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Joint Chiefs’ information officer: US is behind on information warfare, AI can help

Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall (Joint Chiefs of Staff/Released)
November 14, 2021

The United States needs a better strategy and more advanced tools for information operations, Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, the Joint Staff’s chief information officer, said Thursday.

The government has become slower and less confident in its approach, a reticence it can’t afford as artificial intelligence drastically increases the pace of messaging and information campaigns, said Crall, who is also the Joit Staff’s director for command, control, communications, computers, and cyber. .

“The speed at which machines and AI won some of these information campaigns changes the game drastically for us. If we study, if we’re hesitant, if we don’t have good left and right lateral limits, if every operation requires a new set of permissions…We’re never going to compete.”

Crall made his remarks at the NDIA conference for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, or SOLIC.

Rep. Michelle “Mikie” Sherrill, D-N.J., a former Navy helicopter pilot, said the issue has risen to the attention of the White House.

“I’ve heard this directly from the president of the United States that they [China and Russia] are doing a better job at this right now. They are telling people across the world that democracy is not fast enough. ‘Democracy can’t compete in the world today. Democracy doesn’t have the unity of purpose that we need.’ And we need now to come together to portray why you want to be part of the democracy,” Sherrill said. “We need to convey why it’s a bad outcome to have China running all of your internet operations.”

Currently, the U.S. government lacks a central organizer for influence campaigns.The State Department has a Global Engagement Center that can identify and respond to things like extremist messaging on social media, disinformation campaigns, etc., and can award grants to private and non-governmental organizations as well as academics, but it’s not positioned to engage with global audiences on broad topics like the desirability of democracy or authoritarian rule.

In the U.S. military, the lead roles in information operations have traditionally gone to the Army and the special operations community. That usually comes as part of larger military campaigns, such as the effort to take down the Lord’s Resistance Army that was terrorizing Uganda, South Sudan, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. But the need for information campaigns has greatly expanded beyond combat areas, and adversaries such as China and Russia have grown adept at using the internet to influence populations across the globe on trade, human rights, the climate, and more.

Too often, Crall said, the information environment has been an afterthought for the U.S. military.

“We understand kinetic operations very well. Culturally we distrust some of the way that we practice information operations,” he said. “If you wait until the last minute or if you—as we all have heard the term, “sprinkle some IO [information operation] on that”—all you have is hypnotism. And we’re not too good at it. Right? If you’re going to condition an adversary, if you’re going to condition the space to put these things forward, you’ve got to put the time and work into it and be sophisticated.”

In addition to strategy—and better interagency coordination on that strategy—the United States also has to be quicker and more proactive in the way it talks about its activities and the contrast between democratic and nondemocratic societies, he said, lest authoritarians use internet-enabled speech and automation to their advantage, rendering U.S. messaging and influence efforts futile.

“I would look at irregular warfare, whether it be messaging or really any kind of warfare in the future, the speed game of…digital transformation, predictive analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, they are changing the game…and if we don’t match that speed, we will make it to the right answer and that the right answer will be completely irrelevant,” Crall said.

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