Advocacy

NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence holds Briefings on Capitol Hill

The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom COE), located in Riga, Latvia, recently sent five of its experts to Washington to present their series of reports on a variety of cybersecurity topics, including robotrolling, social media vulnerabilities, and manipulation of online behavior.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-chair of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, made welcome remarks and offered his support to the Centre’s work.  The team of briefers did an outstanding job of relating technical-level analysis to the average person’s everyday experience on the internet.

STRATCOM header croppedThe briefings took place in the Dirksen Senate Office building to an audience of over 160 Congressional staffers, diplomats from numerous embassies and international military staffs, and representatives from the Departments of State and Defense, think tanks, non-profits, academia, and other interested parties.  The event was co-hosted and organized by the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus and the Embassy of Latvia.

STRATCOM Grassley

Senator Grassley making welcome remarks

Senator Grassley stressed the importance of the reports’ findings and drew parallels among the initial Soviet takeover of the Baltic nations, their fight for freedom in 1991, and the challenges the West is facing today.  He noted that KGB-style actors have changed their names and updated their tactics, and that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania offer a valuable source of insight to countering them, stating, “I’m interested in how the U.S. can benefit from our Baltic allies.”

The authors of the reports sought to address ongoing hostile influence campaigns in Europe and the United States that have increasingly targeted the digital landscape.  They called out the Kremlin’s interference in presidential elections in the United States and France as an example of how large-scale foreign influence campaigns can exploit the online environment.  Their studies focused on several main areas:

  • The black market of social media manipulation
  • How automated accounts are used to distract conversations on social media
  • How digital advertising and algorithms influence our preferences, the content we see, and the decisions we make
  • How these features can be used to influence public opinion
STRATCOM risks slide

StratCom COE Senior Expert Sebastian Bay introducing national security threats in today’s social media environment

Recommendations for addressing these very real vulnerabilities are rooted in transparency and educating the users of social media to discern real news from fake manipulations.  Governments need to better understand the problem and change the rules to limit the currently permissive environment that allows malign actors to operate, and create incentives to encourage defensibility of the online marketplace.  Finally, oversight needs to break the cycle of responding to what happened yesterday.  Open dialog among like-minded societies to get ahead of malicious tactics and develop deterrents and mechanisms for counterattack is critical to ending the free rein state and non-state actors presently enjoy.

These reports and other StratCom COE publications are available at www.stratcomcoe.org.  The organization is one of 25 NATO-accredited Centres of Excellence covering a range of topic areas important to international military cooperation.  Tallinn hosts the NATO COE for Cooperative Cyber Defence and the NATO COE for Energy Security is located in Vilnius.  More information on all the NATO COEs can be found at www.nato.int under the Topics tab, then using the alphabetical index to find Centres of Excellence.

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Advocacy

Embassy Update

The Embassy of Estonia recently hosted two noteworthy events and took part in a quarterly meeting of all three Baltic embassies with the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and its parent organizations.  EANC was represented at all three events by Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey.

On January 30th, the embassy hosted an informational session on Estonia’s e-Residency E-Res trifoldprogram.  Over 50,000 people in 160 countries have become e-residents since Estonia became the first nation to offer electronic residency in 2014.  The program consists of a digital identity issued by the Estonian government that allows e-residents to use a number of e-services from the state and grants access to a transparent EU business environment that can be managed completely online.  More than 6,000 businesses have been started by entrepreneurs around the world who otherwise would not be able to establish a presence in the EU market.  While the program primarily supports business owners at this point, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid is leading an effort to launch e-Residency 2.0, which will expand to offer more benefits for all members of the community.  Several other nations are now looking at developing similar programs using Estonia’s model.  More information on what e-Residency is and how to apply is available at e-resident.gov.ee.

The following evening, the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) held its first CEPACEPA Salon Salon forum of 2019 at the Estonian embassy on the topic, European Security on the Eve of NATO’s 70th Anniversary.  The discussion was hosted by Estonian Ambassador Jonatan Vseviov and featured U.S. Army Lieutenant General (LTG) Ben Hodges, who retired from active duty in 2017 after serving as Commander, U.S. Army Europe, and before that, as commander of NATO land forces.  Ambassador Vseviov shared his insights on Estonia’s geostrategic perspective from decades on the front lines of Kremlin aggression, while LTG Hodges focused on the role of the U.S. in maintaining the stability of the Alliance.  Ms. Shuey was able to ask LTG Hodges afterwards for his opinion on the prospects for European Defense Initiative (EDI) funding in the 2020 Department of Defense budget and the General expressed confidence that EDI would receive continued support.  Please see cepa.org/events for more information on the event.

The quarterly JBANC – Baltic Embassies meeting took place on January 25th at the Embassy of Latvia with several main topics of discussion.  Foreign ministers from all three nations will visit Washington twice in the coming months for security-related conferences and to observe NATO’s 70th anniversary in early April.  On advocacy, all present agreed that priority topics for upcoming meetings on the Hill should be House Baltic Caucus and Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus membership, implementation of sanctions on Russia, and U.S. support for NATO.  Finally, the Baltic nations have been invited to participate in this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, along with Brazil and Benin.  The festival is held annually on the National Mall in Washington.  This year’s theme is “the Social Power of Song.”  The embassies are in the process of discussing program details with their governments and the event’s staff.

EANC looks forward to continuing and building on its close relationship with the Estonian embassy and will keep our followers informed on topics of interest.

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