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The Information Warfare Thread


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We've talked a bit about information warfare lately, mostly in the context of the "New Cold War". It's an interesting subject, and I've thought a little about whether a dedicated thread on this would work. First, it's probably hard to treat it factually on an internet forum that is naturally part of the IW battlefield; also, to separate it from legitimate political discourse, editorial bias and honest mistakes in media, where the yardstick of right or wrong is usually the personal opinion.

 

I'd still like to try, purposefully in the Military Current Affairs forum rather than the Free Fire Zone. I suspect that a lot of the content will come back to current Russian IW efforts, though obviously they're not the only ones engaging in this field, and it's not like the West doesn't, too. 20 years ago I spent three week on a voluntary reserve exercise at the Bundeswehr's Signal Batallion 950 (Operative Information), since disbanded in the eternal renaming and reorganization of that particular branch; part of the time on the staff of "Mirko", a youth magazine distributed by SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina, containing more-or-less subliminal messages of peace, democracy and tolerance. Even with a straightforward positive cause like that, the officer in charge told me he had his reservations about blowing Western consumerism at kids (this was after all in most respects a bog-standard pop culture youth magazine), only justified for him by the fact that consumerism generally needs a stable, free environment where people don't kill each other to flourish.

 

That's all little different from the general PR/advertizing business of course, and the West has been criticized as being largely helpless in the face of "negative" propaganda distorting the truth to destroy rather than promote stability. The EU's rather meagre effort in the form of the European External Action Service's weekly Disinformation Review has been cited as an example. The best you can say about it is that it serves nicely to point out current trends and new developments in pro-Russian IW. Open democratic societies with independent media are of course at an inherent disadvantage in this game, though I don't doubt that some governments of same try and sometimes succeed at least temporarily at disinformation. What you can't control is people believing the wrong and disbelieving the right (well, neither can authoritarian regimes, but it helps if you control most of the information channels).

 

So in this blurry field, what I would like to discuss are the mechanisms and examples of IW, offensive and defensive. Parameters: there should be a better basis for treatment than "this runs counter to my opinion" or "I don't trust this source", and there should be a trans-national reference; or pretty soon we'll be discussing conspiracy sites, media bias and domestic political debate, which is basically every other thread on TankNet. :D I realize that might be hard to isolate, since in many cases IW is aimed at influencing domestic discourse. Also, if you want to engage in IW yourself, there are of course the threads on Ukraine, Syria, etc.

 

Just as an example of the murkiness, this week we got sent an IMPORTANT! e-mail from a non-descript address purporting to contain the transcript of a not-yet-authorized interview with French President Hollande the day before, to be published in an unnamed British newspaper the next day but already helpfully translated by a German journalist. The content, naturally, was Hollande criticizing the German refugee policy, couched in diplomatic language while serving all the usual fears and prejudice - quite well made actually, if just a little too obvious for going that way in every single reply. It happened that just afterwards my boss had a visit from a French embassy staffer gauging the political climate before the 13 March state elections, and I mentioned this to him on the way out and forwarded it for appreciation by their press department. Have heard nothing back, and neither have I seen this pop up on the parts of the web that would usually eat it up. Ambitious domestic amateur? Professional IW attempt that didn't catch (yet)? Who knows?

Edited by BansheeOne
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StrategyPage regularly runs articles relating to cyberwar and both cyberintel & cybercounterintel as well. I can't speak for the accuracy of their offerings, but they do bring the subject up.

For example, today there's an article about Pakistan's use of the Internet in spying and recruiting agents in India.

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htintel/articles/20160220.aspx

Intelligence: Amazing Things You Can Do On The Internet

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Two words.

 

Comfort Women.

 

http://scholarsinenglish.blogspot.jp/?m=1

 

 

 

Edit:

Which by the way, controversial issues like these suck out my desire for better than flat board expressionless tone. How am I supposed to be cheerful while at the same raise such contentious issues. So if there are times when I suddenly seem cold, here's why.

