The head of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has praised a new government unit tasked with countering Kremlin disinformation campaigns.
Speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra yesterday, Fleming argued that President Putin had massively miscalculated in his invasion of Ukraine. Russian soldiers are now “refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” he revealed.
However, Ukraine’s social media savvy President Zelensky offers a counter message of hope and resistance which is inspiring information campaigns elsewhere, Fleming said.
“In the UK, it’s focused in a new Government Information Cell which identifies and counters Kremlin disinformation targeted at UK and international audiences. It brings together expertise from across government to challenge false narratives. It deals in facts, not falsehoods; making sure that the truth is told well,” he explained.
“Increasingly, many of those ‘truths’ come from intelligence. It is already a remarkable feature of this conflict just how much intelligence has been so quickly declassified to get ahead of Putin’s actions.”
It’s unclear whether this government cell is connected to previous units set up to counter false narratives about COVID-19, although it was briefly referenced by the home secretary back in February. Its current operations highlight the increasing importance of information warfare at times of kinetic conflict.
Fleming also dismissed suggestions that Russia is planning a major destructive cyber-campaign in Ukraine. Although several variants of disk-wiping malware have been discovered, no knock-out blow appears to have yet been delivered.
“I think a lot of this misses the point. Whilst some people look for cyber ‘Pearl Harbors’, it was never our understanding that a catastrophic cyber-attack was central to Russian’s use of offensive cyber or to their military doctrine,” argued Fleming. “To think otherwise, misjudges how cyber has an effect in military campaigns.”
Fleming ended his speech with some words on China, repeating previous exhortations that the West must do more in the area of international rules and technology standards, which China increasingly seeks to dominate.
“Without action it is increasingly apparent that the key technologies on which we all rely on for prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West in the future,” Fleming warned.
“If we don’t act – with our allies, with our partners and with the private sector – we will see undemocratic values as the default for vast swathes of future tech and the standards that govern it. There is no doubt that democratic nations are facing a moment of reckoning.”