The Vice President and Senior Director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) Graham Brookie in an exclusive interview for The Geopost.
The DFRLab is at the forefront of open-source research with a focus on governance, technology, security, social media, and where each intersect. By publishing what it can prove, or disprove, in real-time, the DFRLab is creating a new model of research and education adapted for impact.
Prior to joining the DFRLab, Brookie served in various positions at the White House and National Security Council. His most recent role was as an adviser for strategic communications with a focus on digital strategy, audience engagement, and coordinating a cohesive record of former US President Barack Obama’s national security and foreign policy.
The Geopost: How do you see Europe and Ukraine of course after Russian aggression on Ukraine which is the biggest challenges of Europe and United States now?
The primary component of that something that is undeniable, something that is undeniably the focus of Europe and of course of global competition for information, the focal point of that global competition for information is a very real war aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Or as someone characterize it a renewed war of aggression against Ukraine or a reinvasion, although I am not sure how that translates outside of English, and so that is very clearly the focal point. And in that very real war what we see is a big front, a big front and domain of that war being the information domain in which influence operations are very much at forefront of the conflict, they shape the actual battleground. And what we see from the DFRLab we have been looking at the influence operations and things like foreign influence in broader sense of online harms for nearly a decade now. So, right of the outset of the reinvasion of Ukraine what we did is we looked at the all of the work that we have done in the past, six, seven years of looking at the hostile narratives and strategic disinformation from Russia, and what we saw is the number of the same narratives just used in the different way in the direct lead up in to the invasion. and what we have seen in the year afterward, one year of war as it was said on the stage earlier 469 days today of war we have seen dynamic information environments of Russia maintaining control of the information environment in Russia a hotly contested information environment in Ukraine, and it is not a foregone conclusion no-one has won the information war yet.
A lot of disinformation coming from Russia, to, number one, to justify the war, justify a war of aggression, number two deny a responsibility for a war of aggression and number three a masked military operation, so when they build up right before the invasion they were building up a lot of material on the borders they were saying it is just a military exercise, that is a disinformation masking military operation. And we have seen in the year since the war, at this point of the war is an additional effort beyond justify deny and mask to undermine Ukraine’s resistance in Ukraine and most of all undermine support for Ukraine internationally. And that happens among European countries of course and especially among European countries that are in the very near neighborhood of Ukraine. It happens across allies and partners however you want to define that, it happens around the world in information environments that don’t necessarily think about Russia or Ukraine on any given day, but have a stake because global food prices are going up, or there is a security situation in Europe for the first time that is messing with a global market and things like that and so that is what we are looking at when we are talking about the information domain of the very real war of aggression against Ukraine.
The Geopost: How you see Russian influence before and now in Europe generally and especially in Balkan.
The tactic of influence, the tactic of interference sometimes including disinformation or information operations that include manipulation, that is not new. We expect that, from nations and state actors, and especially authoritarian nations and state actors, autocratic state actors like Russia, so that component shouldn’t be new to us. And I say this in America, I think that vast majority of citizens of Balkans will understand that more intimately then any of the experts that we have in the United States for instance, although we have also been the subject of massively successful Russian influence operations. And so we are in that together for sure.
But what we see in places like the Balkans which in my opinion are focal point or a flashpoint in a global competition for information is hotly contested information environments that have not necessarily a huge amount of resilience because media markets are smaller because it is easier to reach more people at scale and because influence can be defined more broadly up to an including not just what happens on social media with bot farms or whatever, or small media outlets that are mostly online and of questionable origins, right, We are talking about broader elements of influence like direct investment or economic relations we are talking about political relations that would go directly between the main party in Russia and the state of Russia and political parties across any number of other countries in the region, and especially in the Balkans. So when we talk about the influence we are talking about something that is lot broader, and the Balkans for sure are a major focal point and hotly contested at this point.
The Geopost: There is a lot of Russian disinformation coming from Serbian media, what is your suggestion, how to fight this?
Yes. Absolutely. With regard to Serbia in particular there is no doubt that lots of element within Serbia have friendly relations with Russia. That said, Serbia tends to be more aligned with Russia in many ways even as they integrate further into the west, and it plays a very, very important regional role because it has the largest media market. And so lot of the infrastructure for influence for reach whether it is malign or not malign at all, whether it is totally above board and completely legitimate or acceptable a lot of that infrastructure is in Serbia, a so it is a natural center of gravity for influence across the region.
The Geopost: You were part of Obama administration and the White House and you have knowledge about the situation in Kosovo, which is your message for people of Kosovo?
It is the same message that I would say on the stage of this conference, right, and that’s, things are particularly tough right now in the information environment, we are facing certainly, uncertain times. One of the things that we can depend on is that these are uncertain times. But there are a lot of reasons for optimism. And so when we are talking about the information environment or we are talking about technology in general, there is still a lot of promise, and I would say there is still a lot of agency, meaning it is not a foregone conclusion what happens in a global competition for information it is not a foregone conclusion what happens in an era of heightened geopolitical tensions, for which a place like Kosovo is very much at the crossroads of, very much at the center of. And what I would say is you look at an example like Ukraine. Self determination doesn’t happen overnight. We have any number of the leaders of Ukraine at this point coming out of a Revolution of dignity and Maidan. And that is a moment in their own history when they decided a different path. And that is a wonderful example in the agency of what we can do as populations as people. And I would hope that is the reason for optimism in Kosovo and everywhere else. /TheGeopost/