Information Warfare and Hyper Warfare News

A thread for posting and discussing information and news relating to information warfare. By the way, here’s my understanding of what information warfare actually is. Information warfare involves using or (deceptively) manipulating information to harm an adversary–Two ways come to mind: causing political damage to politicians or institutions (e.g., any government agency, a news outlet, academic institution, etc.), often using information to create unfavorable impressions and/or undermine the faith of those individuals and institutions and widening existing social divisions and exacerbating social polarization. Basically, an adversary will manipulate and poison the information landscape–the public square where people get, think about, and discuss news and information. My understanding is that information warfare has always taken place (in the form of political propaganda). What’s different now is that technology has created a new platform, opening the possibility and capacity for greater information manipulation–enhancing the ability to weaponizing information, while also weakening defenses against them. (Actually, the type of defenses we need might not have existed; it’s something we may have to create.) In my view, politicians and prominent individuals, key institutions (and even businesses) and the general public are all vulnerable right now.

As for hyper-warfare, my understanding is that this is strategy utilizing unconventional means (i.e., not conventional use of military force), in a comprehensive way to weaken and defeat an opponent. In the case of Russia, my understanding the Russian government will weaponize anything and any part of their government or society, in whatever way possible. For example, the government controls banks, and those banks can be used to help launder money or use money to fund illicit activity; they will use organized criminals, oligarchs to corrupt prominent individuals or organizations in other nations, which creates kompromat that they can use to control those individuals. There’s a comic book character that I think of when I think of this approach, and that character is Bullseye. Bullseye was an assassin who was known for taking anything and turning it into a deadly weapon. He used to a play calling to kill someone, a table, whatever. Hyper-warfare is sort of like this. It differs in that the approach may not be so direct–as in, blowing up an adversary. The key here is guile, cleverness, deception, psychological manipulation. The other character that comes to mind is Loki–who I think of as someone who has to rely on his wits and ability to deceive and manipulate in order to defeat physically superior opponents. (I think this entails much of the type of information warfare I describe above.) I think of hyper-warfare as Bullseye + Loki.

In the thread, I hope to include articles and reporting to shed more light on the nature of information warfare, as well as give specific examples of it that is occurring right now. A good starting point is one of the first articles to introduce me to these concepts, Putin’s Real Long Game by Molly McKew.

To Read Later

Politico: Europe isn’t ready to face modern threats

Politico: How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral

http://nautil.us/issue/52/the-hive/modern-media-is-a-dos-attack-on-your-free-will

http://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/blog/2018/01/16/so-what-did-we-learn-looking-back-four-years-russias-cyber-enabled-active-measures

http://www.businessinsider.com/how-russia-successfully-interfered-with-the-2016-elections-2018-1

From Strategic Studies Quarterly: Commanding the Trend: Social Media as Information Warfare

From Yahoo News: Play Fake News Tycoon Combat Misinformation

From Defense One: How to Inoculate Public Against Fake News

From the United States Army Special Operations Command: “Little Green Men:” a Primer on Modern Russian Unconventional Warfare, Ukraine 2013-2014

22 thoughts on “Information Warfare and Hyper Warfare News

  1. On Strategic Deception

    From Just Security: The Public Needs a Lesson in Russian Strategic Deception: It’s What You Want to Hear

    As I’ve written recently, I believe that collusion is possible and that the much-maligned Steele dossier is more right than wrong. However, I also suspect that it will be very hard to prove. Into this atmosphere Russian intelligence will certainly look to frame the narrative to fit their interests. They may, for example, provide a false lead suggesting collusion with the Trump campaign, only to pull the rug later to try to discredit the whole investigatory enterprise. Or they may allow the release of a false and weak form of kompromat on the President to suggest they don’t have anything stronger. Who knows what exactly their craft will deliver to a segment of the population ready to believe a certain narrative. The recent flood of information on Russian troll factories and use of social media may be part and parcel of a Russian effort to divert our attention away from possible collusion. I don’t know. They certainly left many fingerprints in their use of social media platforms. At the very least, however, what we do know is that Moscow will most likely seek to muddy the waters and make it hard to know what information is real, and what’s not.

    I think keeping what Sipher said above is wise when reading something like today’s NYT story, U.S. Spies, Seeking to Retrieve Cyperweapons, Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets

    Edit (2/10/2018)

    Another key passage as far as how Americans should perceive Russia:

    Russia benefits from our naivete. What we need to do first is open eyes to the consistent, decades-long pattern of Russian attacks. Corruption, espionage, lies, disinformation and deception are the routine tools of Putin and the Kremlin, and will continue to be so into the indefinite future. We would be better served to assume ill-intent, and not feel obligated to uncover conclusive evidence of wrong-doing in every case. Totally uncorrupted business is an aberration in Russia, and we have decades of experience with their use of disinformation and deception to push any agenda that damages U.S. and western cohesion. While we may not find incontrovertible proof every time, the cumulative and historical effect is that Americans should preserve a very healthy skepticism when evaluating the motivations of the Russian government – guilty until proven innocent. What’s more, because so much of what Russia does is secret and managed by the intelligence services, we are rarely going to be able to develop the kind of “evidence” that we would like to divine guilt or innocence.

