The Hybrid Influence COI looks at how state and non-state actors conduct influence activities targeted at participating states and institutions as part of a hybrid campaign. The COI looks at how hostile state actors use influence tools in ways that attempt to sow instability or curtail the sovereignty of other nations and the independence of institutions.
The focus is on the behaviours, activities and tools that a hostile actor might use, rather than focusing exclusively on one actor at the expense of others. The goal of the community is to equip its practitioners with the tools they need to recognise, deter or respond to hybrid threats. The COI works closely with a wide range of individuals and organisations across both the public and the private sector to fulfill this mission.
Current areas of focus for the COI are deterring hybrid threats, safeguarding democratic processes, and the role of non-state actors with an emphasis on how they conduct influence operations as proxies for hostile states. The work on this latter topic is undertaken with the Swedish Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies, financed by the Swedish MFA.
Deterring Hybrid Threats
Together with practitioners we identified the need to look for a more proactive and preventive approach to countering hybrid threats. Rich deterrence theory and practice suggested the right elements for such approach, so the first phase of the project explored how deterrence applies against hybrid threats and culminated in the publication of the Deterrence Playbook. The playbook embraces the key principles of deterrence and fits them into a policy planning model.
The second phase of the project is currently underway and, based on a series of case studies and a strategic game, seeks to develop the skills and understanding of practioners in participating states.
Safeguarding Democratic Processes
This is a new project for 20/21 and incorporates elements of work that the COI has previously undertaken on training to counter election interference and situational awareness. The work will strengthen the capability of participating states to monitor, detect and counter state and non-state sponsored disinformation through the use of open source intelligence, engagement with private companies (in particular social media companies), and developing states understanding of StratCom as a tool to respond to malign interference.
Over 2020/2021 the COI will further develop the work done to date on non-state actors functioning as proxies for state actors in hybrid operations. This work will continue to be undertaken with the Swedish Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies, financed by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The need for this work is driven by the increasing use by states of other entities in order to influence, manipulate and obstruct. While the use of hybrid tactics by State Actors has received a lot of attention, the understanding of the nature of the threat that the NSAs, in their many different forms, pose is more limited. Finding effective countermeasures is made more challenging by the great variety of NSAs that may be used as proxies, and by the fact that applying such measures run the risk of interfering with rights and freedoms that are essential in democratic market economies.