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'Defending Democracy': Princeton conference to address civil, military responses in an age of disinformation

Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 13 Russians and their “troll farm” has given us a clearer view of what an adversary can do with disinformation. Yet, just last week, Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, testified before lawmakers that while the U.S. is taking steps against Russian interference, “we’re probably not doing enough,” and are not prepared to withstand another assault during the 2018 elections.

While propaganda is hardly a new tactic of war, technology has made it easier, faster and more effective. Defending America’s democracy from the dissemination of fake news and disinformation through traditional and social media is a top concern for today’s policymakers.

A daylong conference, “Defending Democracy: Civil and Military Responses to Weaponized Information,” on Saturday, April 7, at Princeton University, will examine disinformation and the widespread digital dispersion of propaganda. Registration, which is required, is open to the public.

This forum comes at a critical time as policymakers think about how to prevent future attacks from Russia and other foreign adversaries. Helping lay the groundwork for the conference will be keynote speaker David Ignatius, whose recent article, “The Billionaire Who Does Putin’s Dirty Work,” describes Russia’s complex effort to manipulate U.S. public opinion through a troll factory’s generation of fake news. Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA director, will deliver the final keynote arguing, as he did in a recent article, that the U.S. response to the Russian hack should be in line with our response to the 9/11 attacks.

In between the two keynotes, four panels of top experts from military, computer science, politics and journalism will weigh in on policies needed to protect the United States. Speakers will represent military, computer science, legal, policy and social science expertise. Many of the panelists, like Clint Watts of The George Washington University, were among those to sound the first alarms about these threats.

The first two panels define the issue: What is the weaponization of information and why is this a threat to the United States? The third panel will consider defense: How can we defend America’s democracy from attacks rendered through disinformation, propaganda and other digital information interference? In the final panel, the focus turns toward deterrence: What measures can the United States take to deter our adversaries from spreading propaganda in the hopes of sowing unrest?

Panelists hail currently and formerly from the Alliance for Securing Democracy; Arizona State University; Duke University; the Federal Trade Commission; Foreign Policy Research Institute; Georgetown University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; National Public Radio; National Security Agency; National Security Council; The New York Times; the Obama administration; Paladin Capital Group; Princeton University; RAND Corporation; University of California, San Diego; University of North Carolina; U.S. Cyber Command; U.S. Department of State; U.S. Strategic Command; and The Washington Post. 

The event is co-hosted by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Princeton Veterans Alumni Association. It is the fourth annual Veteran’s Summit, previously hosted by Yale University and the U.S. Military Academy.