  2. On Fake News

    From Buzzfeed: He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.

    Edit (2/13/2018)

    1. I’m curious about how you feel about these statements, since you offer them with no comment. Does it surprise you and please you to hear that fake news is concentrated among a small subset of people, or that it probably didn’t change many votes?

      I hope you’ll remember that this has been my position from the beginning, although at first I wasn’t sure and as the past year has passed, I’ve become more confident about this.

      I am slightly surprised about most people not being in echo chambers. I haven’t clicked the external link for that statement but I will later.

      And what is your response to Nyhan’s advice to “avoid loose talk about big persuasion effects and ubiquitous echo chambers?”

  3. I posted the tweets because I think it’s important caveat to keep in mind. I think pointing out that these are just a handful of studies, and that they shouldn’t be seen as definitive–studies that settle the matter. But this also applies to articles and research that say the opposite as well. Finally, we should read all the articles above with care and nuance. For example, here’s the last paragraph in the report about echo chambers:

    Of course, we would not claim that all is well with American media. Though the phenomena of selective exposure and echo chambers are less widespread than feared, the potential for a balkanized future remains. Moreover, the content of the media that people consume still matters. Even if echo chambers are not widespread, partisan media can still spread misinformation and increase animosity toward the other party among a highly visible and influential subset of the population. In this sense, the danger is not that all of us are living in echo chambers but that a subset of the most politically engaged and vocal among us are.

    One thing to consider: Just because the non-politically engaged don’t live in echo chambers, that doesn’t mean all is well. The may face another significant problem–namely, confusion and uncertainty about what to believe or just plain ignorance of important information and events.

    Also according to the study, echo chambers are stronger offline, than on–hence, we shouldn’t conclude that echo chambers aren’t a problem.

    And what is your response to Nyhan’s advice to “avoid loose talk about big persuasion effects and ubiquitous echo chambers?”

    I think it’s a valid concern, and something that we should be wary about, including myself. Are you saying that I’m guilty of this?

  4. One thing to consider: Just because the non-politically engaged don’t live in echo chambers, that doesn’t mean all is well. The may face another significant problem–namely, confusion and uncertainty about what to believe or just plain ignorance of important information and events.

    Right. I’m not necessarily disputing this. But the alleged fact that people aren’t living in echo chambers definitely leaves room for increased hope. At least that’s how I see it.

    I think it’s a valid concern, and something that we should be wary about, including myself. Are you saying that I’m guilty of this?

    I don’t know that I would call what you do “loose talk,” but I think there’s some overgeneralization, or some magnifying a small number of experiences to imply the proliferation of experiences. It has been my tendency through most of my life to under-worry, and it seems to have been yours (at least in the past couple of decades) to over-worry.

  5. But the alleged fact that people aren’t living in echo chambers definitely leaves room for increased hope.

    It is, but the authors say that the most politically engaged do actually live in echo chambers.

    or some magnifying a small number of experiences to imply the proliferation of experiences….

    I think some of this is definitively go on, and I do tend to overworry, but I’m not the only one voicing these concerns–e.g., Nyhan: “Doesn’t mean fake news and other online misinformation aren’t big problems – they are! ..

  6. I wouldn’t mind discussing this Foreign Policy article, American Democracy Is an Easy Target. On one hand, it is critical for those hyping the Russian threat to our democracy, creating the impression that the Russians have well-organized and well-executed plan. On the other hand, the author does seem to think actors like Russia can really damage our democracy by exploiting existing weaknesses in our democracies. There’s a disconnect here that I don’t really understand. Putin need not be a mastermind to a be serious threat. If we have significant flaws that even non-masterminds can exploit, then we should take seriously those that have shown a willingness to do this. Right?

    Or maybe the author believes that ringing alarm bells about Russia obscures existing problems in our democracy. If that’s the case, I’m more sympathetic to this view. However, in my opinion, this is a both/and situation where our existing vulnerabilities plus malicious actors, foreign or domestic, pose a serious risk.

    The author may also think that the general public’s perception of risk that Russia poses is already at an appropriate level. I don’t really get that sense. Or it could be that I’m over-estimating the threat Russia poses.

  7. Thread that offers a kind of response to Brendan Nyhan:

    Nyhan responds:

    Nyhan and McKew’s discussion, as well as some other reports are summed up and included here at Niemanlab.org.

