Posts Tagged ‘Information Warfare’

By Richard Martin

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resistance of the Ukrainian people, government and armed forces have provided the world and especially NATO countries with the focus and resolve to assist Ukraine in defending its independence and security in alignment with the fundamental NATO values of freedom, democracy, law, and rights. 

Russia is seeking to undermine these values by dominating Ukraine and its people while attacking the same values in other countries, and specifically within NATO and the EU. Russia has been consistently employing “hybrid” warfare techniques to undermine the resolve and morale of the peoples and nations that oppose Russian ways and means of achieving its aggressive ends. The attack on gas pipeline infrastructure in the Baltic is just one example of this.

Beyond this, Russia has been conducting information warfare and psychological operations against NATO, the EU, and the West in general. The main approach involves using disinformation and other hostile information activities. There are two main goals. The first is to present the Russian point of view, to convince citizens, decision-makers, and influencers in NATO and EU countries to either support Russia’s war aims in Ukraine, or to undermine their support for their own nations’ commitment to supporting Ukraine and countering Russia. The second goal is to sow chaos, confusion, discord, and conflict within and between NATO/EU countries.

The first of these goals is familiar and is traditionally called propaganda. Although it is not pleasant, it is relatively easy to counter with facts and rational argument. The second goal is less familiar and resembles in many ways classic disinformation, misdirection, and active measures adopted by the Soviet Union and other Communist powers during the Cold War. It is much more insidious, as it aims at nothing less than eroding the ability of free-thinking individuals and groups to act effectively and efficiently in the face of threats to peace, security, and prosperity. In a nutshell, disinformation and active measures are forms of epistemological warfare.

Young people are probably the most vulnerable to epistemological warfare, as their ideas and habits of mind are still in development. They are highly vulnerable to disinformation, ideologies, and nihilistic questioning of the values and structures that uphold the values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Young people are idealistic, with many hopes and dreams about the future, both collective and personal, but these ideals are not tempered by the experience of living and the knowledge of history, values, and goals of our societies.

Epistemological warfare throws contradictory and inflammatory statements, observations, and opinions into the infosphere, especially social media, and sees what will stick. There is not necessarily an ideological standpoint that is upheld. The aim is not to say one side or opinion is better than another, but instead to sow doubt about what is real, and whether anyone in authority or with expertise is to be trusted. Disinformation about COVID-19, the actions of powerful and/or wealthy people, conspiracy theories, etc., are all grist for the mill.

The threat goes well beyond cyberattacks, disinformation, and misdirection. In fact, I believe we have entered a new phase of information warfare which I call “epistemological warfare.” The aim of epistemological warfare isn’t just to attack nations and their populations with false, misleading, obfuscating, or confusing information and propaganda. It goes much further by launching a full-scale assault on the critical faculties and judgment of friendly nations, populations, and leaders.

The techniques are many but focus mainly on eroding critical thinking by overwhelming the public sphere, especially through social media channels and platforms, with false, doubtful, or contradictory information presented in sound bites, images, video clips, and Internet “memes” that exploit and reinforce well-known cognitive biases and fallacies. These include everything from non sequitur and tu quoque fallacies, to psychological heuristics such as the primacy effect, the bandwagon effect, and others too numerous to list.

The goal is to erode the ability of individuals to judge what is true and false, who and what to believe, and who to support. This results in a cynical and nihilistic attitude toward the facts, intentions, and objectives presented by and for contending powers and forces and undermines support for a strong defence against hostile intent and activities.

© Richard Martin

A STRATEGY FOR FIGHTING ACTIVE MEASURES IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE

By Richard Martin, President, Canadian Academy of Leadership and Development of Human Capital

The Situation

Individuals in our societies spend significant time and resources watching or reading online media and content. We are not going back to the days of limited television options and a few (inter)national news sources. In younger generations, the scale of online participation is staggering as compared to older ones. This is because younger people do not rely on traditional, “mainstream” sources of information. They live in the ephemeral, evanescent world of social media and crowd-sourced content platforms, much of which is of doubtful provenance and intent.

The result is that younger people are flooded with competing or contradictory ideas, ideologies, and influences through social media, amplified by influencers of questionable association and intent; word of mouth; educational institutions; civil society organizations; advertising; and variant lifestyles. These messages are not necessarily (though many are) negative or corrosive of core civic values though an important portion do offer a narrative unsupportive or questioning of our stable, secure, liberal, prosperous democracies. Some channels and sources of information favour social disorder and subversion with the goal of undermining Western resilience, defence, values, and objectives.

Prominent social media platforms are the principal (though not exclusive) channels enabling the promotion of ideas and concepts that can erode the commitment to creating and sustaining peaceful and secure societies that value individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and which underlie the most prosperous societies in history. I believe these values are worth upholding, sustaining, and as required, defending. With that said, censorship and centralized control of information, whether public or private, are not the solution, as these go against the core values of the free, democratic, rules and rights-based order.

The Threat

Hostile powers and forces are relentlessly engaged in information operations to undermine the morale, resilience, and resolve of Western nations and their populations. Public awareness of this threat and its effects has increased since the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, but the focus is on Russia, leaving other state-based and state-sponsored actors to operate relatively unhindered below the radar of the public, politicians, and businesses. On the other hand, this awareness is hazy, limited, and non-specific. Individuals and organizations have little understanding of hostile intentions, strategies, operational approaches, and the specific techniques, tactics, and procedures that are used to achieve hostile ends.