Edited by JasonJ
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I do idly wonder if Infowar is really anything new.

 

It's most definitely not. I'd wager it probably goes back at least to the invention of the printing press, if not further. If you include making up reasons to justify going to war in public, probably shortly after humans learned to speak. Obviously the more modern means of mass communication became, the more opportunities opened up. I wonder when permanent organizations first sprang up to influence foreign populations?

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The Trojans started the whole thing with that horse

So there was never a horse and the people of troy made it all up to cover their ineptitude to hold their walls?

 

 

But it was the Greeks who wrote the history of the horse, not the dead or enslaved Trojans.....

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It does make you wonder if some of the early fables, ie Jason and the Golden fleece, Atlantis, have just been misinterpreted by us as real stories when they were just cooked up by some spin doctor to cover up a cock up. :)

 

Not misinterpreted. More like based on some truth but, in the bard's style of storytelling in front of an audience, to keep their attention and ignite their imagination, (remember that all these started as oral tradition) embellishments were made. A bigger-than-usual, brave strong man became the basis for Hercules, Melqart, and Samson; A bunch of mercenaries who gained fame with their exploits formed the basis for the Argonauts; A war for regional supremacy with each side having warriors whose deeds (famous or infamous) were remembered was basis for the Trojan War. Etc etc etc.... All around the world.

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Im just watching BBC about the Syrian war, and there is a Russian commentator denying that Russians are bombing anyone other than ISIS, and denying the use of cluster bombs. Im offering no comment on either about the veracity of what he says, but it suggests that everyone to one extent or another becomes part of infowar.

 

Feels that the Russians have gone full Machiavelli, lying and break your word then its adventageus, becuse peopel are stupid so they believe you and you get the advantage.

Edited by a77
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Im just watching BBC about the Syrian war, and there is a Russian commentator denying that Russians are bombing anyone other than ISIS, and denying the use of cluster bombs. Im offering no comment on either about the veracity of what he says, but it suggests that everyone to one extent or another becomes part of infowar.

Feels that the Russians have gone full Machiavelli, lying and break your word then its adventageus, becuse peopel are stupid so they believe you and you get the advantage.

They blatantly say so and tell us what they are doing actually. There are enough speeches, papers, interviews etc. by important russian officials. Not that the west was wedded to tue truth either.

 

But the copypasta media people swallow the info war hook line and sinker and spread it without question. And from there it gets into our heads.

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This is an interesting publication.

 

Cyber Propaganda: From how to start a revolution to how to beat ISIS

 

The latest 'Beyond Propaganda' report examines how the internet has transformed disinformation and propaganda—from “reverse trolling" by authoritarian governments, to spreading dissident messages in Ukraine during the Euromaidan Revolution.

 

By Katrina Elledge, David Patrikarakos, Charlie Winter

 

November 2015

 

Published by the Legatum Institute

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In Kiev, a young journalist makes a casual Facebook post calling for people to protest a government decision and it snowballs into a revolution, an invasion, and the end of the post-Cold War European order. In India, a YouTube video purporting to show a Muslim mob beating two Hindus to death causes mass riots which need 13,000 soldiers to quell. Later it turns out the original video hadn’t actually shown a Muslim mob at all, it hadn’t even been filmed in India: someone had put on a false caption on a You Tube video and started a riot. In the US, a tsunami of tweets reports a deadly explosion at a chemicals factory in Louisiana. The explosion never took place: Russian bots were looking to sow panic.

 

The internet has transformed propaganda. No longer do the state and media elites have a monopoly on public opinion—now anyone has the power to be their own Murdoch, Churchill, or Goebbels. This has empowered both crusading dissidents and the darkest sides of the ideological spectrum, posing new challenges for how democratic governments should respond and opening up new opportunities for states willing to mess with other countries’ information environment.

 

Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan movement was enabled by the power of the internet. As US Defense Department Analyst Katrina Elledge details, the internet allowed the revolutionaries to, inter alia, mobilise people through motivational material; document government crimes; share tactical information and training videos on everything from how to make Molotov cocktails to protecting personal information online; break the government’s dominance of media by broadcasting the revolution live via video streams; organise self-defence units, hospitals, transport, legal advice and funding.

