Losing hearts and minds: The desperate state of US influence operations


May 24, 2024

Recent steps the U.S. government is taking to better understand its adversaries’ edge in information operations including a five-year, nearly $1 billion contract signed in 2021 with Peraton “to achieve operational advantages in the information space and to counter threats to U.S. national security.” The main thrust of that contract is developing ways to assess how China and Russia are waging influence warfare and shaping perceptions against the United States, officials told Defense One. That number is a small fraction of the billions China and Russia spend on influence operations.

“We are now once again confronted by what I would argue are malign actors in a strategic competition that are using communications technology to shape public opinion around the world. And they do that at a global scale, but then they tailor their messages at a very localized level to shape public opinion and therefore put political pressure on their leadership to to position themselves,” said one Peraton official.

Another Peraton official said Russia, China, and Iran are increasingly coordinating their information warfare efforts. This started during the COVID-19 pandemic, when China, Russia, and other actors embarked on a loosely-coordinated campaign to blame the virus on the U.S. military. Today, they are involved in “opportunistic” coordination on hot-button issues such as Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

“Within a short period of time, oftentimes within a single day, the same topics are being amplified, similar themes being put forward,” said another official.

One of Peraton’s big goals right now under the contract is to develop techniques to reveal how adversaries are using advanced AI tools like large language models to scale up their operations through generative content creation. “I think we’re about six months to a year away,” said the second official.

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