Information Warfare Experts are hard to come by, they are specialists who understand the integration of cyber warfare and psychological operations so they can identify social maneuvering, information manipulation, disinformation, and extortion.
Some of the most notable Information Warfare Experts have a deep tapestry of political, psychological, and information technology backgrounds.
Winn Schwartau an author and lecturer who specializes on security, privacy, infowar, cyber-terrorism and information security architect.
Prof. Igor Panarin a Russian analyst, professor, former KGB analysts who has written 15 books and a number of articles on information warfare, psychology, and geopolitics.
Molly McKew’s Credentials
Enter Molly McKew, a hot new voice in the media right now, but she is not an information warfare expert. Her credentials don’t qualify her to claim she has any specific information technology training or psychological experience.
The fact is she’s a lobbyist.
Her resume has her at KLR international then American Enterprise Institute until 2010, then McKew moved to the Podesta Group. (Bio:copied here) Her bio on Podesta Group identifies her as an International Specialist, who was educated at the London School of Economics, with a master’s degree in Russian and post-Soviet studies, and fluent in French and Russian.
Her resume also identifies her as a registered foreign agent lobbying for the National Security Council and the presidency of Georgia between 2008 and 2013 under Mikheil Saakashvili. McKew currently has her own lobbying firm, Fianna Strategies. (Note: Her FARA records.)
A journalist from Coda Story and Foreign Policy, Michael Colborne, found in McKew’s FARA record that her editor’s notes were not entirely accurate.
Registered Agent Disclosure
In 2014 McKew signed a services contract with Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, which was founded by Vlad Filat, a businessman caught up in a huge banking scandal in 2015, when he was prime minister. Filat is currently sitting in a jail cell.
Note the services authorized in the second bullet point of both contracts. She is authorized to communicate the clients views, objectives, positions and programs to relevant U.S. audiences, including Members of congress, officials of the Executive Branch, nonprofit research, and the U.S. media.
To McKew’s credit, she did file her paperwork in a timely manner — a cleaner situation than those accompanying many stories printed this last year and a half. Though it seems everything looks properly completed, there is an issue. Albeit a small issue.
McKew was a lobbyist for the United Democratic Party of Moldova and the United National Movement of Georgia from April 2014 to December 1, 2016 and January 10, 2017, respectively.
McKew has over 17 articles spread across Politico, Foreign Policy, Washington Post and Washington Free Beacon but most were missing the disclosure she was a lobbyist AT THE time she wrote it — only one included the “registered agent” tag.
Politico: April 9, 2017, just under a year ago when she was not lobbying for anyone. (I got no clue)
Roughly 90% of the things McKew wrote over this time period focused on one thing, blaming Russia. From the coup in Turkey to the Islamic State — it’s Putin. Looks very much like her Twitter account.
Though her writings do not directly pitch for Georgia or Moldova, there is a valid argument that American anger towards Putin is beneficial to the foreign interests she represented.
Look FARA sucks. It is a short and fairly vague law, but it appears, from a layman’s reading, that the intent behind it was to assist the public in evaluating media materials. The disclosure as a foreign agent by an author isn’t to hinder or prohibit speech. The purpose is to label the author so that the reader can make an informed decision when evaluating it in comparison to similar pieces.
She didn’t label them, but as we saw with Flynn and Manafort, who both had tremendous violations in comparison, enforcement of FARA is weak and inconsistent. One more reason to appreciate the Mueller investigation, it has been a warning to lobbyist groups about the FARA situation.
I sadly feel like I need to add a disclaimer here. Yes, I support and respect that Georgia and Moldova have very real issues with Russia. However — their problems with Russia and Putin are understandably larger in depth and closer to home than ours, which makes it more emotional. We don’t need more emotions.
McKew’s not labeling articles would be a big deal if there were not larger issues to confront.
Information Warfare Expert? No Way
McKew’s Twitter Bio Changed Overnight: “Writer. Information warfare expert. Foreign Policy and Strategy Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org”
Also note that her email address belongs to her lobbying firm. Can you be a Lobbyist and a Information Warfare Expert? Doesn’t personal agenda cloud the view of analytics?
Yes, McKew was in the Republic of Georgia when Russia started using their information warfare tactic, but does experiencing information warfare make you an expert? McKew’s consistent unforced errors prove that is not likely.
Influence of Errors
Earlier this month, Politico published a piece from McKew and her new venture New Media Frontier that argues Russian bots pushed the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag to providence.
However — the article never actually demonstrates that those bots contributed to the use of #ReleaseTheMemo among popular conservatives. Getting high profile accounts to take the bait is the most crucial part of Russian disinformation.
McKew says she cross-referenced the data with Hamilton68 which is often cited as evidence of Russian bots activity. Besides Hamilton68 having an opaque methodology, that should NOT be used by journalist, Clint Watts who is part of the team behind Hamilton68, says #ReleaseTheMemo was Julian Assange.
“When Julian Assange says something, Russian influence networks always repeat it,” Watts said. “So he weighed in on the Nunes memo; that’s what made it trend.”
It’s difficult to not apply some doubt to their statements after 2016, but it should be noted that Twitter does not agree with McKew either. “Initial inquiry, based on available data, has not identified any significant activity connected to Russia with respect to tweets posting original content to this hashtag.”
McKew has been a lobbyist for over a decade, pushing an agenda is her expertise, not technology. Which explains why McKew does not understand relevant data points about Twitter. 18 days after her popular #ReleaseTheMemo article was shared, she posted this:
The creation date could be suspect, but the location literally means nothing. All Twitter users can do this. Go to your profile. Click on edit profile. Change the location setting to anywhere you please.
The purported Information Warfare Expert doesn’t know accounts can freely change their location? Trump fans attempting cleverness change their location to Russia all the time.
One may assume an “Information Warfare Expert” would be responsible with their words, try to apply as much context as available, and make corrections when an error does occur. Molly McKew gives no corrections. None. Never.
Which is disappointing because McKew doesn’t understand basic information warfare strategies. This exchange with CNN’s Jim Sciutto is a prime example.
There is a specific meaningful difference between Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) and the “Little Green Men.” Especially when it comes to Russia’s information war.
You might have heard of Wagner PMC which is funded by a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s Chef,” Yevgeny Prigozhin. Wagner PMC soldiers are not the same as the “Little Green Men” we saw in Crimea circa 2014.
The “Little Green Men” were a massive disinformation campaign. They were masked soldiers with green unmarked uniforms who used modern Russian military weapons and vehicles to annex Crimea.
Why is that important? The Kremlin was able to pawn off allegations that the soldiers were Russian by claiming it was infighting between the people of Ukraine. If someone asserted the soldiers were Russian, the Kremlin would demand they prove it. Information warfare lives in the gray.
Molly McKew proclaims herself a “Information Warfare Expert — specializing in countering Russian disinformation” but she won’t separate a private military company from the unique centerpiece of Russia’s disinformation in Crimea? That is supposedly her expertise.
The “Little Green Men”, or any type of deniable forces, are THE CENTRAL PART of McKew’s favorite buzzword “hybrid warfare.”
Additionally, by using the term “Contract Soldiers” to describe both the Little Green Men and Wagner PMC soliders McKew could be misleading people. The Russian Armed Forces have three labels for service members. They have Officers and then Non-Officers are labeled either:
— Contract Soldiers: people who enlisted. Just like the U.S. Military; they signed up on their own, a volunteer or…
— Conscript Soldiers: which denotes draftees. Russia still has a draft. It is called Conscription.
To people with experience, “100 Contract Soldiers died” means enlisted Russian soldiers died; that claim is the opposite of 100 private military soldiers died. These things matter. McKew’s supporters hound me all the time that it doesn’t matter. It does. To counter information warfare your words have to be precise.
It is extremely important that those who are heralded as experts in a particular field know, at the least, the basic facts about the field they claim expertise in.
McKew’s Nuclear Doctrine
She proclaims that the Kremlin can nuke their own people. No.
Aric Toler, a lead researcher at Bellingcat and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, impressively tracked down where she found it. A looney Russian history buff wrote it for an alternative Russian paper.
In September 2017, Politico published McKew’s article about “The Gerasimov Doctrine.” She alleges this is a new Russian hybrid warfare model coined by Russian General Valery Gerasimov; it ran in a Russian military periodical in February of 2013.
McKew received endless applause from around the Twitter-verse for this piece but there are legitimate criticisms about The Gerasimov Doctrine that she ignores. One simple critique; it was covered 5 years ago when it first came out. It’s OLD NEWS. The sub header to McKew’s piece says “It’s Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare. And it’s probably being used on you.”
Yet the second paragraph of the article explains that the theory came out in 2013, which might lead some to ask “After two years of consistent Russian coverage, the annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas; why is this doctrine just now being brought to our attention?”
The Gerasimov Doctrine has technically been debunked by one of the most respected Russian experts and the man who coined the term “The Gerasimov Doctrine” Mark Galeotti. This is what Galeotti wrote on July 6, 2014:
“When using the term ‘Gerasimov Doctrine,’ I was just going for a snappy title. I really didn’t expect (or want) it to become a more generally used term. Why? (a) Gerasimov didn’t invent this; if any CoGS deserves the ‘credit’ it would be his predecessor Makarov, but even so it is really an evolutionary, not revolutionary process; and (b) it’s not a doctrine, which is in the Russian lexicon a truly foundational set of beliefs as to what kinds of war the country will be fighting in the future and how it will win them — this is more an observation about a particular aspect of particular kinds of wars in the 21st Century, there is certainly no expectation that this is the Russian way of war. So stop it, please!”
“Indeed, no less an authority on whether Russia had devised a hybrid warfare doctrine and operational approach to conflict is General Gerasimov himself. By March 2016, though aware of the extent of Western speculation in this regard, it appears Gerasimov was oblivious to its actual existence. Gerasimov’s more recent piece entirely contradicts the widely held interpretation of his February 2013 article and implies his earlier article was being misread and misinterpreted outside Russia”
No Critiques Allowed
Last week, an article in the New Yorker by Masha Gessen called out “Information Warfare Expert” and “Narrative Architect” Molly McKew for taking advantage of the Russian narrative by overhyping Russian meddling.
It hit a nerve. Expectedly, Molly McKew did not react well.
Her rebuttal was not aimed at Gessen or what she wrote; it was aimed at people who are of Russian descent.
Proclaim Gessen is out of touch or ignorant. Hell, call her old. Though none of this is true, at least it’s not xenophobic.
Gessen has written extensively about Russia, L.G.B.T. rights, Putin, and Trump for The New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, and a dozen other outlets. Not to mention her nine books.
One of Gessen’s hallmark moments was her dismissal as the editor of the Russian magazine Vokrug Sveta for refusing to send a reporter to cover Putin hang-gliding with the Siberian cranes.
However, McKew didn’t care about Gessen’s credentials, her dual citizenship, or that she fled Putin’s Russia because her children were threatened to be taken away.
McKew’s only comments in her defense provided no rational explanation or apology.
Up to this point McKew has offered no apology or clarification for her response.
McKew’s xenophobia was not the issue for most of her followers though, the problem was Gessen. People started to question Gessen motives; is she a puppet of Putin? Folks…that is ludicrous.
Gessen’s criticism of McKew was pointed; one could even argue that McKew’s reaction offered some evidence to Gessen’s claims.
That said, McKew’s counter is not surprising. In September, I wrote about a toxic phenomenon of Either/Or Experts. I wrote about McKew’s tendency to accuse individuals who criticize her of being Kremlin propagandists. Her MO is to publicly accuse someone of being a Kremlin troll then block them, which caused people who see her as an expert to follow suit, blocking them also. Doing that embedded her audience further into their own echo community made up of McKew’s 50,000 followers.
Charlatan’s have the freedom of artistic expression when dealing with facts. That creativity leaves them with more social support than actual experts — it’s entertainment, like a murder mystery show. Professors like the ones from the University of Toronto or the University of Pittsburgh who have experience can’t compete with charlatans; experts just seem boring in comparison.
Which leads us to the biggest stumbling block involving McKew and the war on fake news; her network. She is packed with numerous credible supporters that have taken the place of actual credentials.
Big name outlets lean on her as if she was an actual expert, which is causing a plague of misinformation. If she is an expert she is a bad one. If she is not an expert then she shouldn’t comment on things she doesn’t know — she also needs to correct the unforced errors she does make.
The worst part of this is seeing genuinely knowledgeable people treated as jealous halfwits while attempting to correct her misinformation. It’s tiresome.
A person is either credible or not. Molly McKew, in the actual expert world, is not credible — she’s the punchline to a joke. To the mainstream media and her 50,000 followers she appears to be a credible expert. The media doesn’t see how they’re communicating incentives for being a charlatan. I’ve seen multiple experienced journalist leave this country because their expertise is not appreciated here.
If we do not or can not remedy this soon, 2018 will become the gracious intro to a more disheartening era to follow.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” -Carl Sagan
- Since I started putting this together a couple days ago Molly McKew got her 54,000th follower on Twitter. That’s 4,000 more people seeing this stuff.