Striking Back Cover

Striking Back

Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformation

Thomas Kent

The Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C., 2020, 300 pages

Book Review published on: August 5, 2022

Russian disinformation operations did not end with the Soviet Union. Russia utilizes an aggressive information operations campaign worldwide aimed at undermining national cohesion and public order within democratic societies. In Striking Back: Overt and Covert Options to combat Russian Disinformation, Thomas Kent writes a compelling argument that Western policy makers fail to understand war, strategy, and the use of military force to achieve successful and lasting outcomes. His expertise as president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and standards editor and a reporter for the Associated Press resonates strongly. He provides a clear understanding of the threat posed by Russian disinformation to the West and smart overt and covert options in combating Russian disinformation.

The author provides ample discussion on why the West is failing in countering Russian information operations. Russia uses a multitude of government, private, international, and domestic venues to target the West from within and externally. In contrast, Western governments are not adept at the quick, nimble social media and web campaigns needed to fight disinformation today. Government bureaucracies are often divided on the best kind of response. Democracies are reluctant in promoting Western and democratic values for fear of appearing hypocritical. There is also a perceived fear that countering Russian disinformation will result in escalation and potential retaliation. In the end, Western governments remain defensive while ceding the information domain to Russia.

The book is well written, challenging how we should think regarding strategic communications and public diplomacy in general. Kent provides a logical framework for how the West should think about promoting democratic values while calling out injustices of tyrannical governments worldwide. This framework includes defending democracy and democratic ideals, defining a clear message and staying with it, tailoring messaging for particular audiences, leveraging the strength of international broadcasters, and developing a variety of venues tailored to each audience. Furthermore, this includes reaching Russian audiences with alternative views and encouraging independent voices within Russia.

Kent’s concluding recommendations pull the book’s insights together and reinforces a compelling point: Western governments need to significantly step up their campaign in promoting democratic values and combating disinformation. The West needs to be assertive here or it will always find itself reactive, not proactive in delivering its message worldwide. Striking Back is both an essential introduction and a standard reference work for senior policy makers and information operations practitioners seeking options in combating Russian disinformation.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jesse McIntyre III, U.S. Army, Retired, Tampa, Florida