iWar: War And Peace In The Information Age

iWar: War And Peace In The Information Age
(Bill Gertz, May 11, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

America is at war, but most Americans don’t know it. Covert information warfare is waged by world powers and rogue states—like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea—and groups like ISIS. Bill Gertz describes how technology has revolutionized modern warfare, how the last administration failed to meet this challenge, and what we can do to fight back.

In his new book iWarBill Gertz describes how technology has completely revolutionized modern warfare, how the Obama administration failed to meet this challenge, and what we can and must do to catch up and triumph in this struggle. (iWar will be available for purchase and signing.)

Bill Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of seven books, including Breakdown: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11 and The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America. He is currently senior editor of The Washington Free Beacon, an online news outlet, and national security columnist for The Washington Times.

Gertz has an international reputation. Vyachaslav Trubnikov, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, once called him a “tool of the CIA” after he wrote an article exposing Russian intelligence operations in the Balkans. A senior CIA official once threatened to have a cruise missile fired at his desk at The Washington Times after he wrote a column critical of the CIA’s analysis of China. China’s communist government also has criticized him for his news reports exposing China’s weapons and missile sales to rogues states.

For more on the future of warfare, see Sean McFate’s Westminster talk, The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder.



Robert R. Reilly:

Anyone who has been in Washington for any period of time or follows the subject of national security and foreign policy knows the name of Bill Gertz and has followed his stunning, insightful writing in The Washington Times for so many years, in The Washington Beacon now but continuing in The Washington Times and also Bill’s seven books. He is one of the most notable, influential, important writers on national security. Some of those books include Break Down: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11, and the China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America. What a surprise. I think all the books may be gone. I am not sure, but we did have some books for sale at cost at Westminster’s special price. I am sure that Bill will be happy to sign those for you if you did get copies after his presentation tonight.

By the way, Congressman Stockman just walked in and I wanted to acknowledge his presence and say how happy we are to have him here and the great service he provided in the U.S. Congress from the great state of Texas.

Now, nothing could be a greater recommendation for Bill Gertz than the fact that he is attacked by both sides, and one of those attacks came from the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence service, who said he was a quote “tool of the CIA,” unquote. Whereas a member of the CIA once threatened to have a cruise missile fired at his desk at The Washington Times after he wrote a column critical of the CIA’s analysis of China. So with that introduction, please join me in welcoming Bill Gertz.

Bill Gertz:

I have been doing a lot of book promotion. You know I am a national security writer and I do a lot of radio interviews and I do one station, Chicago WLS, where the host is John Howell and he has me on to talk about terrorist threats and the China threat, Russia threats, and he always asks me, he says, “Bill, I do not know how you sleep at night with all that you know.” And most of the time I just do not say anything. And finally, I said, “John, I sleep like a baby. I sleep two hours, get up and cry, go back to sleep, get up two hours.”

Information Warfare

Yeah, I am going to talk about what I really think is one of the most important subjects right now, and that is the subject of information warfare. And I wanted to start out with our quote from the book and it is by Angelo Codevilla, who as many of you know is a long time national security strategist.

And he had a saying which I put in the very front of the book because I think it really captures the beginning point of how we deal with this issue. He says, “War is essentially a clash of purposes. Only derivatively is it a clash of arms. Peace and war are two sides of the same coin. Failing to grasp that makes it impossible to understand the event that ends war and ushers in peace, namely victory.” Now, he is talking about the concept of how do you bring about the end of war, and in the information environment it is really about ending threats.

So there are two main takeaways from i-War. The first is we are under information assault from enemies, and this is a threat-book that looks at those threats. I was contacted by an Air Force guy after the book came out and he told me, “Basically, we now have an acronym for the five threats.” They call it ‘CRKIT’ and it stands for China, Russia, Korea, Iran, Terrorism. And so those are the big threats and they are clearly coming at us from an information perspective.

The second point of the book is that the U.S. is woefully unprepared, ill-equipped to deal with this threat. We have basically been disarmed in the information warfare front and that is a real- real danger to national security.

What is Information Warfare?

First, a little bit of the definition. Information warfare. We have kind of gotten into kind of a technical versus content kind of issue. A lot of people can say information warfare is cyber attacks, and that is certainly something we have become much more aware of just in the last several years, but I define information warfare as both the cyber technical part of it as well as the information content side of it.

So obviously, we are familiar with cyber attacks and the damage that they are doing. They are escalating in damage. It started out as theft of information and it moved on to damaging, disruption of service. Now the big dangers are attacks on our infrastructure and they are very vulnerable. On the content side we really have not done anything in this sphere since the ’90s, and one of the big problems there was that we ended the U.S. Information Agency. That was one of our key things and I will get into that in a little bit.

But again we have cyber attacks that can range anything from our financial systems to our electrical grid. They talk about the various infrastructures, the critical infrastructures, but I think most people agree that there really is one most critical infrastructure and that is the electrical grid. I mean if you shut down the electricity, we do not have good battery backup. We do not have a lot of transformers that can be replaced if cyber attacks can succeed in causing transformers to explode.

In the content side of things what we are dealing with I think was highlighted by the Russian hacking and influence operation during the election. Again, this has become almost a hysteria in Washington, DC lately. It is a subject of high level investigations, intelligence reporting, and this was unique. The Russian operation was unique and represented a new phase of information warfare.

In the past, information attacks, cyber attacks – like the Chinese stole $22 million federal records from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – so it was mostly theft. They are going to use that information for future attacks, for counterintelligence, for HUMINT operations. What the Russians did was a little different. They not only stole the information, but they had a network which they could use to disseminate it to cause an impact.