  8. Yep, this is a terrific article–informative and suspenseful–reads like a spy novel at times.

    Edit (2/17/2018)

    Edit (2/18/2018)

  9. Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too.

    From the NYT Sunday Review:

    Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s investigating the C.I.A. as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.
    “We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” said Mr. Johnson, now at the University of Georgia. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”

    Some quick comments:

    1. When people say, “U.S. and Russia have always been doing this,” I believe it’s important to understand that the internet/wireless technology, etc. create a totally different information landscape. It’s important to understand these differences;

    2. My sense is that not all attempts to influence an election are equal–that is, some methods are more appropriate than others. Off the top of my head, I would say transparent and honest approach would be more acceptable. If a government explicitly made reasonable arguments, using facts, for a particularly candidate–that is more acceptable–than using foreign bots or trolls that pose a citizen or domestic organization, using fabricated stories to hurt a politician. I do not think the U.S. and Western democracies should use the latter;

    3. The article mentions that undermining an autocracy while promoting democracy is different from the reverse. I agree with that. The former is something that I think is justified.

    4. I don’t think democratic countries should really try to influence elections in another democratic country–even using the methods that I have said are more acceptable…Or at least I think another democracy should tread very lightly and moderately if they do engage in this.

  10. A Woman Doesn’t Realize She Wasn’t Working With a Russian Group

    I guess people can ridicule this woman, and feel some contempt for her, but I sort of sympathized with her for some reason, maybe because she’s older. It seems clear that she didn’t knowingly talk to Russians, and she seems to assume that the people and organizations she communicated with were legitimate Trump supporters. Yes, that’s unwise, but I just have a hard time harshly condemning her. By the way, a part of me feels like the issue here isn’t an unwillingness to admit that she was duped–although, if I think about this more, I suspect I would think it is a big factor. Maybe since the Trump supporters she’s met in real life have been genuine Trump supporters, she has a harder time believing that there are Russian sites attempting to egg on certain groups of Americans. In any event, this is a problem.

  11. she doesn’t realize that she WAS working with a Russian group, right?

    it’s easy to sympathize with her. I feel it too. I judge those people who followed those pages and, upon fb’s shutting those pages down that were run by troll farms, got indignant and pissed with fb for interfering with their right to be trolled. Obviously because fb is conspiring with the liberal media. Ugh.

  12. Yes to the first question.

    To be clear about the second point, you’re mad at FB for shutting down Russian troll pages? You’re angry that this is a conspiracy with liberal media? Or were you being sarcastic?

  13. No. I’m judging people who are pissed about FB shutting down troll-farm-administered FB pages. I’m not mad, but I am making assessments on their intelligence and reasonableness.

    I judge those people who followed those pages and, upon fb’s shutting those pages down that were run by troll farms, got indignant and pissed with fb for interfering with their right to be trolled.

    I wasn’t being sarcastic with

    Obviously because fb is conspiring with the liberal media.

    I was quoting them. And I assure you that “ugh” isn’t sarcastic but an understatement if anything. Disgusted is probably a better word.

  14. OK, got it. I’m assuming they made a first amendment argument–that FB shouldn’t restrict or censor information. Or were they angry because they felt like FB’s shutdown was due to political bias?)

  15. It was both. I also think they genuinely received legitimate info from these pages, info they considered valuable. I guess they didn’t like having to go and get it from other places now.

  16. Lies, Conspiracy Theories, and Hoaxes Poisoning Information Environment, Making Us All Sick

    This is a good article–not necessarily about infromation/hyper warfare, but about the prevalence of bad information–namely,
    lies, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes–in our information space. This is a relevant issue because the problem indicates that we, as society, are struggling to minimize these pollutants–and this creates a huge vulnerability in an information war. Minimizing these pollutants is aligned with helping us combat information warfare.

    Edit

    Good companion thread:

  17. I also think they genuinely received legitimate info from these pages, info they considered valuable. I guess they didn’t like having to go and get it from other places now.

    This raises an interesting point: If a propaganda site/troll also sometimes provides reliable and valuable information, then what? For me, though, I think the answer is pretty clear. Namely, if there is compelling evidence that group/entity has hostile, nefarious goals, a) I immediately tune them out; b) I’d want platforms to remove them; c) I’d want some action to discourage/deter those types of activities.

    The key discussion would involve standards relating to what constitutes a hostile goals, what constitutes compelling evidence, etc. We need to have that discussion.

  18. Well FB is pretty clear in its terms of service that sock puppets aren’t allowed, so the content and intent don’t have to violate the terms in order to be withdrawn, as long as the user account running the page isn’t a true (real) user.

  19. I’m not sure if this is accurate, but if many Trump supporters are complaining because many of their followers were removed because they were Russian trolls/bots, that’s kinda funny, but maybe a little more disturbing.

    It could be that Russian trolls and bots are pushing that hashtag:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *