Saturday, August 5, 2017

Blog update + Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #1-5: Pomerantsev, McKew, Beauchamp, McKew, McKew

This blog is and will continue to be even more slowed down than usual, or desirable. Because of my taking a bad fall in late June, I'm going through long slow uncertain recovery phases.

Meanwhile, I expect to remain more active at my Facebook page than here. I will continue trying to re-post here, belatedly, what I post there about TIMN or STA:C.

Onward, haltingly …

UPDATE: January 18, 2018: Today I’m inserting here a series of readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level. Prior to the August 2017 date of this blog update, I had posted these readings on my Facebook page sporadically during Jan-June 2017, but neglected also posting them here at my blog, especially after falling and being laid up during June-July. I now have reason to put them here, partly to make available to others. This appears to be the most convenient spot to insert them as a bunch, since Google won’t let me insert back-dated posts. Subsequent readings, #6 onward, are already posted here at my blog, with more in the works.

Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #5: Peter Pomerantsev, “Russia And The Menace Of Unreality: How Vladimir Putin Is Revolutionizing Information Warfare” (Sept 2014)

This interesting article from 2014 (H/T Peter Rothman) helps show that the Russians have been developing and applying their latest iterations of strategic information warfare for many years. The comments section lists a variety of publications, mostly from NATO sources, illuminating recent Russian activities across Europe.

I've been concerned about this topic since late last year, when I began to sense that the United States was being subjected more than ever to strategic information warfare operations at the societal level, from both internal and external sources. What has mainly concerned me are the cognitive dimensions, more than the technological dimensions.

While I've not managed to write a comprehensive post about this topic at my blog, I've been thinking for a while about at least starting a reading series here. And so be it. In retrospect, I am including in this new series the first articles I posted here by Molly McKew on Jan 27 and Jan 28, the article posted on May 20 about Democrats falling for fake news about Russia, a third article by Molly McKew posted on June 13, plus today's post about the article at hand.

The articles by Molly McKew in particular, plus other writings and news, reveal that Russian information warfare operations have been more active and strategic than I knew. Russian actors are especially working to penetrate and influence the Far Right in their hoped-for new era of Eurasianism, much as they did the Far Left in the long-gone era of Communism. Quite a switch. (And if it deepens, maybe we will see a reversed McCarthy Commission someday — one focused on the Right rather than the Left.)

As noted in post #4, my interest in this topic goes with my interest in TIMN theory. TIMN can provide an accurate optic for analyzing strategic information warfare at the societal level — after all, its ultimate goal is to tribalize (even atomize) a target society, by way of undermining peoples' trust in and ties to their institutional +I and market +M systems, as well as emerging network +N systems. More on this as we go along, I hope…

Here’s the full article:

Readings in cognitive warfare at the societal level — #4: Molly McKew, “Forget Comey. The Real Story Is Russia’s War on America” (June 2017)

This is a new excellent article by Molly McKew warning about Russia's efforts to use what she variously identifies as active measures, information warfare, hybrid war, and shadow war

This article follows up on her two January articles (see my posts on Jan 27 and Jan 28). As I recall, those articles were better at discussing the nature of this kind of warfare. This article is much better at showing how little Washington is doing to understand and attend to the threat.

Her writings are especially interesting for me, since I aim to show eventually that TIMN provides an accurate optic for analyzing strategic information warfare (SIW) at the societal level — the ultimate goal of which is to tribalize (even atomize) a target society, by way of undermining peoples' trust in and ties to their institutional and market systems, as well as emerging network systems.

Here’s the full article:

Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #3: Zack Beauchamp, “Democrats are falling for fake news about Russia” (May 2017)

A long read, but relates to tribalism theme here by showing whos, hows, wheres, and whys of rising propensities among Democrats to fall for disinformation, especially about Russian matters. (H/t Paul Davis)

A few select passages:
"The basic thing you need to understand, these scholars say, is that political misinformation in America comes principally from partisanship. People’s political identities are formed around membership in one of two tribes, Democratic or Republican. This filters the way they see the world."

"What you’ve got are prominent media figures, political operatives, scholars, and even US senators being taken in by this stuff — in addition to the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of ordinary people consuming it on Twitter and Facebook. These people, too, are letting their biases trump interest in factual accuracy.

“This is the key danger: that this sort of thing becomes routine, repeated over and over again in left-leaning media outlets, to the point where accepting the Russiasphere’s fact-free claims becomes a core and important part of what Democrats believe."

"So that’s the key question going forward: Will the mainstreaming of the Russiasphere speed up — and birth something like a Breitbart of the left? If so, it’ll create an environment where the people most willing to say the most absurd things succeed, pulling the entire Democratic Party closer to the edge — and leaving liberals trapped in the same hall of mirrors as conservatives."
Here’s the full article:

Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #2: Molly McKew, “Russia Is Already Winning” (Jan 2017)

Here is the second article on Russian information operations by Molly McKew. She does an excellent job of identifying and dissecting the "threat" in ways that are ultimately nuanced.

I am particularly interested in what she says about "reflexive control". The word "control" is so strong that years ago I'd have thought this concept's prospects were exaggerated. But now, if I think of it as "reflexive conditioning" instead, I worry that it is working in our society, mainly among right-wing conservatives and more because of domestic than Russian practitioners. I'll say more about this in the comments section.

Here is a quote from McKew's article that shows what to be concerned about (it may look like she's threat-mongering, but I don't think she is):
"Understanding how the Kremlin has tried to achieve this is absolutely essential. The much-discussed hacks and the leaks represent the least sophisticated aspect, psychologically and technologically, of the campaign. The Kremlin, along with its agents and proxies, constructed and deployed an elaborate information architecture to use against the American public. While this architecture did, at times, amplify disinformation, its primary purposes were larger: active measures, reflexive control and psychological warfare.

"These three concepts are related and overlapping. Psychological warfare, in this context, refers to information and disinformation that targets our values and beliefs. "Active measures" is a Soviet term for manipulation or political warfare — psychological or informational tactics that aim to achieve specific outcomes. Reflexive control is a type of information warfare that aims to condition us to react to certain types of information in specific ways, in particular by shaping our perceptions so we voluntarily make decisions favorable to our enemy.

"These are complicated concepts that military and intelligence experts spend careers trying to learn and identify. This is not “fake news,” although our increasing tolerance of disinformation gives them power. This is an elaborate, sophisticated operation constructed within American society and media that we still do not see clearly. It is designed to inject ideas into our information environment in ways we can’t control, and to undermine the idea that there is objective truth."
Here’s the full article:

Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #1: Molly McKew, “Putin’s Real Long Game” (Jan 2017)

I've worried for months that our society is being dulled, distorted, and divided by crafty kinds of strategic information warfare operations, conducted by both internal and external actors. I won't manage to write my own analysis for months. So meanwhile I'd at least like to relay an impressive analysis of Russian non-linear hybrid operations, written by Molly McKew and spread across two articles.

Here is the first article. In it she shows that "the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests."

It's a long read, but should not be missed by anyone concerned about strategic information warfare at the societal level. I'll relay her second article separately later.

Here’s the full article:


Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

Thinking of and feeling for you, David -- prayers, beams, hopes, whatever anyone wants
to call 'em. You are, to me, a prime example and proof of the openings to friendship
and concern that are possible via mere text on this here internet. I am sure I speak
for many.

David Ronfeldt said...

Much appreciated, Charles, much appreciated. We shall persist.