They really tried to create havoc in the political environment. I can remember the time period when the Podesta emails were coming out, WikiLeaks was reporting this. WikiLeaks was identified as a Russian conduit for this information. That is hard for some people in the U.S. to fathom. But then there were some other outlets that were more dedicated Russian GRU and FSB outlets; the persona known as Guccifer 2.0 and something called DC Leaks.

So content operations: they employ the range of these operations and they talk about media warfare, legal warfare, psychological operations, traditional public diplomacy, and also strategic communications. It is the whole range of these activities. When you have dictatorships like those in Russia and China, these can be potent strategic weapons. The U.S. does not have anything like that. We simply do not have it.

During the Obama administration, we were completely disarmed in the information sphere across the board. And that includes our public diplomacy. I can remember the quote from the head of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy, which is an Under Secretary position, so it is a fairly high leveled position. It was a guy name Rick Stengel. He is a former liberal journalist who went into government, and he actually was quoted as saying we are not going to engage in a war of ideas against terrorism. We do not think it is worth our time to take them on in that sphere. And so in a sense we have been disarmed.

In the intelligence community similarly our Directorate of Operations at the CIA and a lot of our other places have been completely disarmed in the information sphere. They are not doing the kinds of things that we need to be doing to one, identify the threats, and two, take steps or recommend steps to counter those threats.

The other thing about information warfare is that our enemies have figured out that it is much more cost effective to use information warfare than to use traditional conventional kinetic warfare or, at the higher end of the spectrum, even nuclear warfare. They figured it out. This is a way to attack their enemies, to achieve strategic goals without restoring to the costly operations involving armed conflict or, again, nuclear conflict at the upper end of it.

And I blame my own industry as part of the problem. The news media today is in turmoil. As recently as twenty years ago the news media was pretty much limited to a small group of outlets. You had the major newspapers, you had the major broadcasting channels, you had the wire services, which were key drivers, and you had a lot of foreign coverage. All of that has been pretty much tossed away now.

We have a massive proliferation of news outlets and huge competition. The major newspapers are losing money hand-over-fist. They are trying to figure out ways to make the transition from print reporting or broadcast reporting to the internet where everything is going. Facebook now is providing most of the news for many people.

Twitter is an incredible resource for news. I use it tremendously. In the book I talk about how when when the bomb blast went off at the finish line of the Boston marathon, I was in California, sitting on my brother’s deck in his house and I knew immediately – the first reports were coming over, they were not coming over CNN, which used to be the go-to news outlet, they were coming over Twitter.

Within a very short period of time it was clear that this was a terrorist attack. I jumped into reporter mode and was able to quickly report that the pressure cooker bombs that were used by those terrorists had been disseminated on the internet by Al Qaeda in their newsletter. They showed specifically how to develop a bomb from a pressure cooker, and to put ball bearings in there to increase its lethality. So this is the threat we are facing.

Let me just run through some of the top threats. At the top of the strategic threat list is not Russia, it is China. I have been covering China. My book in 2000, The China Threat, was a starting point. I really need to do an update when I get some more time, but it was really important in identifying this problem, which was a long-term problem.

The reason that I wrote that book way back in 2000 was because I was doing a piece on the Chinese Military, and back then at the Pentagon they used to provide you with background briefings. So I went to the Defense Intelligence Agency. They gave me a background briefing and it was fairly vanilla, it was not anything eye-opening, but at the end of the briefing, a colonel came in and said the director would like to see you, and I said okay.

I was a pretty young reporter at the time. I sat down at the table and the director told me, “Bill, you know China is not a threat,” and my first response was okay, why? I am paraphrasing it but his response to me was because, basically, their statements; they say they are not a threat. And I was shocked, I was really shocked.

Now, granted, he may not have believed that. He may have been trying to spin me. That is not unusual in Washington. If you have not been spun by government officials, you have not been doing a good job. But clearly I saw that this had been a key strategic communications and information warfare theme from the Chinese, going way back from the ’80s, probably even earlier than that; this notion that China is not a threat.

The reason they are doing that is because they have a strategic plan and they actually tasked their intelligence personnel and their diplomats to measure what they call the China threat theory around the world, in Japan, in the United States, and they try to gauge how that will impact their modernization. So it is a real problem and it has really damaged not just the intelligence community, which for years – I can remember the annual reports that the Pentagon had to do on China for years, they said China has no military ambitions beyond Taiwan.

Well, the report that just came out this month provided a completely different picture from that. The Chinese are building up a network of bases around the world. The most obvious one is now in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. They started building it last year and it will be completed this year. It is at one of the most strategic choke-points in the world on the Red Sea. The report said that they are going to leverage their access to civilian commercial ports, which we know they have got at either end of the Panama Canal. They have got it in a number of locations and these will be used for friendly port visits for Chinese navy ships.

Now, when you add that to the other section, that they are building a ballistic missile capability – they have had a ballistic missile submarine for a long time and it was basically a showpiece, but they have got four boomers now, and they are building at least two more classes down the road. So they are moving to a major undersea nuclear strike capability, and that is why they are expanding their logistical footprint around the world. This is a real threat. It has been completely ignored. If you ask people today in government about this, they will say that yes, we are aware of it and we are monitoring it, but it is not really an important highlight as it should be.

Now, as I said, I put it at the top of the strategic threat spectrum. Short term, I would put the Islamic State and Islamic extremism. This is really a threat that is here and now. We are seeing it expand and that has not been handled well in the U.S. government. They have completely ignored the ultimate way to get victory. It is not through killing terrorist leaders.

Now, I am not against killing terrorist leaders, and the CIA has done a very good job of that along with the military, but that is not going to stop the problem, that is not the way to achieve victory. That is not going to bring about that state of peace where your enemy is no longer threatening you. It requires an ideological attack, and that is what we learned in the Cold War. We were able to do that during the Reagan administration. They developed a number of ideological programs that targeted the ideology of Soviet Communism, and it succeeded in defeating that enemy.

Muslim Brotherhood

We have got to do the same thing today with Islamic terrorism. It is an urgent matter, and yet we are caught up now in political correctness. We are seeing what they call the Red-Green alliance between the Leftists and Islamic outfits. President Trump promised to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and what happened was that the bureaucracy opposed it, and not just the State Department but the Pentagon, as well.

The Risk to Al Udeid Air Base
[There are] a lot of reasons for that, I do not have all of the details, but one example you could take is the State of Qatar, which was recently identified by several Middle Eastern states as a hub for terrorism. I believe that the Trump administration was under pressure from the Navy, that if they were to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, that it might impact our big Air [Base] at Al Udeid in Qatar. We have eight to ten thousand troops there. It is a major hub for our air operations in both Syria and Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan.

Why Terror Designation Matters

But designating the Muslim Brotherhood seems like something that is a small thing, but it is so, so important. Right now, we have no concrete map in public for Muslim Brotherhood groups in the United States. We have had one trial a number of years ago in Texas, the Holy Land Foundation [case], which identified Muslim Brotherhood front groups. Since then, they have all gone underground.

They have all used legal warfare or lawfare to attack anyone that challenges their legitimacy. They are exploiting the concept of religious liberty by saying that they have religious freedom allows them to use political Islam, not religious Islam, use political Islam to advance their cause, so it is really important that we get in the information warfare game against Islamist terrorism. We will never win unless we do. It is absolutely vital.

I am hopeful that the Trump administration will go this way. They understand the threat, they have got really good people at the top. Unfortunately, there is a lot of turmoil at the White House now, and once that settles down, I think they will start to get this giant supertanker going all in the same direction.

The Russia Threat

Now, the Russia threat, again, as I mentioned it is amazing that the Democrats, who for decades were the most pro-Soviet and pro-Russia political party in the world, have now become the dominant, anti-Russia party. It is just amazing to me, and the reason is because the Democrats and the political Left and their media supporters, The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have got a political narrative, and the narrative states that the Russians stole the 2016 presidential election from Hillary Clinton, and that as a result of that, Russia has now become enemy number one for the Democrats.

It is a false narrative, clearly, if there was evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it would have come out. I mean we have got some of the most serious leaks that have ever been disclosed about communications intercepts, including the conversation between General Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States. By the way, Congress has not yet been able to get access to that transcript despite the fact that the Oversight Committees are supposed to have access to everything, but needless to say, we have got clearly a narrative that is being pursued on the Russia front.

Now, that is not to say that Russia is not an information warfare threat. They are definitely very, very good [at information warfare]. As Bob mentioned that early on, and I mentioned this in the book, the Russians singled me out a number of years ago. There was a story that I wrote, and I was really kind of puzzled by it. This was somewhere around ’89, ’90 period. It was after the Berlin Wall had fallen and before the Soviet Union had collapsed. And the Russians, the Soviets then, had hundreds of thousands or probably a hundred thousand troops in East Germany, and they were trying to do what they could to salvage that base and also to protect their intelligence assets, protect Erich Honecker, the East German leader.

So, I wrote a story of a Russian General, a Soviet General visiting East Germany, and the newspaper, Red Star, which was the official Red Army newspaper, [published] a story with the headline, “How Many Hats Does Mr. Gertz Wear?” The article was a very subtle disinformation activity to paint me as a CIA officer, ‘wearing two hats.’ They had a couple of allusions there. One was to somebody who writes something false must either have a – British saying or something – but the article was – I realized that the same day that that article had appeared in The Washington Times, I had also written a major investigative piece based on the production of the Active Measures Working Group, which was really one of the most important Cold War entities that was setup.

It is in the book. We used it when the Soviets were engaging in massive disinformation, including forging letters from the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and spreading lies and disinformation about the AIDS virus being created in the United States. So, this small group was setup. It was the first time that anything like that [had been setup] since World War II, when we had much more overt psychological warfare operations. This was a group that was really focused on countering the Soviet disinformation, and it was very successful. There were a couple of key people in there, but it was supported by the CIA, and they did a great job.

And I am calling for – when I get to my proposals at the end of this, I will outline some of the suggestions. That is one of them, that we need something like that, but not just for Russia. We need it across the board. We need it for the Iranians, the North Koreans, and Chinese, and Islamic terrorists.

Right now the Trump administration has kind of really picked up on its North Korea policy, and I am a little concerned that they are focusing much too much on this threat at the expense of looking at China. President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson came into office with a fairly hardline policy towards China. In fact, the Secretary of State went so far to say that the United States was ready to block Chinese warships and military forces from inhabiting some of these 3,200 acres of newly created islands in the South China Sea.

Then the Chinese leader came to Florida, went to Mar-a-Lago, and he got a couple of messages there, but in that exchange some deal was reached between Trump and Xi Jinping, and as a result of that the Trump administration has backed off its criticism of China in ways that are very concerning. Those reports indicate that the president may have altered his decision to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan. Now, back in December, before the Obama administration had left office, there was a $1 billion arms package ready for Taiwan, and the Obama people decided they were not going to do it.

