I spoke recently with one of the most senior U.S. intelligence officials, who told me that many leaders in his community think we’re on the verge of a deepfakes “perfect storm.” The storm has three critical ingredients: First, this new technology is staggering in its disruptive potential yet relatively simple and cheap to produce. Second, our enemies are eager to undermine us. With the collapse of the Russian economy, Putin is trying to maintain unity at home by finding a common enemy abroad. He has little to lose and lots to gain — it’s far easier to weaken U.S. domestic support for NATO than to actually fight NATO head-on. Russia hasn’t mastered these information operations yet, but China is running scout-team offense behind every play. China will eventually be incredibly good at this, and we are not ready.
The United States isn’t ready largely because of this perfect storm’s third ingredient: We are so domestically divided right now, about who we are and what we hold in common, that malevolent foreign actors can pick at dozens of scabs as they seek to weaken us. In many of the current domestic flash points — over guns and geography, race and gender, religion and institutions — the nation’s cultural, political and even economic leaders often seem more interested in fomenting discord than in rallying us around a shared battle plan.