Europe must do more to confront Russia’s increasingly sophisticated information warfare attacks, including possible cyberstrikes on the upcoming German and French elections, America’s top general in Europe warned the Senate Thursday, adding that proposed cuts to the State Department in President Trump’s budget blueprint would only make matters worse.
“Russia actually has a very broad set of groups, to include their intelligence groups, that are doing [information warfare],” Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is one of the reasons that we also see such a rapid use of social media, cyber, etc.” by the Kremlin.
Several lawmakers expressed deep concerns over suspected Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, in addition to documented Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria. They prodded the general for details on the U.S. European Command’s ability to thwart coordinated campaigns of Russian deception, disinformation and “fake news.”
“It is inconceivable that the country that created Hollywood and Facebook is being beaten by Russia,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats.
Gen. Scaparrotti said the U.S. should acknowledge Russia’s current superiority in the hybrid information warfare realm and coordinate a counterstrategy.
He said the State Department and the European command (EUCOM) have a collaborative working group known as the Russian Information Group, or RIG.
“It’s a good starting point,” Mr. Scaparrotti said, “but it doesn’t have focus and priority.”
How that cooperation could grow became a focal point of Thursday’s hearing, as did the overall importance of diplomatic support to EUCOM. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump rattled the diplomatic community with his inaugural fiscal plan, which proposed a 28 percent cut in State Department and foreign aid programs.
Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren pressed the general to assess the impact of such cuts.
“Would it help you any if we slashed the budget of the State Department?” Mr. McCain asked.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Gen. Scaparrotti replied.
Bipartisan support to preserve the State Department’s funding is intensifying across Capitol Hill.
Next Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, plans a hearing to dig into details of the cuts, which would also affect USAID.
Regarding Russian activity on the borders of Europe, Gen. Scaparrotti told Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, that Russian influence on Afghan Taliban insurgents growing, but offered no details.
“I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late — increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” the general said.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, also addressed concerns by Turkey that Russia is training Kurdish fighters.
Turkey contributes the second-largest troop component to NATO and has been in various degrees of conflict with Kurdish factions for more than 30 years.
Gen. Scaparrotti said he hadn’t recently spoken with Turkish counterparts about the issue, but appreciates their concerns.