Weaponized Information: Disinformation and Narrative Warfare

Dr Ajit Mann and Mr Paul Cobaugh explain Narrative Warfare and discuss some of the security issues associated with this often misunderstood form of warfare.

Modern Day Minutemen and Women: or how to save the 2020 election Kindle Edition

Another informative publication the contents of which are important anytime but especially now! By Paul Cobaugh

In the wake of foreign interference in the 2016 election, America’s 2020 election is still under assault by foreign enemies. This book, a first of its kind walks readers through Russian Narrative Warfare, why it worked and why we must mobilize true patriots in order to protect our birthright of free and fair 2020 elections. Influence operations are one of the single most effective weapons against the US and one in which we are grossly unprepared.

Narrative Warfare (MA Global Security)

More on the MA in global security: https://spgs.asu.edu/global-security-ma

Ajit Maan, a new professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies and an affiliated faculty member with the Center on Future of War, was in Tempe this July to film a lecture for her first semester teaching online at Arizona State University. Maan is an internationally-recognized security and defense analysist and narrative strategist. In 1999, she published her breakthrough theory of Internarrative Identity. Then in 2014 Maan published, Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, which focuses on deconstructing dominant and coercive narratives and demonstrates how certain narrative structures lend themselves to manipulation and how the weaknesses of those structures can be exploited. Most recently, in 2017, she coined the term “Narrative Warfare” to refine what has been referred to as information wars and psychological warfare

The Coronavirus Disinformation System: Useful links

Russian pro-Kremlin media have mounted a “significant disinformation campaign” to aggravate the coronavirus pandemic crisis in western countries by destroying confidence in the emergency response, according to an internal EU report. 

The effort aims to stoke “confusion, panic and fear” and stop people obtaining good information about the contagion, as part of a broader strategy to “subvert European societies from within”, the European diplomatic service analysis says… Read more

https://www.ft.com/content/d65736da-684e-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3

EEAS SPECIAL REPORT: Disinformation on the CORONAVIRUS – Sort Assessment of the information environment

The Coronavirus Disinformation System: How It Works

Fighting disinformation fighting facts from fiction

https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response/fighting-disinformation_en

Stemming the Tide of Global Disinformation

Council on Foreign Relations

Panellists discuss the extent of disinformation, its impact on democracy, and what can be done to prevent, mitigate, and stop its spread.

Although the panellists discuss threats against American democracy it is important to stress all democratic nations continue to be bombarded with disinformation from state and non-state players and disinformation is a serious global issue.

Speakers

Paul M. Barrett

Deputy Director, Center for Business and Human Rights, NYU Stern School of Business; Adjunct Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

Amanda Bennett

Director, Voice of America

Richard Stengel

Former Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Author, Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation, and What We Can Do About It.

Presider

Nicholas Thompson, Editor in Chief, Wired Magazine

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) promotes itself as:  “an independent, nonpartisan membership organisation, think tank, and publisher.”

Disinformation (Operation InfeKtion): How Russia Perfected the Art of War | NYT Opinion

“Russia’s meddling in the United States’ elections is not a hoax. It’s the culmination of  Moscow’s decades-long campaign to tear the West apart. “Operation InfeKtion” reveals the ways in which one of the Soviets’ central tactics — the promulgation of lies about America — continues today, from Pizzagate to George Soros conspiracies. Meet the KGB spies who conceived this virus and the American truth squads who tried — and are still trying — to fight it. Countries from Pakistan to Brazil are now debating reality, and in Vladimir Putin’s greatest triumph, Americans are using Russia’s playbook against one another without the faintest clue.” (The New York Times)

Russia and Information Warfare: Aims, Tools and Implications for the West

Video produced in 2017 but still relevant for today’s information landscape.

An interview with Keir Giles, Director, Conflict Studies Research Centre; Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House.

  • How can the West counter Russia’s cyber and psychological operations? 
  • Can we talk about a “militarization” of information in Russia?

Recommended readings- non-kinetic warfare

This page provides a brief description by authors and links  to their books, academic papers and articles on non-kinetic warfare and is updated each month.

Books

Narrative Warfare, a Primer and Study guide

Narrative Warfare, a primer and study guide, is literally, a first of a kind and ground-breaking in its intent. The intent of this book is to give national security professionals and other interested parties a baseline understanding of narrative and its principles regarding the potential for predictably triggering behaviour. If we are to succeed on the battlefield of influence, understanding narrative is an imperative…   See more https://medium.com/@paulcobaugh/narrative-warfare-a-primer-and-study-guide-6ccae8d34397

Plato’s Fear Paperback – March 12, 2020

by Ajit Maan Ph.D.