 

The internet has put governments, and authoritarian governments especially, on the back foot. But while they have had to surrender absolute communication control, many are learning how to use the internet to their own advantage. David Patrikarakos, author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State, looks at how the regime in Tehran has gone from describing social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as “enemy spaces” to experimenting with using the internet to attack dissidents domestically and spread the Islamic Revolution abroad.

 

Russia has also been experimenting with manipulating the global information environment. One “cognitive hack” saw Kremlin propaganda skewing Google’s search function to the degree that if you typed “ISIS France” into it, the first recommendation was “ISIS France Support”. “This happened,” explains Patrikarakos, “not because of any genuinely high levels of support in France for ISIS, but because the most sophisticated algorithm in the world…was effectively hacked to produce this result.” A Kremlin propaganda network had wrongly reported that one in six French people supported ISIS. The story was picked up by the news website Vox in the US, and quickly spread further.

 

Perhaps the most spectacular practitioners of online propaganda are ISIS. Though best known in the West for their gruesome, cinematic executions of prisoners, this is only a small element of ISIS’ online propaganda output. “Understanding that different things appeal to different people is a crucial requisite for propagandistic success” argues Georgia State University's Charlie Winter. “For example, Islamic State is well aware of the fact that the vast majority of Sunni Muslims living in its environs are not ideological adherents … by placing strong emphasis on the caliphate’s revolutionary agenda, unwavering penal code, services provision, and social welfare programmes, the group’s propagandists are able to attract disgruntled populations at the same time as they make ideological entreaties to jihadist fanatics.”

 

To counter ISIS effectively, believes Winter, democracies will have to take a leaf out of ISIS’s book and learn how to speak to different audiences in different ways. The need for narrative variation is born out of the nature of internet technology; today’s audiences are divided into online tribes with different agendas. This makes today’s propaganda, and counter-propaganda, different to the twentieth century’s, when one message could be blasted through a limited number of centrally coordinated media. Perhaps the greatest challenge going forward will be to connect the micro-messages delivered to each sub-group with a broader strategic narrative.

 

The issue is further complicated by the question of who should be doing the messaging. Are governments still credible? What is the responsibility of private companies, such as Twitter or Google, who carry the propaganda? They have helped create and massively profited from a technology whose potential for destruction we are only just coming to terms with. The start of the twenty-first century also saw a burst in information technology with the introduction of cinema and radio. Apart from all the good things they produced, they also made possible the promotion of totalitarian ideologies and allowed hate speech to reach and inspire millions.

 

By Peter Pomerantsev

 

https://lif.blob.core.windows.net/lif/docs/default-source/publications/cyber-propaganda-2015-final-pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=2

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I suppose what is particularly new about the internet as a way of communicating information or disinformation is that it is self perpetuating. Where as print and broadcast media could broad band whatever message you want directly to a large population, it still generally had a single identifiable source of origin and the information was usually directly consumed from said source. On the internet a single source can share an piece of (mis)information and it can get absorbed my many other 'sources' repeating it (news media, tweets from famous/popular people, etc) and in effect the original source is laundered: most people might doubt a particularly dubious source, but the internet creates the echo chamber of the same story being repeated by numerous 'sources' even when originally there was only one questionable point of origin completely lost in the noise. What makes disinformation so effective in the internet age is how anonymous 'sources' and 'stories' are - they allow something that is an obvious lie from a untrustworthy source to be repeated and separated from its origins.

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I've noted that before, like when Breitbart, the Daily Mail etc. are happily taking over RT etc. news which makes them palatable for those who would naturally distrust anything from Russian sources, like many Americans and Eastern Europeans. At least new sites usually give their sources, so you can track them back, which can be fun; many blogs, forum posts etc. obviously don't do that. Still, most people probably don't look up who first brought up an item, trusting a repeater they consider reliable (and of course as always, "reliable" is somebody who confirms your pre-existing opinion).