This is an urgent need for Taiwan. The imbalance between Chinese forces and Taiwanese forces is getting much greater. [The Trump administration took] a number of other steps, and the reason is that Trump believes that Xi Jinping is going to help the United States to rein in North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs. The good news is there has not been a North Korean nuclear test. There was supposed to be one in April, and it appears that the Chinese perhaps have been able to prevail in preventing them so far. We will see.

As for missiles, we have seen a lot of short-range missile tests, but one recent test was very alarming and that was a an intermediate-range missile that flew 1,200 kilometers up and tested a reentry vehicle, so it was a significant advance for them to fly a missile a long distance and then be able to have a warhead re-enter the atmosphere without burning up. That has set off some alarm bells in a lot of places in Washington.

Now, on the positive side I think one of the best things that Trump did during that summit at Mar-a-Lago with Xi Jinping was he fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria while the Chinese leader was there. This was information warfare of a high order in my view, and the reason is because the Chinese’ main priority in Asia right now is to prevent the United States from intervening militarily any place in their neck of the woods.

The North Korean Cyber Threat

So Trump is really sending the signal that he is unpredictable, and that you better watch out, and that you better listen to what he says. I think that is a good message. I hope he can use that with strategic capabilities to achieve the right results. We will see. Again, the North Koreans we saw. In the book, I highlight [that] I think the most significant North Korean attack was the cyberattack on Sony. And this had a very detailed look at that, and this was pretty amazing, that a nation-state [would do such a thing].

Again, there were information aspects to it. They were trying to prevent the release of the movie The Interview, which was kind of a fart comedy as they call it, and yet they failed in doing that. I remember I told my wife, look, even if it is a bad movie, we are going to watch it just to make [a point, just to] send the message that we want to see this movie and we are not going to be intimidated by some two-bit dictator in Northeast Asia.

But the North Koreans are rapidly gaining cyber warfare capabilities, and the real danger is that they will be able to use that to attack our electrical grid. Just this week, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a notice to all computer operators about a codenamed program called Hidden Cobra. Hidden Cobra is the U.S. government’s codename for North Korean efforts to do cyberattacks, and they identified Internet Protocol addresses for these attacks. They identified a malware that is being used by the North Koreans to create what they call botnets, that is a massive network of hijacked computers that can be directed at certain facilities.

We saw that last October against the company Dyn, which is an Internet hardware company. And a massive denial of service attack based on Mirai malware was directed against them, and it literally shut down the internet for a number of major companies and a northeast part of the United States. The analysts think that this probably could have been a test run for something, somebody trying out to see if they could shut down the Internet. You could imagine what would happen. Okay, you cannot shut down the electrical grid, but if you shut down the Internet, it would create major disruptions, financial and other. So the North Koreans are up and coming.

The Iranian Cyber Threat

Also coming up are the Iranians, and I highlight the Iranian cyber-attack. It is a really interesting progression. The Iranians started out doing relatively simple denial of service attacks, that is using botnets to attack banks and shutting down their portals on the Internet. Then they graduated to a more destructive attack on the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, and that had political implications. The casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, had called for a nuclear strike, a test nuclear strike in the desert near Iran, in order to deter Iran, so the Iranians were attacking him for that.

And then more recently, the Iranians conducted an attack on a dam in upstate New York, an industrial controller. Fortunately, at the time of the attack, the network had been taken offline for maintenance, but there were concerns that if they had been able to penetrate that control mechanism, that they could have created a devastating flood in that part of the world. Again, relatively small scale compared to other major attacks, but the progression is they are getting better at doing what they are doing.

Countering ISIS Propaganda: A Work in Progress

On the Islamic state threat, again, this is a terrorist threat. Basically, information warfare is being used through social media, through using encrypted applications that are able to let them do command and control. Interestingly, the Pentagon last year announced for the first time that US Cyber Command was working with the Central Command to conduct cyber-attack operations against ISIS. What those operations are is not clear. They have not surfaced. There has not been a lot of reporting on it, but the point is they are going after the command-and-control structure that is used by this nascent Caliphate that is trying to create a state, going after their finances, going after their ability to communicate.

Again, not too much has been done to counter the message of ISIS, and that is really a problem. I interviewed the State Department’s counterterrorism messaging people for the book, and I was not really surprised, but it became clear to me that what the State Department had done is they were not going to counter the ideology of ISIS, and the reason is they have got a misguided concept about the constitutional separation of church and state. And I had a guy who worked for the White House, Quentin Victorovitch, who told me that they are not going to attack the ISIS ideology because that would be violating separation of church and state, which is insane because that separation is to prevent the creation of a state religion. It is not to prevent you from attacking a deadly message from terrorists, but we are losing that battle. We are clearly losing it.

Now, Trump went to Saudi Arabia and opened up a massive counterterrorism center, which is supposed to counter ideology. Unfortunately, the Saudis do not share our view of what will bring peace in the ideological front. They have Wahhabism, which is a virulent form of Islamism as well, so this is not going to work, but we urgently need to target their ideology. And I am not saying it is easy to do, but if you do not try, you will never succeed, and right now we are not even trying, so that is a real problem there.


Okay, I am going to come to sum up here and present some proposals. I have got some [ideas], a number of programs that I think will be useful, and I am hoping that under the Trump administration they are going to recognize that, again, we are losing the information war battle. We live in an Information Age. If we do not get smart on this, things are going to get worse real, real fast, so these are some of the things that I am recommending to do.


