‘People still want truth,’ Desert Storm colonel says of news consumers

Chip Bircher held a conversation with local media at a luncheon at Little Apple Brewing Company ahead of a lecture on Oct. 22, 2019. (Rebecca Vrbas | Collegian Media Group)

Col. Chip Bircher spoke to media at a luncheon Tuesday on the pressing cybersecurity issues facing our world ahead of a lecture as part of the Kansas State University Political, Diplomatic and Military Lecture Series.

Bircher retired from the army in 2017, after 28 years of service. He started as an infantry officer and was a mechanized infantry platoon leader during Desert Storm. He switched to military intelligence and spent three years as a strategic planner and operations officer in the National Security Agency. This was, he said, where he first started to learn about electronic warfare.

He switched to information operations in 1999 and ran the information operations programs in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. U.S. messaging at the time was based on truth to “hopefully build up a pattern of facts so that people decided that what you’re speaking is the truth,” he said, “whereas what we saw from our adversaries … and what you see in Russian aggression now, is it isn’t based in truth.”

When he left Afghanistan in 2005, he said he thought he would be teaching information operations when things took an unexpected turn.

“Walked in, my boss says. ‘Do you know what electronic warfare is?’ I say. ‘Yes sir,'” he said. “‘Good, it’s broken, you’ve got 30 days to tell the boss General Petreaus how to fix it.”

“So I spent three years building the Army’s electronic warfare program and helped write the army’s first doctrinal mag concept on cyberspace operations,” he said.

In 2008, Petraeus asked Bircher to help with Central Command’s strategic communication team.

Bircher said it is important for Americans to understand they are under cyber warfare.

“We’re being assaulted every single day with information, whether it’s truthful information, false information, information amplification,” Bircher said.

Bircher spoke in-depth about the controversy stemming from Russian meddling in affairs, including the 2016 election, and the strategies they might employ.

“I think there’s three primary considerations at play here,” Bircher said. “The first is, Russia wants to be dominant on the European landmass … the second piece is Russia views everybody outside of Russia as a threat … and the third one is, self survival.”

When the the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 integrated the U.S. Information Agency into the Department of State, Bircher said the U.S. lost its ability to tell the story.

“You got to be in the fight, and you got to be the one to, you gotta be willing to engage your narrative,” he said. “If we’re not going to be in the narrative fight, then we just get to watch, I guess, the headlines come across Twitter.

“I think people are still interested in facts, people still want truth, fact-based truth,” Bircher said. “The challenge we have though is we have a really short attention span.”

Art DeGroat, K-State’s executive director of military and veterans affairs and a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, is the facilitator of the lecture series.

“We chose cyber war as a very relevant topic, the military is really ahead of this issue in the United States, so we wanted a military expert, not a diplomatic expert or a political expert,” DeGroat said.

DeGroat said staying ahead of cyberwarfare attacks is “critical.”

“It seems to be the mega threat that affects all other politics, military and diplomatic efforts at the national level,” DeGroat said. “So, I think it’s the most critical functional issue to deal with.”

My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.