 

I've said it before, I admire how skillfully Russian propaganda is exploiting pre-existing resentment and prejudice of Western audiences, combining it with the eternal lure of the strong leader in troubled times. Can't beat experience; during the Cold War, they hooked a whole generation of Western leftists who honestly believed that Really Existing Socialism was at the very least not worse than the ills of capitalism and the lies of their own leaders. Half a generation later, ironically it's mostly Western right-wingers who find themselves on the same hook, just with a different bait (Obama, EUSSR, PC, gender, islamization, rapefugees, etc.). I guess that's a case for the point of "speaking the target audience's language" mentioned in my previous post.

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Im just watching BBC about the Syrian war, and there is a Russian commentator denying that Russians are bombing anyone other than ISIS, and denying the use of cluster bombs. Im offering no comment on either about the veracity of what he says, but it suggests that everyone to one extent or another becomes part of infowar.

Feels that the Russians have gone full Machiavelli, lying and break your word then its adventageus, becuse peopel are stupid so they believe you and you get the advantage.

They blatantly say so and tell us what they are doing actually. There are enough speeches, papers, interviews etc. by important russian officials. Not that the west was wedded to tue truth either.

 

But the copypasta media people swallow the info war hook line and sinker and spread it without question. And from there it gets into our heads.

 

Back in the mid-'60s I read one of my dad's books entitled, 'You CAN Trust the Communists!' Subtitle--'To Do EXACTLY What They Say'

As you point out, the book gave cited quotes about the Communists' real plans for subversion and aggression, and how they were pursuing those goals. We're still seeing the process...

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I suppose what is particularly new about the internet as a way of communicating information or disinformation is that it is self perpetuating. Where as print and broadcast media could broad band whatever message you want directly to a large population, it still generally had a single identifiable source of origin and the information was usually directly consumed from said source. On the internet a single source can share an piece of (mis)information and it can get absorbed my many other 'sources' repeating it (news media, tweets from famous/popular people, etc) and in effect the original source is laundered: most people might doubt a particularly dubious source, but the internet creates the echo chamber of the same story being repeated by numerous 'sources' even when originally there was only one questionable point of origin completely lost in the noise. What makes disinformation so effective in the internet age is how anonymous 'sources' and 'stories' are - they allow something that is an obvious lie from a untrustworthy source to be repeated and separated from its origins.

Yeah, that. I have so many friends who are actually extremely intelligent, accomplished people who mass-forward or post things on Facebook that are completely untrue, just because it matches their pre-conceived notions. The Snopes guys must be tearing their hair out nowadays...

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I've said it before, I admire how skillfully Russian propaganda is exploiting pre-existing resentment and prejudice of Western audiences, combining it with the eternal lure of the strong leader in troubled times. Can't beat experience; during the Cold War, they hooked a whole generation of Western leftists who honestly believed that Really Existing Socialism was at the very least not worse than the ills of capitalism and the lies of their own leaders. Half a generation later, ironically it's mostly Western right-wingers who find themselves on the same hook, just with a different bait (Obama, EUSSR, PC, gender, islamization, rapefugees, etc.). I guess that's a case for the point of "speaking the target audience's language" mentioned in my previous post.

 

So you think West didn't changed?

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Chinese theater performance group called Shen Yun puts out performances about themes like Chinese ancient and political related themes. The cast are related to Falun gong. There have had helf performances at theaters all over the world and each time (or almost each time) the PRC embassy or officials tried to pressure the theaters or the city to not see or cancel the show. Although the shows still happen with success despite PRC pressures. Although pressure applied to the cases in South Korea are greater and yield to PRC pressure.

 

 

 

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Shen Yun Performing Arts, a large classical Chinese dance company based in New York, has toured the world to soldout audiences in nearly all major countries. But it is banned from China because its message and affiliations are opposed by the Chinese regime, whose diplomatic agents have harassed it around the world.