Patriotic Information Warfare Groups

First, we need to organize patriotic information warfare groups that operate legally. There are patriotic hackers out there that do this. I think that these groups should be supported, they should be encouraged, and they can go after the foreign hackers that are attacking us. Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, there was never a single response until December of 2016 for any of the cyber-attacks against the United States, not the Chinese OPM hack, not the North Koreans, not the Iranians, and only the Russians. And then it was not a cyber response, it was to expel 39 Russians and close down their facilities. It is not the kind of thing that is going to be any way of a deterrent.

I reported back in 2011 that the White House principal’s committee, that is the top deputies from all the various agencies had a meeting, and they were presented a series of options [on] how to do deterrence and how to do counter information and counter cyber warfare against these threats. And Obama’s decision at that time was he is not going to do anything. And I think we are going to have to wait until he writes his memoirs to find out why that was. I do not know the answer myself, but I do know that nothing was done.

And there were a few voices back then that were [saying] we have got to do something. There was a National Intelligence Estimate that was done that said these cyberattacks and these information attacks are going to continue, and they are going to increase unless something is done to deter them. What does deterrence look like in cyberspace? Nobody really knows that yet. They are still working on what to do, but again, setting up a patriotic hacker group I think would be a good first step, and there are some out there. They need to be organized, encouraged, again, operating under U.S. law, operating using truth as a weapon, using facts as a weapon.

Weaponization of Donald Trump’s Twitter Account

Another proposal that I make is the weaponization of Donald Trump’s tweets. Now, imagine if the president were able to focus his Twitter influence on various world places, China on the issue of human rights violations, on the issue of Chinese proliferation. If he did them in foreign languages, on Russian aggression, Russian violations, on Putin, it would be a very effective tool. In other words, have senior U.S. officials weaponize their ability to use Twitter for information warfare in support of U.S. policies and in support of freedom, the promotion of freedom and democracy.

USIA and Information America

All of these programs I put under a new entity that I am calling Information America. What we really need today to deal with this problem of information warfare, both to counter disinformation and counter information warfare, as well as promotion of democracy, freedom, and liberty, and free markets is a new entity that is going to do that. We do not have anything.

We had USIA. It went out of business in 1999, and it was it was kind of a funny way that it happened. I look at it in the book, and basically you had Jesse Helms, withholding American funds from the United Nations because of that organization’s anti-American policies, so in some sort of compromise, Helms agreed that we could pay the dues to the UN, but he wanted one agency of the State Department to be disbanded, and that was the arms control and disarmament agency. Somehow or other USIA got thrown in there with that, and so USIA went out of business, and we lost a really, really valuable entity.

And I will explain why it is valuable, my call for Information America. It has to be a semi-autonomous agency. The problem with putting the function of USIA in the State Department, in the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, is that it is diplomacy impaired. The State Department wants to get along with foreign nations. This entity has to be able to promote America and speak loudly and forcefully against the bad things that are going on in the world, and you cannot do that if it is wed to the State Department. Now, some argue that, yes, the State Department could become an Information America, but I think the reforms required there are going to take years and we do not have that much time, so we need a semi-autonomous agency.

Now, the intelligence community – the problem there is that their work is 90 percent done in secret. They are not a public organization. They could be support this, but if our information warfare capabilities were put in the intelligence community, they would be hampered by excessive secrecy. This has to be a public, transparent organization. And likewise, at the Pentagon – now, the Pentagon does things very well. They conduct warfare better than anybody, but when it comes to information warfare, it would be subordinated to traditional, kinetic military conflict. It would become a support function, so I am advocating that we create an Information America and that we use all these programs.

Reforming American Public Broadcasting

The first program that we need I think relates to our broadcasting entities. Right now we have something called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which runs the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and all of them. They are in turmoil right now. I have got a story coming out tomorrow in the Free Beacon that will report that Congress is going to ask the State Department IG to investigate VOA’s handling of an interview with a Chinese expatriate or exiled businessman, who has gone public with some astonishing revelations, not just about corruption but also about Chinese intelligence operations.

So this organization I am calling for [would] be combined into a new entity that would be a 24/7 cable, satellite, and Internet news provider. And they would combine all of the radios, and it would be a multi-language [broadcast], but it would be centralized into this one [entity], basically a TV station more than a radio. And I think that is what is really needed. Now, whether that can be done [is unclear]. Again, things in government right now are pretty dysfunctional, but this would be my number one priority for Information America programming. It is something that has to be done.

All that you have to do is look at the two main adversaries that we are dealing with right now in this sphere. And you have the Chinese, who are spending billions a year on information, including multi-language television broadcasts, internet. And of course, the Russians, we are familiar with RT and Sputnik. They are again spending billions of dollars. The budget for all of our broadcasters combined is like $775 million dollars, and so we are way behind. Now, it is not just a question of money. It is more a question of leadership, political understanding of the threats, and the political will to get it done.

Media Reciprocity

A couple other things and then I will open it up to questions. Media reciprocity: I think that is probably the easiest thing to do right now in terms of the information warfare threats. If you go out on the street corners in Washington, DC, you will see the China Daily newspaper on the street. I have Verizon cable at home. RT is broadcast, [and] it is a Russian propaganda outlet, as well as CCTV, Chinese Central Television, so we have two, official, basically propaganda networks that have free access to the American public.

