American trust in media institutions continues to hover near record lows, with the ongoing fracturing of media and prevalence of online content creation creating more avenues than ever for disinformation to spread. Hon. Ellen McCarthy, chairwoman and CEO of the Truth in Media Cooperative and the former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research joined ClearanceJobs to discuss the role of information and media and how disinformation and misinformation are affecting the security landscape. She also discusses the need to break down barrier for the IC to both access and disseminate the open source information that’s needed.
“We’re at this changing point in terms of how we work with open source information and the private sector’s role in national security,” said McCarthy. “I feel that we’re at this really interesting time in our history”
Rather than focusing on the challenges, McCarthy is one of a few individuals in the national security space today taking a leading role in advancing the conversation around information gathering, intelligence collection, and improving the dialogue between the IC and its stakeholders. When it comes to those stakeholders, the tent is big: tech industry, media, government private sector companies, congress, academia – today, they all have a role in intelligence gathering and insights. And while the mission sets of those organizations may seem disparate, McCarthy notes they all share a common vision in some way.
“They all want to see a world where fact based information is available to Americans,” said McCarthy. But where the gap exists – and where McCarthy and others are hoping to create solutions – is in the integration of those voices. Bringing sectors together who may not traditionally collaborate because their mission sets seem so diverse may seem like an impossible goals – but it’s one that’s necessary not just to advance U.S. national security but to keep U.S. citizens informed and engaged.
“There’s not this single strategy,” said McCarthy. “There’s not this integration of all of these sectors to work as one.”
The IC isn’t the only player in the information game – or even the biggest. But they should be operating in a way that presents facts – not speculation.
“Intel, we see the world the way it is,” said McCarthy. “Many other sectors see the world the way they want to see it.”
But the plethora of media options available today – McCarthy describes media as a platform to move information; anything that passes over one lane to get disseminated into another – leave many stakeholders overwhelmed. And that’s not just the average American, includes politicians, press, government acquisition professionals and stakeholders.
“Disinformation or misinformation isn’t just a political problem, it’s an economic problem, it’s a psyche problem,” said McCarthy.
Competing for Attention
Open source intelligence is where McCarthy notes many of the best practitioners in the national security space start their days. That’s a display of how many different information sources are out there – classified information isn’t the only information source, and in fact, it’s not the one most cited or used in intelligence analysis, either.
“When the intelligence community was created in 1947 it was the only game in town,” said McCarthy. “Today is a much more different reality.”
Updating the perspective around information and data collection doesn’t just help improve IC analysis and increase trust in IC institutions – it helps protect America from its adversaries.
“Our job is to deliver insights to those who need it,” said McCarthy. Improving that process doesn’t just improve the IC – it improves acquisition reform, security clearance reform, and any industry (all industries) relying on information for their decision making processes. The idea is to provide the best insights to whoever needs it – including the American public.
“If we don’t fix this, we’re already easy targets for Russia and China,” said McCarthy.