NATO representative Shea: Alliance has learned much from Ukraine's experiences in countering Russian propaganda

Exclusive interview with NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Jamie Shea

Q: Could you please talk to us about the goal of your visit to Ukraine?

A: I am here because NATO and Ukraine are revitalizing an important joint working group on economic security. We want to develop more cooperation between NATO and Ukraine in the area of defense procurement. Which is to say how can NATO countries help Ukraine to better handle the issues of competition in the defense sector, how to have more efficient state procurement, how to have better contracting, how to understand better the process of handling defense requirement from a conceptual stage to delivery, how to have more effective partnerships between the private and public sector. These may strike you as somewhat technical expert issues, but they do offer something extremely important for Ukrainian citizens: value for money. In other words, the notion that the government is able to give your military forces the best possible equipment at the best possible price at the quickest speed. If you think about what your soldiers are currently experiencing, the confidence of the soldiers that their government is giving them the best equipment rapidly and does the job to protect them that's a fundamental social responsibility. It is extremely important.

Q. Which new challenges NATO faces? Do you see the need to develop new ways to counter cyber threats?

A: We had last year in 2016 a watershed year in cyber. That year we had the interference by Russia in the U.S. election campaign, in other words cyber being used not just for espionage, not only to disrupt system, but used for information operations to interfere in democratic processes. Many NATO allies are very conscious of this threat now in 2017.

Also in 2016, we had the first big issue of the Internet of Things, when machines are connected to machines and people to machines, machines to people. All kinds of devices are connected, such as your phone to your electricity at home, to your heating system. We had the first big cyber attack in the U.S. in the area of the Internet of Things. We had a revelation of the biggest cyber hack in history – Yahoo – where one billion Yahoo customers had their credentials, their information hacked. We had a dam in the U.S. whose control system was disrupted.

So, last year showed that cyber has gone from the level of a kind of local inconvenience to become a really strategic issue of the functioning of societies. Against that background in 2017 NATO is raising its game. I can give you just two quick examples. Number one: we have declared that cyber for us today is now an operational domain. That means we need to be able to operate in cyberspace with the same effectiveness as on land, sea, air or in space. We are working on the implications of all that at the moment. And the second thing is that we have a cyber defense pledge, which we agreed at the NATO summit in Warsaw last July, whereby all of the allies have agreed - number one - to increase their spending and investments in cyber defense and number two - to be more transparent to us at NATO about their level of protection in a number of key areas. This is allowing us to see where we can be better positioned to help them and so that all the allies come up to certain minimum standards.

Let me also add that we are doing a lot with Ukraine on cyber defense. In my division we have a trust fund which is headed by Romania but with other Allies participating. We have spend over EUR 300,000 to help the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and also to help the Ukrainian intelligence services with training and equipment to better detect cyber attacks and with forensics, in other words to get the details of cyber attacks, which will allow better responses and better attributions.

We are very active not just among Allies, but we are active with Ukraine, as well.

Q: In one of your interviews a couple of years ago you said Internet was the most promising but the most vulnerable area. And that the Trust Fund of NATO was going to present Ukraine with some equipment for the Ukrainian Security Services. Has this equipment been delivered to Ukraine?

A: No, it's on the point of being delivered, but we have procured the equipment. And we simply need to clear some of the usual import/export administrative formalities, but we hope to be able to do it very quickly. Our objective is to have everything installed, tested, and up and running by this summer. I have been talking about what we can do to get this as quickly as possible with Ukrainian authorities while am here in Kyiv.

Q: As I understand it is more important to teach our experts what to do to counter cyber threats than to provide them with the equipment?

A: Let me give you an example of a car. If you are a good driver, but don't have a car, you can do nothing. But if you have a great car and don't know how to drive. It's a facile example, but it is obvious that in cyber you need both. You need individual skills, but you can rapidly augment them to improve individual skills with the equipment in terms of detecting a cyber attack, providing early warning, recording information. It's not just equipment.

You need good skills, good processes, the right type of doctrine and organization. But you need the equipment as well. And we are providing the training as well. I am hoping we can get that all done. Once we do this project we can than start looking at possible future projects, for example with other government ministries.

Q: The present conflicts are not just the military ones but they also happen in the information sphere. Soldiers often become vulnerable through posting the information in social networks. Should they be forbidden to use the social networks?

A: I personally believe that you cannot "dis-invent" information technology. Once it's invented it's there. I used to work for a secretary general who used to say 'you can't put the toothpaste back into the tube.' So, it's about the responsible use of social media.

If you have a soldier in an area of operations who takes pictures which give away his position to the adversary: "Look mom, I'm here with my unit." That of course is silly. I think what we have to do is not to take mobile phones away from soldier. But just like you do with children at school these days, to teach them about the responsible use of the Internet. Be careful what you put on there. Don't reveal embarrassing information about yourself. Protect your own privacy. It's the simple things, because people do not realize the insecurity that comes from this domain. And so the key thing is good training and good information, rather than the idea that you can take these things away from people. Even today some 90 percent of all cyber attacks come from simple human error. It's still the human factor. The weak link in the cyber area continues to be the human being. So it's very much a question of training and education.

