Archive for November 4th, 2017

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A very messy infospace

November 4, 2017

The blog has thus far refrained from mentioning the “infowar”, “info-warriors” and the competitive “infospace” that we all, to some degree or another, are subjected too.  It is perhaps wiser to state “subjected to” rather than “victims of” – for the “who” and “how many victims” there are, and possibly will forever be, difficult to quantify depending upon the “who” being measured.

An empirical look at social media and the “info-warriors” thereon would prima facie suggest that many among that number (though not all) hold the belief that they are bright enough not to fall for propaganda or any associated “active measures” promulgated therein, but seem to believe that everybody else is far more gullible.

Yes – the above paragraph makes a distinction between propaganda and active measures.  To be clear propaganda and “active measures” are not the same thing at all.

Several decades ago when you author was given PV clearance (Positive Vetting), it was followed by a (surprisingly entertaining) set of lectures regarding personality weaknesses/flaws/areas for coercion and/or manipulation by operatives of foreign nations, do’s and dont’s if approached – and also instruction, definitions, and examples of what is today a buzzword bingo of Soviet spookery/mischief-making lexicon across social media.

Every one of the KGB buzzwords currently reborn within the contemporary social media bingo has a definition (albeit “western” and Russian interpretation of that definition may not always be exactly the same).

Per definition propaganda was not an active measure in and of itself.

Active measures may very well be projected and/or enhanced by propaganda, but propaganda was not in and of itself an active measure.  Indeed propaganda can and has been used to mask (a deliberate avoidance of exploring “maskirovka” now occurs) the origin of active measures.

Much of social media seems to have brought propaganda into the active measures definition – wrongly.

The two, propaganda and active measures, may often be very well integrated in the pursuit of national foreign policy objectives, but definitions do matter – especially if there are to be lessons (re)learned regarding impact and (public) identification.

When it comes to measuring impact, both instigator and recipient will measure outcomes – and necessarily attempt to separate the mens rea from the channel of communication/projection at some point during the measurement methodology.

Some methods of communication and/or projection may be more effective than others dependent upon the target audience after all.  If trying to target an audience that uses Telegram, there’s little point is using twitter or Facebook.  If they watch TV and rarely use the Internet at all, then clearly the Intenet will not provide the best medium to spread propaganda.

Questions of increasing impact vis a vis mitigation arise depending upon where you sit in the game with regard to promulgation – but there are also lessons to be learned from the design and intent and machinery employed in the active measure.

Academics will certainly try to study both – individually and cumulatively.

The current Kremlin use of propaganda and any active measures promoted thereby, seems to be particularly messy in comparison to the USSR – to the point where a reader may ponder whether there is in fact a grown up in the room with regard to some of the propaganda-active measure coordination (or distinct lack of it on numerous occasions).

Perhaps that is a result of those working on the outside trying to work with those inside and “best guessing” what is expected.  Perhaps it is an increased willingness to take risks within Russian operational structures?  Perhaps it is both.

There is also a question of measuring the impact upon (perhaps numerous) less obvious/secondary targets (and observers).

Although it is possible to choose from many recent examples of Kremlin meddling in western democratic machinery, the numerous US investigations into Kremlin nefariousness currently have the centre stage.

The jury is still out – and may never return – with regard to accurately measuring the effect of Russian shenanigans among the US voting constituency, and in particular at the ballot box itself.  Voter behaviour is a science of its own and one far beyond the competency of the blog.

Nevertheless, there was clearly an attempt, through various distinct and identifiable acts, at meddling – regardless of how successful (or otherwise) the results were relating to changing voter behaviour at the ballot box.

It is perhaps a different question to try and measure the impact of the on-going pouring of Kremlin fuel upon the open fires of US societal polarisation more broadly.

Though currently impossible to accurately measure the impact upon the voting constituency, the impact upon government is far easier to ascertain prima facie.  Numerous investigations are underway – though unfortunately the US seems unable to get past its partisan nature to realise this is a national security issue and not simply one of party politics.

It is, first and foremost, about The Kremlin actively interfering in the US – and its belief that it could do so with reward being worth the risk.

The Kremlin actions during German and French elections demonstrated empirically, the impact of Kremlin meddling in the US upon the German and French political class, its domestic media, and IC community, by the way they all publicly reacted during their domestic election campaigns.

This in turn raises the next question.  What does the Kremlin consider as success from any active measure?  If the US election is seen as a win, surely France equates to a loss?

Or is the reaction (be they targeted or not) of all western governments to Kremlin active measures (even if elsewhere) deemed a success regardless of any particular electoral outcome?  A matter of perceived Kremlin relevance/ability to interfere being more important than any actual electoral outcome?

Perhaps the answer to that depends upon the short or long term view.

Equally as important, when Kremlin foreign policy is so often driven by requirements relating to domestic policy, how do the Russian public perceive the results of the active measures (and more) employed prior to, and during, the US election campaign?

Does The Kremlin itself and/or its national constituency believe (whether true or not) it influenced the US elections to the point of making a significant difference to the outcome?  The answer matters just as much as any US perceptions.

Has The Kremlin managed to MRGA – Make Russia Great Again – on the world stage in the perception of those within the Kremlin walls, and/or of its domestic constituency?

Without knowing what the desired outcome(s) was/were for The Kremlin (positions, interests, needs) vis a vis both outcome, and separately active measure implementation, it is difficult to answer.

The follow-on propaganda will be such as to fit the outcome – as propaganda naturally would be – regardless of the real (and unknown) intent of the active measures initially promulgated by earlier propaganda.

Needless to say, The Kremlin will not throw out what it may (currently) perceive as a good result in pursuit of the best result, but it may “tweak” what it has learned in pursuit of the best,  It may also be that even if The Kremlin considers the outcome poor, it may consider the implementation of the active measures (and more), together with accompanying propaganda, a successful exercise.

Maybe The Kremlin overachieved, maybe it underachieved, maybe it will settle for what it got as acceptable – only those that set this in motion will know, regardless of current propaganda.

Everybody else will ultimately be left to pontificate.

In the meantime we shall see, sooner or later, if there is a “tweaking” of active measures with regard to the direct interference in the democratic machinery of “the west” – or not.

Perhaps a return to the days of “World Peace Councils”, “World Council of Churches”, “international” trade union organisations, and other front organisations will take primacy for a while, with an increase in forged documents floating around the social media space, simply to allow a cooling off period for the recent active measures employed directly in election machinery?

Surely all the Kremlin backed NGOs, NFPs and other front organisations are now due their time in the sun?  Then again, perhaps not.

Whatever the case, it will be propaganda that will promote the active measures we are meant to see – if not meant to recognise (if they are to be promoted  rather than remain covert) – but propaganda is not an active measure in and of itself.

All that said, the erudite readers of this blog will have been fully aware of all the above already, and thus are quite capable of making sense of the messy “infospace” we all inhabit.

 

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