Pro-Kremlin Russian media soon labeled the Russian troops that moved into Crimea in 2013 as “little green men,” despite wearing unmarked military fatigues and bearing arms. As fighting flared in Eastern Ukraine after 2014, Ukrainian soldiers were subjected to a barrage of spam messages on social media: “Ukrainian soldier, it’s better to retreat alive than stay here and die.” In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Clinton campaign were targeted by Kremlin-sponsored cyber espionage operations, with the information stolen from these networks shared via a persona created by the Russian government. In May 2016, a Facebook page called Heart of Texas encouraged its quarter million followers to demonstrate against a new library opened by a Houston mosque. On the other side, a Facebook page linked to the United Muslims of America said that group was planning a counter-protest. While the United Muslims were real, the Facebook page was not its doing. Both demonstrations had been organized by Russian trolls.
The goal of hybrid threats is to achieve outcomes without actual war. The target is opposing societies, not combatants, and the distinction between combatants and citizens breaks down almost entirely. Tactic include the simultaneous employment of a range of instruments, from threats of war to propaganda and everything in between.
Greg Treverton, former Chair of the US National Intelligence Council, Professor of the Practice of International Relations at the University of Southern California, and SMA Executive Advisor, outlines a number of ways we can respond in his White Paper here.