Q: What do you think about countering Russian propaganda?

A: I think Ukraine has had a lot of experience with this, even before 2014 and throughout the conflict. We in NATO have learned a great deal from your experiences.

For example, German NATO soldiers were deployed in Lithuania a couple of weeks ago and we immediately had these fake stories in the Lithuanian media about a German soldier having raped a Lithuanian girl. This was clearly designed to stir up opposition to the NATO soldiers. Fortunately, we were able to act very quickly and killed that story. So, to some degree, we have learned from your experience in terms of expecting this now and understanding how it's done, use of social media, which is amplified by Russian media and so on. We can react more quickly. We have established a center of excellence to deal with strategic communications in Latvia. It provides instant analysis and early warning and looks at the techniques being used. We are now more alert and we react faster, which is important.

What we want to do is improve our cooperation. We have established under the new comprehensive assistance package between Ukraine and NATO a hybrid platform to share information and experiences. We need to put more life into this. This is one of the issues I am discussing while I am here.

We have also created a new NATO intelligence division, which will produce a hybrid fusion center. Once this is fully up and running, it will also help NATO with its situation in this area, as well.

We know Russia has invested very heavily in this. Russia Today has a budget of EUR 400 million a year, thousands of employees. Sputnik is now operating in 33 different languages. This is a very major effort. What we have to make sure is that Russian speakers in Ukraine, Latvia, the Baltic States and elsewhere have access to information in their language. For example, the Balts are seeking to establish a joint Russian-language station.

Ukraine's experience of reaching out to Russian speakers is helping us with this issue. We cannot always assure that if we do nothing the truth will magically emerge. We have to actively counter myths and propaganda.

Q: How can you asses the influence of Russian state-owned companies on the economics of Europe and Ukraine?

A: There is legitimate business, but it has to be transparent. They have to obey national laws and national legislation, in particular regarding transparency and honest information. And secondly we have to look at our critical dependencies. Ukraine is a good example. A few years ago it had this big dependency on Gazprom. And than the EU and Ukraine worked together to link the grids to send the gas from Europe to Ukraine. This has greatly reduced the Gazprom monopoly. This led Gazprom to have to lower its prices, to bring them in compliance with market competition. This is a simple example, but it means there is no fatalism in this area. With good will you can reduce your dependency, which means that blackmail becomes less possible.

NATO at the moment is reducing dependency of some Allies on Russian military technology, which still exists in some NATO countries. For example, in the Baltic States now they are looking to change from the Russian energy grid to the European energy grid.

There are, of course, sanctions, because of the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea. But the key thing is to reduce your dependency so that commercial transactions cannot be exploited for political pressure.

Q: Has Washington changed its policy within NATO after the arrival of a new presidential administration?

A: I would argue no. Every day you see American troops arriving in Poland, exercising with other NATO troops in Poland. Just last week there was a big U.S. exercise in Romania.

So if you look at the reality, the U.S. commitment to the European security is there. There are American tanks, troops and vehicles in Europe defending the allies. That started under President Obama, that's true. But it is continuing totally on schedule without any delay under President Trump.

Secondly, we have got today Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, at NATO. Look at what he is saying about the U.S. commitment to NATO. What president Trump is saying is important, but not new. He is saying that he expects the Allies to meet their defense spending commitments and that the United States is paying too much. But I can assure you that every U.S. president that I've known in my time in NATO has said the same thing. And the 2% commitment was made under President Obama at the summit in Wales [the Allies' commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on common defense].

It's true that President Trump because of his personality may say this in a way that is more dramatic than maybe what his predecessor would have said, but it essentially the same message that all of the Allies have agreed to this 2% commitment. This is because the 2% commitment is what you need for your defense, if you want to deal with all these problems in Europe… In all sincerity, I see much more continuity than change. Q: What about the prospects of Ukraine getting a NATO membership? Does NATO need Ukraine as a member, and do we need to get the membership as soon as possible? A: The key principle is that every country in Europe has the right to choose where it wants to be. That's fundamental. Otherwise, you don't have sovereignty. That's also a right, which is in the documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which Russia has signed as well. If we don't stick to that principle we go back to the spheres of influence where big powers dominate the interest of the small. But we don't want that. We tried that model in Europe for 1,000 years and you saw the results - war, war, war, constant upheaval and border changes all the time. So we are going to stick to the principle that NATO membership is open in terms of Ukraine, like for any other country in the Euro-Atlantic Area. We have shown that we mean that by inviting Montenegro to join NATO... Of course, it's impossible for me to predict when and under what circumstances Ukraine will join the Alliance. Because Ukraine must meet the requirements and we are doing everything we can to help you in all different area to meet NATO standards. When people ask this question, I say don't just ask NATO, ask yourselves. Because the answer is in Kyiv as much as it is in Brussels. What Ukraine does also affects the outcome, not just what Brussels does. The key thing while we stick to that principle is also to be practical and pragmatic.