We should make it a requirement that all of our media has full access to those audiences if they are going to have a chance to try and influence our audiences. It is a vitally important step, and it needs to be taken. I do not know why they have not done this in the past. There was a push for this during the Reagan administration when it came to those kinds of issues, in a sense to try to create more reciprocity, but it is urgent.

A Role for Government

I would also task our national laboratories to research and develop new social media platforms. Why not create a new Twitter, or a new Facebook, or a combination of the two, something that can be used, can be secure, and can be used to promote American values and American ideals? I want to reestablish the active measures working group as I mentioned.

Another program could be a counter internet troll program. Both the Russians and the Chinese are engaged in massive government-sponsored influence and trolling activities. That is [to say] they have networks of people that go out there and create personas, create accounts, and they influence the debate. We have got to be able to identify them, and we have got to be able to counter them. The tech companies that are running our social media do not seem to be the least bit interested. I think they could be convinced that this is in America’s best interest to go after these troll networks.

And then basically over the longer term we need to reform our key agencies that are involved in information operations, the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon, and this I think we could do. I think it is really important.

Political Correctness

Now, I will mention one domestic element. In the book I have a chapter on what I call kind of the domestic information, which is the liberal left notion of political correctness. I think it is time we have a public debate nationwide on this. I think one need only look at our university campuses today where we are seeing the emergence of a liberal left-wing fascism when it comes to things ranging from free speech to academic studies. This is an urgent priority, and it has to be done. These problems I have outlined are big problems, but I think with political will and commitment they can be solved, and I will stop there, and hopefully you will have some questions. Thank you.


Audience member:

Great presentation! Thank you, sir. You mentioned the State Department in relation to China and so on. You did not get very satisfactory responses, apparently, and I am just wondering and is wondering there have to be a few good people at the State Department. It is impossible that there nobody there is good, so could you give me your fair assessment as to what percentage of people in [the] State [Department] are Marxists? The reason I ask is that I met a fellow who works at the State Department, and that is what he told me, 99 percent in his opinion, so maybe it is fake news, but I wonder what is your opinion on that?

Bill Gertz:

Yeah, I do not [know]. I will not be able to give you a percentage, but I can tell you that the problem of this, I would call it more neo-Marxist than Marxist, but in essence it is a reflection of the subversion of our educational system. The education system has been completely subverted by Marxists or leftists, hard leftists, and I deal with this in the book. You know, both Obama and Hillary Clinton were supporters of Saul Alinsky. And in fact, I make the point that, you know, I was around when there were street demonstrations at the 68th Chicago Convention and all the street riots.

And what happened was they made a decision that, look, we are not getting anywhere with these street protests, we are just getting beat up by the police. What we need to do is make a long march through the institutions, and that is what they did. And I think that culminated in the Obama administration. I think Obama was the culmination of that. He made no bones about the fact that he was seeking to fundamentally transform the United States. I guess, again, we will have to wait for his memoirs to see what he wanted to transform the country into, but I think the results are pretty clear.

Just looking at the military, General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified this week. He said the United States will not be able to project military power to protect its interests and allies in a number of years. I mean that is the legacy of the Obama administration with over a trillion in cuts.

But as far as the academic community, the people who graduate from colleges are getting influenced by this liberal-left ideology, and they are going into government [and] they are going into the intelligence community. You know, I have heard stories about the same thing, about when Ana Montes, the Cuban mole in the DIA was uncovered, one young intelligence analyst told a friend of mine that she did not see anything wrong with it, with what was she was doing. She did not see the ideological threat from communism.

And that has been the Left’s overriding [message, that] ‘China is not a threat.’ Basically, they are teaching that communism and Marxism are not a threat, and the studies show that young people today have no understanding about what happened in the Soviet Union, or what happened in Maoist China, or in Cambodia, or even in Cuba, so it is really a failure of the education system, but I have no illusions that there are not large numbers of people who have that that viewpoint. Whether they would call themselves Marxists or not, I am not sure.

Audience member:

First of all, Mr. Gertz, let me just [unintelligible] my colleagues, just a super presentation there. [I have] one quick comment, then two quick questions. On the comment side, it may have been you or one of your colleagues at the Free Beacon who reported there a month ago that one in six [members] of the National Security Council staff as of a few weeks ago were Obama holdovers. That is factual, sixteen percent.

[I have] two quick questions, sir. One is: is there a credible mission in Afghanistan that we are now ramping up the number of troops that General Mattis is now planning to send there? And if so, why can’t any political leader explain that to the American people sixteen years into the war, and secondly, would you please elaborate on what you see as China’s plans per Djibouti and the Panama Canal in the Azores?

Bill Gertz:

Okay, on Afghanistan I would have to say that whatever we are doing there is not working, and I think that one of the clearest examples was the fact that one of the trained Special Forces there killed several of our soldiers recently. There is no clear path to victory. There is no clear understanding of how to achieve victory. If I go back to that Angelo Codevilla, how do you bring about the conditions where your enemy is no longer threatening you? We are not engaged in that there. We are supporting the Afghanistan government there, which, again, this is basically a combination of tribes.

I am not sure that sending more troops it is going to be the answer. The president just delegated authority to Jim Mattis, the new defense secretary, to pick whether or not to send more troops. Again, you have to do a cost-benefit analysis, and from a military perspective, what our troops going to give you? More targets. Clearly the solution has got to be on the information front.

