Special ops commandos target social media

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(Washington Times) U.S. special operations forces, elite commandos engaged in high-risk operations around the world, are adding a new focus to their portfolio of activities: social media and other unconventional information warfare threats.

“Social media is another component of unconventional strategies, and the security environment in general, that is playing a central role in recruiting individuals to causes,” Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said Wednesday in prepared testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

“We must therefore develop our ability to interact with key influencers through this medium, or else risk blinding ourselves to this important conduit of information and influence in unfolding crises,” Gen. Votel said.

Terrorists have been using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate, recruit and propagandize their activities. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran also have stepped up the use of nonkinetic information warfare efforts to advance their interests in territorial disputes and other areas.

“We all must view this space as a routine operational area: It is redefining how humans interact. Our success in leveraging these tools will be determined by how well we cultivate the networks in which we participate,” the four-star general said.

Social networks are “not ‘our’ networks — the very nature of these relationship tools is decentralized and participatory, rather than centrally controlled,” he said. “We require new thinking on this subject.”

Military efforts to counter and deter unconventional information warfare must be joined with other government agencies efforts to deal with the problem, he added.

Unconventional warfare is an increasing feature of the current security environment, and Gen. Votel called for holding an in-depth discussion on how to deal with the issue.

Gen. Votel also said that the 69,000 people who make up the elite U.S. special operations force are under stress from long and frequent deployments over the past 14 years.

In recent years, the average commando has been deployed between four and 10 times, with most deployed at the higher end. By contrast, conventional forces soldiers averaged slightly more than one deployment. Special operations forces (SOF) commandos also experience less than 12 months between deployments, putting stress on their families.

“High operational tempo has put a strain on both our operators and their families, and most, if not all, of our SOF operators have lost friends both overseas and at home,” Gen. Votel said.

More than 2,500 commandos have been wounded or killed in action in recent conflicts, and many of the 7,500 members in the SOF Warrior Foundation are suffering from traumatic stress. Suicide remains a problem.

On the positive side, Gen. Votel said American SOF troops are battle-hardened, agile and experienced warriors who are shifting their focus to dealing with new threats like Russia, information warfare and cyberattacks.

Current threats include the Islamic State terrorist group that is challenging Middle Eastern governments and “rising powers” — code for China — that are seeking to expand claims of sovereignty, he said.

Michael D. Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, testified with Gen. Votel. Mr. Lumpkin said current SOF strikes against the Islamic State are not expected to expand outside Iraq or Syria. But SOF operations outside those states could take place against Islamic State leaders in the future, he said, along with other covert operations such as rescuing hostages.

As part of efforts to play a leading role in regional security, Japan’s government is drafting plans for the establishment of a foreign intelligence service that is expected to be modeled after the CIA or Britain’s MI6, according to a senior Japanese government official.

A report on the new spy service is being drafted and is expected to be completed in April or May, the senior official said. Setting up an actual service is expected to take longer.

“It is something that the Prime Minister [Shinzo Abe] and Chief Cabinet Secretary [Yoshihide Suga] are looking at,” said the senior official, adding that it would be small and likely similar to MI6, the British secret service.

If approved, the service would be the first of its kind since the 1930s, when the Imperial Japanese Army dispatched spies abroad.

One of the problems with Japan’s current intelligence system is that it has been dominated by the National Police Agency, which, like the FBI, is run by a law enforcement culture that seeks arrests and prosecutions rather than dedicated spying.

The Japanese government’s intelligence structure is led by the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, which is mainly involved in analysis.

Japan, under Mr. Abe, has taken a proactive role in regional security. The prime minister has traveled to India to seek closer ties with New Delhi, and is working with the Australian government and governments in Southeast Asia for closer cooperation. Tokyo hopes to sell several diesel electric submarines to the Australian navy, and will provide military training and support for Southeast Asian nations.

Mr. Abe’s efforts come as China has engaged in a vehement propaganda campaign through its state-controlled media targeting Japan. Daily stories and statements by Chinese officials have sought to portray more assertive Japanese regional policies as a return to World War II militarism, charges rejected by Japanese officials.

The intelligence service would be part of Japan’s efforts to counter an increasingly hostile China and its expansive territorial claims in Asia.

The spy agency plans were given new impetus following the videotaped murders of two Japanese nationals by the Islamic State.

The plans are being coordinated by Japan’s new National Security Secretariat, modeled after the White House National Security Council. The secretariat has proved successful in coordinating policies, the official said. It is made up of key officials, including the prime minster, the chief Cabinet secretary, foreign and defense ministers and secretariat staff.

The coordinating body is working well and gaining support and cooperation within Japan’s bureaucracy, whose bureaucrats are known to be highly turf-conscious, the senior official said.

“In an age when we don’t know when or where Japanese lives will be at risk we need to collect more overseas information,” Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeshi Iwaya told Reuters, which first disclosed the plans earlier this month.

Japan’s fascist military political police and intelligence group operated from the 1880s to 1945, and was known as the Kempeitai, or Military Police Corps. It was in charge of gathering secrets around the world on behalf of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Although the military and security threat to U.S. interests in Asia is growing, the Obama administration is continuing to play down the threat.

New evidence emerged Wednesday in House testimony by Navy and Marine Corps officials, who clearly identified threats posed by the Islamic State terrorist group, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

However, Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, and Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Andrew W. O’Donnell Jr. offered a novel description of China, which has alarmed Asia-Pacific states with threats and bullying in the South China Sea and East China Sea and making territorial and maritime claims far outside international law.

Adm. Donegan and Gen. O’Donnell, in a joint testimony on the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard strategy, described the threat as “the potential for opportunities and challenges with a rising China.”

The officers said defending the nation and winning wars are “core tasks” of Navy forces.

“The Navy and Marine Corps’ fundamental mission is war-fighting,” they said. “Due to the threats from violent extremist organizations like ISIL, threats from North Korea and Iran, potential for opportunities and challenges with a rising China, and recent Russian aggression, the sea services — the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — must have the capabilities and capacities to defeat any adversary and defend the homeland and our allies and partners worldwide.”

Job No. 1 for the services remains “to deter aggression and, if deterrence fails, to fight and win our nation’s wars.” READ MORE…

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