emerged. Economic development and recovery through the Marshall Plan, and the careful issue of revival of Germany, was not settled, but soon was, and not entirely to French liking.


Figure 1 –– Since the end of the Cold War, US information power as exercised in support of national strategy has declined, but Russia had dramatically improved, leaving the US at a disadvantage.

Psychological and Economic Warfare

The East and West engaged in psychological and economic warfare.

It is difficult to know the true extent to which the communist leadership in Russia truly believed that revolution was imminent in the West, that soon the devastation of war and the frustration of the common man would overwhelm the political systems of the West, resulting in a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist yoke around the necks of those countries destroyed by the horrible nature of the war just past. But in Washington, there was genuine fear that Europe was not stable, and could be indoctrinated by communist propaganda.

In particular, there was a significant communist movement in Greece, and in Italy, and probably elsewhere. But it was in the Italian election that information operations by the United States had one of their most memorable victories.

US Information Warfare in Italy — A Success Story

The 1948 Election in Italy was a training ground for some of the most famous spies of the post-war period, including James Jesus Angleton, who went on to become the head of counter-intelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Without going into extensive description (there is good documentation available), we can distill the tools of information operations in the election. These included the following:

Strategic Objective. The Government of the United States (GOUSA) decided at the highest levels to oppose a pending victory by the communist party in the Italian election, and this decision was taken as part of a larger and more or less coherent strategy to rebuild Europe and keep it in the Western orbit (so it would not become hostile in the future).

Messaging. The distillation of a clear message that communism was inimical to Catholicism and Christianity. Since Italy was overwhelmingly Catholic, this was a powerful message. This was the major message, but there were sub-messages, such as questions of human freedom under communism, and the superior economic vitality of the West (a more difficult message to get across given the state of the economy in Europe).

Media — Cinema. Movies were created and then to aid their distribution, information operatives traveled through various towns and villages in Italy with portable movie projectors, and then arranged a viewing of these movies in town squares. (Not many Italian villages had cinemas.) Keep in mind that at the time there was no television as a popular or common medium.

Media — Radio. Similar messages were sent through the radio, a widely used media at the time.

Media — Print. A number of flyers, pamphlets and other publications were financed, written and distributed through a number of channels. Financing operations were hidden. A common tool in election propaganda at the time, posters were used widely throughout Italy. Newspapers friendly to the Western cause also were financed, and influenced through a variety of means. Again, financing was kept secret. These were covert operations.

Media — The Pulpit. Although these days the pulpit is not thought of as being an influential source of public persuasion and communication, in Italy it was. In the West, the Church always has exerted a powerful influence on public opinion. In Italy, the Pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church took a strong stance against communism because of its atheistic underpinnings. The Pope also threatened to excommunicate any person who supported the communists. This had a huge effect because it meant that a person would not be able to get married in the Church, or even be buried with Church Services.

Personal Messaging. The GOUSA also put in place a massive letter-writing campaign from Italian-Americans to their relatives in Italy. The messaging was the same: To vote into power a communist government in Italy would undermine Christianity and Western Civilization.

The Result in Italy perhaps was predictable. The communists lost, and a “Christian Democratic” Party was put in place, and has remained in place for most of the post-war period. It was a decisive victory by the GOUSA in changing the election outcome in a European country.


There is no need here to go into a discussion of the morality of one government taking action so as to effect the election in another country. That is another discussion. In the case of Italy, we need see these very effective information operations as being part of an overall strategic plan to rebuild Europe in a mold that would not be anathema to the United States and its values of liberal democracy, individuality, religious liberty, freedom, and of course capitalism.