 

And now, efforts to frustrate Shen Yun have most recently popped up again in South Korea, said the promoters of the show there.

For the last decade, in fact, Shen Yun has been unable to secure a top-flight venue in Seoul, the capital. It has been able to perform in cities around the country for years, but in Seoul, the country’s center for arts, culture, and politics, composed of a quarter of the population, it has been restricted to private venues or universities.

 

The major theaters, including the Sejong Art center, the National Theater, or KBS Hall, have been off-limits.

 

Because these largest and most prestigious auditoriums in Korea are affiliated with the government, they’re prone to diplomatic interference, whether open or covert, from the Chinese diplomatic outpost in Korea, according to promoters of the show.

 

Six days after the box office opened, KBS… decided that Shen Yun is not a proper show for KBS Hall. In this short period of time, it is impossible to act this fast unless there is a huge external pressure.

— Changsik Lee, Shen Yun promoter, Korea

The first instance of such trouble dates back to 2006, when a performing arts gala organized by New Tang Dynasty Television, an independent Chinese-language broadcaster (and part of the same corporate parent as Epoch Times) that is targeted by the Chinese regime, had its rental of KBS Hall canceled after the contract was signed, due to overt pressure by the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. Epoch Times obtained a copy of the original letter and a translation, which states “The Chinese embassy has already requested the Korean government to, fully taking account Chinese interests, take actions so that no Falun Gong activity is allowed in Korea.” It is signed “People’s Republic of China Embassy in Korea.”

 

Later in 2006, the gala would fold, and in December, 2006 Shen Yun would first perform in New York and New Jersey. The New Tang Dynasty gala, like Shen Yun, was seen by the Chinese regime as a performing arts company connected to the Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) spiritual practice. According to Shen Yun’s website, the company’s inspiration “is the spiritual discipline known as Falun Dafa.” Falun Gong is a traditional practice of meditation that is persecuted in China—and which the Chinese Communist Party targets for harassment around the world.

 

The Chinese regime’s opposition goes beyond just connections to Falun Gong, though. Shen Yun’s presentation of China’s 5,000 years culture, for instance, sees Chinese history replete with spiritual and religious understandings—a reading that is anathema to the historical materialism and Marxism that the Party advocates.

 

This year, it seemed the problem had gone away, after KBS Hall signed a contract in January with New Cosmos Media, a promotion company, to book Shen Yun for a series of performances in May.

 

It wasn’t long before the trouble started, said Changsik Lee, the president of New Cosmos Media, which is also booking Shen Yun in Jeonju, Suwon, and the southeastern city of Ulsan.

 

After ticket sales for the venue in Ulsan began on Jan. 16, the local promoters received a telephone call from the venue, with staff telling them that they had been pressured by the Chinese Embassy to rescind its contract, which had been made last year. The managers in Ulsan held their ground, saying they had no reason to cancel the performance.

 

But only another three days passed and Lee was informed that KBS Hall in Seoul had hurriedly reconvened the examination panel it organized to approve the show, and reversed its decision. Shen Yun would not be given a venue this year in Seoul.

 

“Six days after the box office opened, KBS reopened the exam committee, and decided that Shen Yun is not a proper show for KBS Hall. In this short period of time, it is impossible to act this fast unless there is huge external pressure,” Lee said in an email.

 

It seemed to echo a similar cancellation of a Shen Yun contract with KBS Hall in the city of Busan in 2008, similarly made with little explanation. When the show promoters in Korea took the case to court, the judge ruled against them, though he made clear that the reason for the cancellation was “only based on the fact that the Chinese government labeled Falun Gong an illegal organization and is suppressing it.”

 

Sometimes, Chinese efforts can also backfire. Leeshai Lemish, an emcee with Shen Yun, documents on his website one turnaround in Busan in 2011. After the consulate put enormous pressure on the theater and advertisers, Shen Yun artists were locked out of the theater. But in the early afternoon of the performance, a court ruled in favor of Shen Yun, the company was allowed into the theater, and after setting up in less than half the usual time, they played to a soldout crowd. “The P.R.C. diplomats ended up advertising for Shen Yun, as the incident led to Korean media coverage of the affair and tickets for Shen Yun’s other Korea performances also sold quickly,” Lemish writes.

