June 22, 2023 | New York Post

Turn Russia’s paranoia against it: Fight back in the information war

June 22, 2023 | New York Post

Turn Russia’s paranoia against it: Fight back in the information war

A Russian bureaucrat and his wife are at home with their child. They’re disillusioned, asking themselves, “Is it the kind of life I dreamt of?” Then the man decides to contact the CIA.

“We will live with dignity because of my actions,” he says.

No, this is not the latest Cold War movie trailer. It’s a CIA recruitment video, posted via the Russian social media app Telegram.

It targets disaffected Russian military officers, government officials, scientists — anyone with information that might be useful to US intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, the flick immediately angered the increasingly paranoid Kremlin.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States said the work is part of “a coordinated campaign under” a US “hybrid war” against Russia.

If only he were right.

While Moscow constantly seeks to subvert the US government through information operations and other means, the United States generally doesn’t venture into that arena.

That should change.

Washington should use Moscow’s paranoia to its advantage to sow mistrust among Russian officials and goad the Kremlin into diverting resources toward regime security and away from foreign aggression.

Much like Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin suffers from a dangerous virus: a combination of ruthlessness and paranoia.

The Russian strongman has long believed that the United States and its Western allies work behind the scenes to subvert his regime.

Over the course of his more than two-decade rule, Putin has increasingly cracked down on dissent while pouring money into measures aimed at safeguarding his grip on power.

Meanwhile, Putin has given Russia’s even more paranoid domestic-security and counterintelligence service, the FSB, an increasingly long leash to persecute regime opponents, real or imagined.

The FSB has poisoned and imprisoned opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, whom Putin calls “traitors” that the West exploits “to destroy Russia.”

Moscow’s arrested a growing number of journalists, including Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent recently accused of espionage.

For the Russian business and scientific community, even innocent relations with the West can now trigger suspicion.

Shortly after the CIA published its video, a group of Russian scientists released an open letter saying their government had arrested three experts on hypersonic technology simply for having innocuous contacts with foreign colleagues.

Moscow also arrested a Russian national who was legally employed at a US consulate in Russia, charging him with “cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign state.”

Moscow’s paranoia can be an asset for the United States. The more Putin fears Western subversion, the more money he’ll throw at bolstering his grip on power.

That means fewer rubles for things like fighting in Ukraine.

Moreover, by fueling FSB suspicions toward fellow Russian officials, scientists and businesspeople, the United States can undermine the Russian government and lead Moscow to exacerbate the country’s brain drain.

This plan would borrow from an old Soviet military concept that’s foundational to Russian information operations: Known as “reflexive control,” it refers to the use of information to influence an adversary to “make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action.”

This is how Moscow has exploited existing political fault lines in the United States involving issues such as race, immigration and gun control.

For the United States, the first step is to create more content like the CIA’s recruitment video.

Washington should also invite allies such as the United Kingdom to join in.

The CIA could also use its new Telegram channel to share information with the Russian people.

Rather than sow disinformation as Moscow does, Washington should wield the truth to show Russians how their government is stealing their future and taxpayer rubles.

Humor can be a powerful tool here. Witty memes highlighting Kremlin corruption will appeal to Russians’ dark sense of humor.

For too long, Washington has simply dismissed Moscow’s paranoid accusations.

That approach wastes a valuable opportunity to exploit the Kremlin’s insecurities.

If the United States plays its cards right, the CIA’s new video will be just the first of many.

Ivana Stradner is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @ivanastradner. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Disinformation Russia