As for the Chinese buildup, there was a report that I reported on many years ago [that coined a term] called the “string of pearls.” Someone identified that China is developing bases throughout Southeast Asia [in places like] Gwadar in Pakistan, Djibouti, [and] other places where they want to develop these port facilities. And of course, if you question the establishment people about that, they dismiss it as, oh, you are just a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the Chinese are going to use those bases for military operations. Well, the latest Pentagon report says that is exactly what they are going to do. As for the Azores, I really do not have any insight into that, [but] I am sure, like I said, the whole issue of what the Chinese are doing overseas needs to be publicized. There needs to be more discussion about it publicly.

Audience member:

I would like to say one of the most enlightening quotes from your book is I have to say I read it two or three times. I myself am a foot soldier in that war. And what I feel is that the other side, the China side, has been shooting at us, and we have gun control. Basically, we are not allowed. It is a very big problem, especially under the Obama administration. I wonder if this agency will be like USIA. USIA was not that effective. And the BBG at this point is not under the State Department, it is kind of independent, but it is one of the worst places I have ever seen. Nobody is responsible and the bureaucracy is horrible. Perhaps we should induce the private sector elements in this instead of creating another agency, and an agency which is so, so inefficient.

Bill Gertz:

Yeah, it is a huge problem. I do not have all of the answers on the structure. I do know that creating any kind of a new entity would be extremely difficult. My suggestion would be for the president to use an executive order to create a federally supported nonprofit group that could do the same kind of thing, but it is desperate that we reform the current structure. There is no question about that. I think everybody agrees about that. Even James Clapper in testimony before he left government said that we urgently need what he called a USIA on steroids to deal with these information problems.

Audience member:

Mr. Gertz, you mentioned VOA, and I do not know a great deal about VOA, but I do happen to listen to listen to their show Issues in the News, which is broadcast on 1500 on Saturday morning. And this show is generally hosted by Frederick Barnes of the Weekly Standard or a woman by the name of Barbara Slavin, who used to work for Al Jazeera. She is with another organization now. But it is tremendously negative. I do not know [why]. Last year they had someone from the National Journal pride themselves by every [unintelligible] came up with a new name for candidate Trump, whether it was carnival barker or rodeo clown or whatever. I do not know who is paying for this except the taxpayers are paying for it.

I will say Frederick Barnes is one of the moderators. They generally have a moderator and two guests, typically a representative from Congress magazine. Fred keeps it pretty much online, but Barbara Slavin certainly does not. And it is just a show critical of the United States, and this is broadcast around the world. I cannot remember when they have said something positive. If anyone has heard something, I stand corrected if they said something positive. It is on issues of the week.

Bill Gertz:

It is a good point, yeah. Again, it all comes back to the failure of the domestic, American, independent media. They are not doing their jobs. We are focused on the Kardashians and those kinds of things, and we are not aware of what is going on. We are not countering the [false narratives]. We are not identifying the false narratives that are being thrown at us or assaulting us informationally. And that has created kind of an aversion to doing information operations. There is a kind of a cultural aversion, and the thinking is, well, the free press is supposed to do that. Well, they are not doing it, so you have got to figure something else. We have got to do something else, and something else is we have got to have an advocacy organization to promote our ideals and to counter the false narrative.

I mean the Chinese are an anti-democratic system. They are agitating against everything that we believe in, and they are making tremendous inroads. And unless we challenge that, we are going to lose that battle. The Russians [are doing] the same thing. In the book, I highlight Putin’s view. He has got kind of a fascist view of a pan Eurasian continent that is under Russian control, and that everything in the near Russia, south and north, including the Arctic, should come under Russian control. So we have got to learn these threats, and then we have got to take steps to counter them.

Yeah, and clearly, like I said, we are well into the information age, and yet the government has not recognized that they need to do more on the information sphere. So I am hoping this book will get some more debate going, and that we can fix some of those problems.

Audience member:

Thank you very much for your coming story on Voice of America, and that is also very critical, but it also highlights that the administration is losing part of the battle by not replacing all of the Obama holdovers because if the Obama leadership had been fired immediately, either the career civil service would be running it better or he would have people in now. And of course, we can also blame the Senate for doing like two or three nominations only a week. It might take them, God, I do not know, two or three years to put new people in.

But on North Korea, perhaps you can address thoughts on this here. I believe they are a more serious threat than people give them credit for. They do not need to reenter a nuclear warhead to do an EMP attack. They have demonstrated two launches with their UNHA-3, South Polar launch, where we do not have anti-missile capabilities. And one of them, 73 minutes after its launch was 250 miles west of Washington, DC. So if you do that or you launch from one of their new fueled mobile missiles, put that on a ship out at sea, and it can go up and do the same to the west coast.

And I believe they are a suicidal regime like Iran but for different reasons. Iran has a Twelver philosophy. In North Korea, I think the guy would happily lay down his life and all of his countrymen, to see the U.S. be destroyed as he has promised to do multiple times. [What are] your thoughts?

Bill Gertz:

Yeah, no, it is all about regime survival. It is Kim Jong-un survival. He would do anything to make sure that he survives, and his regime survives, those are the priorities. I have a proposal for how to get rid of Kim Jong, and in the book, I outlined it. The first thing would be to use nongovernmental organizations to flood the country with cell phones, infrastructure, and computers. Now, granted, the government would control it. They have tight control, but knowing the Korean people, they would find innovative ways to break through it, and ultimately, we would break the information barrier and get information. Once you do that, those people will realize that they have literally been brainwashed under this regime.