The threat goes well beyond cyberattacks, disinformation, and misdirection. In fact, we believe that we have entered a new phase of information warfare which I call “epistemological warfare.” The aim of epistemological warfare isn’t just to attack nations and their populations with false, misleading, obfuscating, or confusing information and propaganda. It goes much further by launching a full-scale assault on the critical faculties and judgment of friendly nations, populations, and leaders.

The techniques are many but focus mainly on eroding critical thinking by overwhelming the public sphere, especially through social media channels and platforms, with false, doubtful, or contradictory information presented in sound bites, images, video clips, and Internet “memes” that exploit and reinforce well-known cognitive biases and fallacies. These include everything from non sequitur and tu quoque fallacies, to psychological heuristics such as the primacy effect, the bandwagon effect, and others too numerous to list. The apparent goal is to erode the ability of individuals to judge what is true and false, whom and what to believe, and whom to support. This results in a cynical and nihilistic attitude toward the facts, intentions, and objectives presented by and for contending powers and forces and undermines support for a strong defence against hostile intent and activities.

The Strategy

The effort to build societal resilience, especially in succeeding generations, depends on the ability to provide concrete tools that can be used quickly and effectively to resist, counter, and evaluate the claims, evidence, statements, and arguments that form the basis for disinformation, propaganda, and other hostile information activities. This requires a rational, systematic approach to the problem, one based on clear outcomes, deliverables, and methods.

The key to long-term, enduring success in building societal resistance is to focus on the succeeding generation of current and potential leaders who will become influencers, opinion formers and decision makers in the areas of public policy and administration, diplomacy, communications, business, finance and banking, public safety, and the profession of arms.

The centre of gravity in this effort is to develop and disseminate an intellectual and psychological toolkit to current and future young leaders to undergird individual and collective analyses and evaluations concerning the logical soundness and validity of the various claims, evidence, propositions, rhetoric, and arguments that are inserted and disseminated in the public domain.

The best way to equip our youth for resilience in the face of withering attacks of information and epistemological warfare is to help them recognize the different types of activities, with a view to reformulating them according to logical principles to evaluate their probability and overall validity. By this means, leaders of the successor generation will be better equipped to apply their own judgment through proven processes and methods of reasoning that are resilient and invariant across domains, topics, platforms, and content.

© Richard Martin

by Richard Martin

I’m tired at the moral equivalence and hand-wringing. Horror at atrocities is one thing. Everyone can agree on that. In fact, it’s nothing but hand-wringing. “Give peace a chance.” “Why can’t we all just get along?” “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Wars are fought on the moral as well as the physical plane. Everything I have learned in a 26-year military career as a combat arms officer, including peacekeeping duty in the Balkans, where many of the same type of genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns were undertaken, and 40 plus years of studying warfare, military history, strategy and tactics, confirms that belief.

The real issue is whether Western/NATO governments are willing to do what is necessary to ensure Russia is defeated and Ukraine is secure within its borders. Russian disinformation and information warfare is nothing but a continuation of Soviet-style active measures used extensively during the Cold War. The primary audience is the Russian people, followed closely by Western populations and politicians. Russian propaganda and information warfare are deep operations, aiming at undermining morale, resistance, and defence.

Messages are all over the place, including ridiculous conspiracy theories, in order to see what sticks and gets picked up and spread by mainstream media, social media and various movements and organizations. The hunger for strange beliefs is fed by Russian propaganda. The disinformation campaigns tap into fringe views and aim to exacerbate existing conflicts and divisions, on the left and the right, including anti-immigration fears, nationalism, fascist movements, extreme environmentalism and anti-business rhetoric.

Out of 100 ridiculous and unrealistic claims, maybe only 5 or 10 get picked up and shared. But then Russian state controlled agencies and influenced agents reinforce the narratives. The aim is to create doubt, sow discord, undermine support for Ukraine (or other threatened nations and countries), and weaken the resolve to resist aggression.

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was an infantry officer for over 20 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and information warrior focusing on extracting valuable information and signals from chaos and noise.

By Richard Martin

Ukraine and Russia appear to have to diametrically opposite approaches to Information Warfare.

Ukrainian Information Operations

For consumption in Russia: See what your government is doing to your Ukrainian kin?

For consumption in Ukraine: Rally the people, armed forces, successes, how to pass on important information, leadership

For international consumption: Support us, we are fighting for YOU, and YOUR freedom, see what the Russians are doing?

The Ukrainian information strategy combines selective truth telling with the theme of Ukrainian heroism and resistance to Russian brutality tyranny and aggression.

Russian Information Operations

For consumption in Russia: Focus on internal IO to keep the people and forces onside.

For consumption in Ukraine: Sow panic, disinformation, misdirection, false flags, confusion, “we’re here to liberate you”

For international consumption: Generate distrust in ALL information, cynicism, nihilism

The Russian information strategy can be summed up as nihilistic. The idea is to sow the most fundamental doubts in the receiver’s mind about the reality of what they are seeing, reading, and hearing. It’s gaslighting on a massive scale. It’s basically about saying: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was an infantry officer for over 20 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and information warrior focusing on extracting valuable information and signals from chaos and noise.