What is important to note is that these information operations did not take place in isolation, but instead were an integral part of national strategy for the United States. There were a number of dimensions in this strategy including (1) military (prevention of further advances of the Red Army or Russian influence); (2) economic (keeping in place an effective capitalist economic system, and bringing Germany into the fold); (3) political (ensuring that a general philosophy of liberal democracy would become the standard in Europe, in contrast to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which in practice meant the rule by an unelected clique of communist officials that eventually became a gerontocracy in the Soviet Union and remains so in some of the surviving communist nations such as Cuba and Mozambique, also straining under the weight of despotic senior citizens); (4) geo-strategic (preserving Italy as an important part of the Western world, due much in part to its geographic location, but also due to its historical significance as the site of the Western Roman Church.) (The greater church of the Byzantine Empire in Occupied Constantinople (now called “Istanbul”) long before had fallen to the invading Arabs, the original “crusaders”.)

Later Developments

We started the discussion with Italy, but in Europe, information operations remained an essential element of GOUSA strategy during the Cold War period. The best known example was the development of Radio Free Europe (RFE), and Voice of America which was financed and operated specifically for the purpose of providing pro-US messages to various populations, and in their own language. The tools mentioned above were supplemented in other cultural spheres. One example is in the development of various cultural, academic and scientific exchange programs. Money also was given for the translation of a number of books. Similar programs were put in place in other parts of the world, but with weaker resolution.

Erosion of US Information Power

We argue here that the United States has lost its edge in information power, now known as Cyber power. There are two reasons for this, and they are somewhat inter-related: First, there has been a dramatic change in the technologies of communication; Second, national strategists, such as there are any, no longer have considered information operations to be essential element of national power.

Technology change. The first major change was the growth in speed and capacity of international telecommunications. Apart from the growth of the world’s giant undersea cable infrastructure, primarily used for transmission of telephone voice and telegraphic (including Telex) communications, a major advancement is symbolized by the live television broadcast of the speech of by Pope Paul VI at the United Nations General Assembly October 4, 1965. After that, in both voice, video and data, satellite communications radically reduced the cost of international communications and vastly increased the capacity (bandwidth) for moving information. Upon that infrastructure has been laid the Internet and World Wide Web, which has further increased the utility of international communications dramatically reduced its costs.

National strategy. If national information strategies in the United States had kept up with changes in the technologies of international communications, then we would be living in a different world. There is, however, no indication that information strategy is integrated in national strategy in the same close and purposeful way as it was in the immediate post-war period and in the early stages of the Cold War. Instead, the national leadership of the United States has allowed these important tools of national strategy to atrophy, and the informational aspect of national planning it seems no longer is at the table. Or at most it may be given some lip service. Funding for the United States Information Agency was discontinued. Funding for Voice of America has been lacklustre. But even more serious is that these important assets have been laid to waste through non-use in a coherent international strategy. The United States does not have a coherent and integrated information strategy. 

The only exception in the USA might be the military. In that domain, the role of real-time communications including real-time intelligence is considered to be an essential infrastructure of war-fighting capability. In addition, there are many indications that US intelligence has developed some capability for collection of important information through the Internet. (We do not know how well it is analyzed, but there are indications much is collected.) But the military and intelligence domains are merely specific applications of a national information strategy. They may not be considered to be part of an integrated national strategy used for active promotion of national objectives. (In future blog entries, we will examine the strategy of the National Security Agency (NSA), and we will conclude that it has a mission, but there is no active and integrated information strategy for the United States, at least not yet.)

Instead, the GOUSA has gone down the slippery path of privatization and reliance on market forces to guide the development of the world’s information structure. This has led to the rapid penetration of media around the world, including both the emergence of international television news channels, as well as the rise of the World Wide Web and social media. (Facebook is the world’s largest carrier of email service.)


The United States developed many of the operational concepts that tied information strategy to both national and military strategy. This was effective during the early stages of the Cold War. But at the same time, national competitors, particularly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) developed aggressive overseas information strategies. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Russian Federation, these policies have continued and even strengthened with the development of the Russia Today television channel, followed by Sputnik News, and with the continued use of a number of channels and means to influence international public opinion.

So at this time, the US has allowed its tools to go to waste, and perhaps even forgotten how to use them as part of a coherent information strategy, while its strategic competitors have made the investment in both money and time to build up formidable national capabilities. In contrast to the United States, these strategic competitors are fully capable of creating content as part of a national strategy.