Powerful narratives don’t simply target an audience; they create the target audience. The identity component of narrative is missing from assumptions that narrative is just a mode of communication. Narrative is the most fundamental tool of power. It is the means through which power gets institutionalized. Narratives are told to someone’s advantage and very powerful narratives may even preclude the telling of any alternative. But it is also a means by which power can be exposed, questioned, under-mined, and made to answer for itself…

Ajit Maan, Ph.D. is a security and defence policy analyst and a specialist in narrative strategies in radicalization processes. She is faculty at Union Institute and University’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program, George Mason University’s Centre for Narrative Conflict Resolution, and is member of The Brain Trust of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative at Arizona State University.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085RVQ4DK?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

Soft Power on Hard Problems

This book is a practice in military civics. This collection of international perspectives challenges commonly held assumptions and outmoded paradigms of engagement. The authors share the view that the over-reliance on kinetic approaches over influence operations account for some of the failures of nations against extremists…

Information Warfare: The Lost Tradecraft Kindle Edition

by Howard Gambrill Clark (Author)

Dr. Howard Gambrill Clark, Ph.D. is a Yale graduate with twenty years of experience and research in countering violent extremism and counterterrorism: U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer and special unit commander (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Philippines); White House National Economic Council counterterrorism analyst; Department of Homeland Security Senior Intelligence Officer for Headquarters Operations Directorate and Senior Intelligence Analyst for Counter Radicalization; and Special Operations Command senior consultant and trainer for countering violent extremism and stability operations as well as service to the U.S. Information Agency and U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He received his doctorate from King’s College London War Studies.

Articles and papers available on the internet

PERSPECTIVE: Anatomy of Narrative Warfare and Social Media Ops Since the Last Election

October 30, 2018  Paul Cobaugh (Published by Homeland Security Today)

What follows is some basic perspective about where and how this type of analysis fits into the national security landscape. Of note, I will say that the topic is complex, to say the least. A great deal of scrutiny regarding the findings of this excellent piece of work is not only due but required for national security professionals in addition to well-informed citizens from other walks of life. Protecting the nation from malign influence is not exclusively the role of professionals but also the responsibility of citizenship. In terms of protecting the homeland, this study does, though, provide some of the best large-scale insights for national security professionals to date…

Mr. Paul Cobaugh retired from the US Army as a Warrant Officer after a distinguished career in the US Special Operations CT community, primarily focused on mitigating adversarial influence and advancing US objectives by way of influence. Throughout his career he has focused on the centrality of influence in modern conflict whether it be from extremist organisations or state actors employing influence against the US and our Allies. Post military career he was offered and accepted the position of Vice President at Narrative Strategies, a US based Think-Do Tank which specializes in the non-kinetic aspects of conflict. He has also co-authored, Soft Power on Hard Problems, Hamilton Publishing, 2017 and Introduction to Narrative Warfare: A Primer and Study Guide, Amazon, 2018

Narrative Warfare by Paul Cobaugh published 21 January 2019

Narrative Warfare, continues to come into prominence in the wake of modern Russian Active Measures styled warfare against her adversaries, both real and perceived…

More information on these and other subject matter experts working in the field of narrative warfare can be found at https://www.narrative-strategies.com/

Information Warfare: Defining and analysing/History as a means to win the information battle

Information Warfare Defining and Analysing – CyCon 2019

The 11th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon 2019) organized by NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn revolved around the theme of Silent Battle. The defence community is nearing a stage where it can precisely define information warfare but is yet to reach a consensus on how best to analyse it. 

The panel entitled ´Information Warfare: defining and analyzing´ will assess some of the emerging methodologies that researchers have been using to identify and analyse digital information operations, with a special focus on the applicability of Social Network Analysis (SNA) in the cyber arena. Speakers and Topics: – Social Network Analysis and the Disinformation Kill Chain by Renee DiResta, Mozilla Fellow, Media Misinformation and Trust – Challenges and Opportunities to Counter Information Operations Through Social Network Analysis and Theory by Alicia Marie Bargar, Research Engineer, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory – Hostile Information Environment Analysis by MAJ Geoff Nicholls, Officer, The British Army Moderator: Donara Barojan, DFR Lab / NATO StratCom COE The NATO CCDCOE is a NATO-accredited cyber defence hub focusing on research, training and exercises. 