As part of that plan, I called for using Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother, as someone they could use to replace him. And several weeks after the book came out, they assassinated him in Kuala Lumpur. To me that was an intelligence failure. I mean he supposedly had $120,000 dollars. He was supposedly under Chinese protection, so the Chinese could have used him as leverage against [Kim Jong-Un] because if you understand the North Korean system, this is about the family survival, and it is a feudalistic, communistic feudal society. And the threat to the leader is what will motivate behavioral changes there, not sanctions, sanctions are not going to work, but that is my plan.

Audience member:

Thank you. Just to follow up [on] your comment earlier about using you know like private hackers, my guess is that the computer systems in North Korea, including Iran and some other countries, are not as robust as in other countries, and it would not be that difficult to get kitty hackers and others who just like to cause trouble, and get the documents that prove their complicity, China’s complicity with North Korea and things like that, and just wreak havoc on all of their systems.

Bill Gertz:

Right, okay, well, you know on that point I think, yeah, that is the one of the things that I advocate is that there has to be retaliation or punishment for when we are hacked, so when the Chinese – and just recently I got new information about the OPM hack. In November, I reported that a Chinese cyber security company called Boyusec was basically a front for the Ministry of State Security.

Well, I just wrote about it this week, and private security researchers confirmed that, and I found out that they were the ones that were linked to the OPM hack. What should have been done when that happened was that the U.S. government in the form of the National Security Agency, which is the premier cyber security and cyber-attack agency, they do intelligence, but they have been in the cyber business since the ’80s, and they are light years ahead of everybody else. They should have gone in and stole the information back, or destroyed it in place, or destroyed the computers and networks that were used by those hackers. That would send a message. Doing nothing sent a different message. It means that they are not interested, and you have a green light to continue.

Audience member:

I am from VOA. Thank you for your reporting and your support of international broadcasting for all of these years. Now, the problem with the BBG is the makeup of the BBG Board. They have been banned as a way to reward political donors. These people are from private businesses like Sony Pictures Entertainment. They are interested in selling more films or books to China than to spread our work.

All these years they have made one serious mistake after another, like cutting the Russian service, terminating the Mandarin, including radio and tv broadcast to China in 2011. And there are more bad decisions to come. They are not interested in the mission of the BBG or VOA. They are interested in their own businesses. When Xi Jinping visited here a couple of years ago, not the last one, he went to California. He met with business heads of Hollywood, and he decided on the spot that these companies can release twelve more pictures a year in China with billions of viewers.

Now, my question is with the new reform, the BBG is not going to be a governing body, it is going to be an advisory body. We will rely heavily upon the new CEO. Up to now we have heard the name or a couple of names, but it is not happening quickly enough. How do you think we can turn the tide at BBG and VOA? We can make VOA an arm of our foreign policy, of public diplomacy, instead of playing a numbers game. They say they want to make VOA [into] the largest news network in the world. What for? We do not need all of those big numbers. We need a few good people out there who will make their own countries change.

Bill Gertz:

Yeah, it is a huge problem, and it is not going to be easily solved. Like I say, right now, politics being hyper partisan as they are right now, it is going to be very hard to make reforms. And I think the most important feature is that it will require top down, high level involvement and leadership, and that is what happened during the Reagan administration. Reagan came in and he used executive orders. He said we are going to do this, [and] we are going to do that. And it was not easy. There was massive resistance to it.

Trump needs to get his team in place. Again, it is a huge problem for the Republicans.

One of the big things that prevented the Trump administration from getting up to speed quickly with personnel was that a number of Republicans decided they were going to become vociferously anti-Trump, and they signed all of these letters. And Trump said, well, any of those people who signed those letters are not going to get jobs, and they happened to be the core of the Republican stable of experts and managers that could go into office, so there is a shortage of good people to be put in place. You add to that the fact that there is factional fighting now, and it is really difficult. But if the president focuses on the issue, and he can get it implemented, I think they can make the reforms that are needed, and we absolutely can win. And it is not going to be easy, but I think it can be done.

Audience member:

Thanks. I greatly appreciated your detailed report. It gives me great hope on a micro level. You alluded several times to there being a macro problem, the mass media, the bureaucracy, and the [unintelligible] are brought up in the attitude that our enemies are not our enemies, a priori. The enemy those of us who see them as enemies. We are the deplorables. Their superiority exists before us. This is a macro problem. They delight in confounding us. Our mass media spreads the joke. So, I wondered if you had a concomitant plan to transform the mass media into an honest mass media.

Nixon brought up the board, and he was destroyed by the mass media rather than the other way around. Reagan evaded the mass media very successfully, and no doubt Trump is not Reagan and cannot be. He does not have that personality. And the mass media and academia have developed into a power much worse than what Nixon did in the decades since, so unless Trump has a plan not to defend himself episodically, bashing the media, but actually to transform him, we will lose. I think it is something like a last chance. I would like to see you, honestly, this is my request to you to come up with a plan for that.

Bill Gertz:

Sure, well, I will take a crack at that. Yeah, I have been in the news business over thirty years, and like I said, it has changed radically. I started out on an electric typewriter [before I] went to computers. Filing remotely was different. Now it is this explosion of media. The issue of fake news is out there. We did not really touch on that. I think that the industry needs to really have a good debate about how to police itself, and how to return to journalistic standards that are going to be able to prevent what has happening today, or at least change it. I think it can be done. Let us have a public debate on the media. We have not had that. Let us talk about the role of the media in a free and open society. I mean if you go to the journalism schools, they are not talking about that, but I think that would be one step in the direction of trying to solve that huge problem.

Robert R. Reilly:

Great, thank you very much.

Bill Gertz:

Thank you.