 

Shen Yun shows often include, out of about 20 pieces, a couple of performances depicting the persecution of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong in China—another likely reason it is opposed by Chinese diplomats. In this case, however, it is unclear whether the resistance is coming from Beijing, or merely a local embassy official following standard operating procedure. The persecution of Falun Gong, and the targeting of it overseas, do not appear to be priorities of the Xi Jinping regime.

 

Shen Yun is the world’s largest classical Chinese dance company, traveling with a full orchestra and filling theaters to capacity in venues like the Lincoln Center in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

 

KBS Hall is a subsidiary of the Korean national broadcaster, KBS, which itself has extensive ties with China’s national broadcaster, China Central Television.

 

Given that the best performing arts venues in Korea have some sort of state affiliation, the processes for renting them can sometimes be extensive.

 

After the venue rental is agreed upon and contracts are drawn up, the Korean Media Rating Board begins its own process. This year, as in previous years, it made an examination of whether Shen Yun is suitable to perform in Korea. In the category asking “Whether harmful” the board has always ruled that Shen Yun is “harmless.” Performing arts companies require this approval before they can apply for visas.

 

“The fact that KBS reconvened the rental committee even after Shen Yun had been approved by the Media Rating Board further shows that the reasons for cancellation are dubious,” said Changsik Lee.

 

The initial decision to cancel the contract didn’t explain why. A later follow-up explained, “The show that your company is planning and hosting is the Falun Gong-affiliated Shen Yun Performing Arts’ show.” It adds: “Because there is concern that it may damage our public corporation’s image … a public corporation should hold religious and politically neutral activities.”

 

Behind this, Lee said, is the hand of the Chinese Communist Party, or at least elements of it in the diplomatic mission in Korea. Or else why was the theater rented in the first place?

 

Organizers said that the discrimination violates the free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States, and that they are contacting the United States Trade Representative, as well as the State Department, in an attempt to gain redress.

 

“We are not accepting KBS’s cancellation,” Lee said. “As in past cases of pressure and cancellations, this bears all the hallmarks of a decision made as a result of pressure from the Chinese Communist Party. … The venue rental contract was made through the all proper legal processes.”

 

There is no direct evidence in this instance linking the odd cancellation with Communist Party officials—though there is the strong precedent from 2006. And there is a pattern around the world of Chinese diplomatic officials, in letters, phone calls, and meetings, seeking to block Shen Yun from renting venues.

 

At least, Changsik Lee said that a number of frontline staff have been supportive. “One of the KBS staff confessed that they are experiencing a very tough situation because of this issue,” he said.

 

 

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1974833-efforts-made-to-block-shen-yun-in-south-koreas-capital/

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We've had them here a couple of times; my boss contributed a foreword to the program of their German tour twice, approached via her chairwomanship of the Friends of Taiwan by local staff of the "Epoch Times", which is of course also Falun Gong-affiliated. Topically, the paper is rumored to have originated as a CIA project to beat China over the head with at every turn. Though during the recent Russian propaganda offensive about the case of a Berlin 13-year-old allegedly raped by immigrants, I noted they jumped on the same train, which would seem rather inconsistent on the face of it.

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We've had them here a couple of times; my boss contributed a foreword to the program of their German tour twice, approached via her chairwomanship of the Friends of Taiwan by local staff of the "Epoch Times", which is of course also Falun Gong-affiliated. Topically, the paper is rumored to have originated as a CIA project to beat China over the head with at every turn. Though during the recent Russian propaganda offensive about the case of a Berlin 13-year-old allegedly raped by immigrants, I noted they jumped on the same train, which would seem rather inconsistent on the face of it.

 

Any CIA involvement wouldn't surprise me, especially at launch in year 2000. If they did lots of China beating with either CIA support or not, I haven't noticed it.

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