WASHINGTON: As the Pentagon pumps billions of dollars into jets, tanks, and new types of ships, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said there’s another form of war that the United States is losing: an invisible, digital war of 1s and 0s.
“We have entered a new era of nation-state conflict,” Sen. Mark Warner, the son of a World War II veteran, said in Washington on Friday, “one in which a nation projects strength less through traditional military hardware, and more through cyber and information warfare.”
Generals and pundits alike have warned that the US is being outmaneuvered by Russian and Chinese actions in the “gray zone” between peaceful cooperation and open war, where hacking and online propaganda often play a larger role than uniformed forces.
Speaking at the Center for a New American Security, Warner called for a major American effort that cuts across government agencies and private companies to battle Russian and Chinese disinformation as a part of their larger offensive strategies, weaponizing untruths by packaging them as social media posts.
The Senator, a former telecom executive before coming to the Senate, took particular aim at Google, which has pulled out of Pentagon projects on anti-militarist grounds — at the same time it works with Beijing to develop a government-controlled search engine to censor and control information.
The Chinese effort, known as “Project Dragonfly,” is evidence that China has made “successful efforts to recruit Western companies to their information control efforts,” Warner charged.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that Google is actually looking to work with China to develop a censored version of its search engine in China,” he added. “Today China’s cyber and censorship infrastructure is the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world.”
Dunford: “We Are The Good Guys”
Sen. Warner’s criticism of the tech giant mirrors comments made Thursday evening by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has taken on Silicon Valley several times over the past month.
“I’m not sure that people at Google will enjoy a world order that is informed by the norms and standards of Russia or China,” Dunford said during an event hosted by the Washington Post.
“We are the good guys,” Dunford continued. “It’s inexplicable to me that we would make compromises in order to advance our business interests in China where we know that freedoms are restrained, where we know that China will take intellectual property from companies.”
Earlier this year, Google pulled its engineers out of Project Maven, a Pentagon program to develop artificial intelligence to help analyze data pulled from drones. The move came after thousands of Google employees wrote a letter of protest to management demanding the company halt participation.
Google also declined to participate in the competition for the $10 billion Pentagon JEDI cloud contract, while Microsoft’s employees also pressured the company to stay away from working with the military.
This isn’t the first time Gen. Dunford expressed disappointment with Silicon Valley. Speaking at the Halifax Security Forum last month, he lamented that some tech firms here hesitate to work with the Pentagon, even on programs that have nothing to do with weapons systems.
“This is not about doing something that’s unethical, illegal or immoral,” Dunford said. “This is about ensuring that we collectively can defend the values for which we stand. That would be the argument I make to the tech companies.”
The US military urgently needs to improve its command & control networks to resist cyber attack and share the vast amounts of data among land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace forces conducting joint multi-domain operations.