Archive for November 21st, 2017


Today’s Information Warfare through old eyes

November 21, 2017

There are perhaps advantages and disadvantages that come with age.

Your author is on the wrong side of fifty.  When last working in Germany the Berlin Wall was still standing.  When working in Northern Ireland, there was no peace process.  When working in organised crime, there was an entirely different alphabet soup labeling national policing and intelligence units and/or departments.

Age generally brings with it a little wisdom, a certain amount of experience and knowledge, some nostalgia, and hopefully the avoidance of senility.   Perhaps also what may be perceived as a little eccentricity too.

There are few things in this world that are back and white.  There is much that is coloured in various shades of grey.

History does not necessarily repeat, but it can quite often be perceived to rhyme – how closely is a perhaps matter of perception.

Recently questions about Information War (or IW) have been asked of the blog.  What is there to say?

Like the definition to terrorism, there does not yet appear to be a universally accepted definition.  However, whatever the definition, as yet there has been nothing new – other than the speed at which it now occurs and the potential reach it has.

No longer is propaganda in and of itself, or propaganda supporting active measures or reflexive control planted in the New Delhi Times awaiting to be picked up and promulgated by a western media.  Now it is simply a matter of pressing “Publish” and waiting for the media to pick up on the story that those planting it hope to see promulgate.

Thereafter those that rightly refute such flapdoodle publicly take issue with a particular story.

Yet others try and link stories seeking a narrative (or narratives) for should such links be perceived.  But there are many ways to join a set of dots – and not all dots are necessarily connected despite prima facie appearances.

Let the intelligence/analysis guide the politics and policy – let not the politics or policy shape the intelligence/analysis.

Some spend their time compiling lists of promulgators – real or bot.

There is of course a difference between intelligence and evidence.  A lot of intelligence analysis would not necessarily stand up in a court of law as evidence.  There is a difference between what you may believe to be true and what you can prove beyond reasonable doubt.  There is also the small matter of how any intelligence was obtained as to whether it would or could be used in a court of law anyway.

Ergo intelligence, or what perhaps parses as wisdom can oft be disputed.   Nevertheless it is possible to disagree with others and still avoid reinforcing an enemy’s narrative.  The questions are perhaps then, at what point does public diplomacy become propaganda in such disputes and who benefits from such disputes?  Nuance is somewhat needed in any meaningful analysis and nobody has the monopoly on being right all the time.

None of this discourse is new either.  The West has been here before with the USSR, and is here again now with the current Kremlin.  If we are not wiser, then we should be at the very least more knowledgeable.

What did all those Soviet defectors (and latterly those that headed West when the USSR imploded) tell the West?  After all none of what is happening today appears to be new to those of a certain age and who paid attention “back in the day”.

One of the most memorable defectors the blog can recall specifically relating to propaganda and active measures was Yuri Bezmenov in the 1980s.  The blog recalls him for two reasons.  Foremost, is possibly the most bizarre method of defection ever publicly made.  The second, though not unique to him, was his willingness to talk about, and his insight into, Soviet propaganda and active measures.

Time for a thought exercise based upon the testimony of Mr Bexmenov perhaps?

If democracy and the US remain the key targets for today’s Kremlin as it was for the Soviet Kremlin, what was the game plan according to Yuri Bezmenov?

If it does not repeat exactly, does it at least rhyme, and if so how closely?  After all, if we are to believe defectors such as Yuri Bezmenov and others, we already have a complete playbook in the western library that has been there since circa mid-1980s.

Mr Bezmenov outlined the Soviet strategy thus:

Demoralisation over a period of 20 years or so, via incessant subversion of religion, education, social life, power structures, labour relations and rule of law.  In short a war of exhaustion via subversion of the pillars of western civilisation and democracy.

This was followed by a period of destabilisation over a period of approximately 5 years.  Destabilisation was implemented by the radicalisation of the economy/labour relations, law and order (and the military), and the media.

This would, the theory went, lead to an eventual crisis lasting about 6 weeks or so.  That crisis could be civil war, invasion, or preferably the rise to power of a “strong leader” (read authoritarian) who would get a grip on matters.

The last phase was normalisation, which had an indefinite period.  By normalisation Mr Bezmenov meant stability through force.  The result being, if not authoritarians of the world unite, then at least the death of democracy in a nation.

The issue of the modern day Kremlin, if a thought exercise was to lead us to some sort of historically rhyming strategy akin to that orated by Mr Bezmanov, is that this process clearly takes a generation, or 25 years, to reach crisis point.  President Putin is not likely to have 25 years left in him.  However a reader may suggest that the West, or certain western nations, are some way along this process.  We are in fact, they may claim, not starting at the first year of demoralisation.

A reader might also wisely point out that any such national or regional demoralisation was not necessarily caused by The Kremlin.  However, exploited it certainly is.

There may be some readers who might consider some western nations already beyond demoralisation and which are currently in, or entering the realms of destabilisation.  That is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated claim depending upon a reader’s interpretation of what is truly destabilising.  Just how radicalised are labour relations, law enforcement and the media per Mr Bezmenov’s description of Soviet implementation strategy for destabilisation?  Do some parts of the theory simply overlap in certain places but not others?

A reader may simply dismiss what the late Mr Bezmenov told The West.  He may well have been a fabricator.

Perhaps he was not the defector he claimed to be and was simply very convincing in his debriefings that allowed him to live in North America, but otherwise still a Soviet man?

But aren’t all the best plots layered like onions?  Worlds within worlds?  Matryoshka dolls?  The best lies contain a little truth?

Whatever the case, the strategy outlined by Mr Bezmenov, and regardless of any credibility or otherwise a reader may give that strategy, the goals of any IW, can only be most effective in the absence of awareness and through the absence of that awareness – resilience.

Thus today tackling stories individually that are clearly in need of rebuttal is a necessary.  There has to be some push back  Beyond that there is perhaps something to be gained by looking at narratives and attempting to join the dots that require joining – hopefully in the right order, and arriving at a picture worthy of hanging in the analytical  equivalent of The Louvre.

However if the tales of old Soviet defectors are even remotely accurate, and there is a historical rhyme within The Kremlin, both rebuttal of individual stories, or looking for narratives within certain stories or connecting certain routes of promulgation, can still be a case of looking at trees and not seeing the wood.  Awareness will only get you so far.  Resilience  is what is sought.

The old Soviet defectors would have a reader step yet further back and widen their aperture much more, and over a very long time frame, to get a big picture perspective.

What advice and proposed solutions did these old Soviet defectors propose in what possibly qualifies as Information Warfare in the modern parlance offer – if any?

The answers they gave do not fit a short timescale, nor simplistic solutions.  Silver bullet there is not.

In a theory that takes a generation to impose, it takes a generation to remove it.  The remedies put forward were education, critical thinking, historical, and political awareness on a national scale.

To be entirely blunt, whether there is a historical rhyme within The Kremlin or not, there is something to be said to reinvigorating education, historical and political awareness, and most definitely there is a need for the renaissance of critical thinking.

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