The Pentagon’s intelligence agencies plan to release classified information to the public and to allies as part of efforts to counter information threats from China and Russia, senior Pentagon and military officials told Congress.
Ronald Moultrie, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said the release is part of a government-wide effort to counter adversaries’ widespread use of disinformation.
“Although classification of information is an essential tool to protect intelligence sources and methods, advancement of U.S. interests through our broad alliances and partnerships may require wider dissemination of classified information,” Mr. Moultrie said in recent prepared testimony for a June 11 hearing. “U.S. interests may also be served by release to the public of certain unclassified information,” he added.
Both the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, along with other military and civilian spy services, will make the information available to the military’s combatant commands in response to an appeal last year from nine generals and admirals for more intelligence data to fight foreign disinformation claims.
In the so-called “36-star letter,” the group of four-star commanders appealed for secret information to be used as “ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives.”
“We need to make sure that we’re using open source and other available means they get this information out to our combatant commanders. It’s a priority of ours,” Mr. Moultrie said. “…We are moving to declassify what we can declassify and some of that’s been done.”
China beginning last year has promoted false stories regarding the origin of the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting the coronavirus began in a U.S. Army laboratory. Russian disinformation in recent years was used to influence U.S. elections and sow social unrest.
NSA Director Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, whose agency collects highly sensitive electronic secrets, said his agency is working to find ways to make intelligence available publicly to ensure “speed and agility against an adversary.”
Many NSA reports are written for eventual release, but the agency is working with military commanders in the field and private-sector contractors to create tools and information that can be rapidly disseminated, Gen. Nakasone said.
NSA is also working with military commanders to use its computer capabilities to sift very large amounts of data very rapidly, the general said.
“The second piece is: How do we take some of our sensitive intelligence and be able to have a discussion with the combatant commands to say, ‘Hey, is there a commercial capability or is there open source that might lead someone there?’” he said.
Gen. Nakasone said the public release program is predicated on being able to protect sensitive sources and collection methods from being compromised.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said the release of intelligence to support the war of ideas is “really a very, very important activity.”
“The first thing is to double down and emphasize to all of our analysts that we have to write for release,” Gen. Berrier said. “So if you start with a mindset that this product will be released to the max level of audience or consumer, that’s a good start to get the analysts thinking about different ways to do it.”
Additionally, DIA officers will seek to reduce the classification level of information provided by sources, Gen. Berrier said. The agency is working with key partners like the “Five Eyes” nations – the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand – to increase intelligence-sharing.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, Florida Democrat, emphasized the need for releasing information to the public.
“As Winston Churchill, famously said, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on,” she said. “The best defense against disinformation is accurate information. To the greatest extent possible, we should probably arm our citizens with information about the threats they face and the lies that they confront.”
Mr. Moultrie said the process begins with an internal assessment of the intelligence to be released and then working with other government agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, to disseminate the information to the public. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which is under the Pentagon, is also working on a congressionally-mandated program to make spy satellite imagery public.
Asked about the various threats facing the United States, Gen. Nakasone and Gen. Berrier agreed that China is the most significant national security threat.
“China is the pacing competitor for us,” Gen. Nakasone said. “… This near-peer adversary is not only growing militarily, but it’s informationally, technologically, economically, diplomatically areas that China has that obviously has our focus and certainly the focus of the department.”
China’s decadeslong military buildup is aimed at building “an incredibly lethal force that will almost certainly be able to hold U.S. and allied forces at risk at greater distances from the Chinese mainland,” Gen. Berrier said.
NSA is retooling its electronic spying capability to better address new technology and a telecommunications environment that has grown in complexity for NSA electronic spies. The agency is currently developing new tools that will boost the ability to “to exploit signals associated with advanced weapons in space systems,” Gen. Nakasone said.
The advanced intelligence “will improve warfighter weapons and space readiness and “enable real-time threat data dissemination through the development of automated processes and streaming of the intelligence mission data,” he said.
Gen. Berrier said DIA is targeting China and Russia efforts seeking to limit or exceed U.S. military capabilities.
“Their capabilities include more lethal ballistic and cruise missiles, growing nuclear stockpiles, and grey-zone measures such as ambiguous unconventional forces, foreign proxies, information manipulation, cyberattacks and economic coercion,” he said.