The international military organisation based in Estonia is a community of currently 25 nations providing a 360-degree look at cyber defence, with expertise in the areas of technology, strategy, operations and law. **Note that some CyCon 2019 presentations were submitted and created in a personal capacity and are not necessarily affiliated with, nor representative of, the views of the speakers’ respective organisations**

Understanding History as means to win Information Warfare Battle: Aleksandras Matonis at TEDxVilnius

Aleksandras Matonis is diplomat, journalist and editor at Lithuanian National Radio and Television. 

Aleksandras believes that country’s history – the way it is perceived by different nations – is a strong tool for creating national identity. Aleksandras is creator of recently released educational movie about the Battle of Grunwald – movie based on Swedish professor Sven Ekdahl theory which he wrote after studying secret historic archives for the past few decades.

 He claims that the facts we are used to hear about this battle are not the ones that are scientifically proved. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Psychological Manipulation via Social Media and the concept of self-identity (first published 2016)

Editorial: Although first published in 2016 I feel the following is still relevant irrespective of whether we are examining state or non-state players using information within the cognitive domain to influence and change behaviour among a target audience.

Although I started researching this subject 11-years ago and the research continues, after recently reading an excellent paper on ‘The Psychology Behind Social Media Interactions’, By Dr Liraz Margalt, who is now one of my LI connections, I decided to write this brief introduction to manipulation based on my own observations of the ‘virtual world’. Many of these observations support several theories put forward by various academics studying both the ‘real’ and ‘virtual world’.

During her examination of the question, ‘why is digital communications often easier than face to face communications’; after reading her views on the social interaction theory of mind and emotional involvement, I found the following of particular interest as it fits my own research observations. “When interacting with other people”, she writes, “we automatically make inferences about them without being consciously aware of it…”.  Liraz, further explains that during face-to-face interactions we subconsciously rely heavily on non-verbal communications such as facial expressions etc. This, as she says, suggests that interaction with human partners require more emotional involvement and thus more cognitive effort than interacting via a computer.

Due to this lack of ‘synchronous’ interaction (subconscious exchanges of non-verbal communications, speech structure; the use of oblique remarks etc.)  I agree with her assertion- it is easier to hide our emotions online.  Based my own observations, I have also come to the conclusion it is also easier to psychologically manipulate or be manipulated in the ‘virtual’ world due to the lack of these behavioral cues we subconsciously detect and process during face-to-face interactions. 

Contagion and Uncritical Thinkers

Fiske (2013) and others have shown that emotional states can be transferred to others by what they describe as emotional contagion which lead others to experience the same emotions without their awareness.  This ‘contagion’ may lead to the mind creating a view of the world by acquiring insights and an amalgam of rational and irrational beliefs (see Paul and Elder). This is similar to the contagion theory of crowds. One of several interpretations of this theory includes- the effect of a crowd is to assimilate individuals within it, producing and overriding psychological unity and changing an individuals’ usual psychological responses in the process (Statt. D, A Dictionary of Human Behavior, Harper Reference)

This process may contain a degree of self-deception which has been deliberately imparted, identified or exploited by an extremist groomer/recruiter who has used the lack of cognitive cues within the virtual world to his/her advantage.     

Although there are multiple drivers leading to violent extremism (VE) which are usually mutually reinforcing, one concept of particular interest is people who are described as ‘uncritical thinkers’, which Elder describes as ‘intellectually unskilled thinkers’. Some academics have also used the term ‘unreflective thinkers’.  People who fit this category, according to Elder- their minds are products of social and personal forces they neither understand and can’t control.  Taking Elder’s argument forward, by observing social media networks we see these ‘uncritical thinkers’ being manipulated by those who tend to skilfully use the rhetoric of persuasion. The rhetoric of persuasion used by extremist groomers and recruiters include oversimplification, sweeping generalizations and the use of stereotypes to enforce prejudices and false quandaries in an attempt to promote a culture of blame and the need for retribution. Over time, the groomer will identify those more likely to accept, without question, the narratives associated with VE and with it the ideology.  This ‘induction’ is the prerequisite for believing in a shared identity which embraces violent ‘jihad’. (see focal actors – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/basic-analysis-social-media-examining-use-drivers-alan-malcher-ma?trk=pulse_spock-articles)

Identity and Selective self-presentation

Identity is a construct that incorporates the way we think about ourselves and our role/position within the larger social environment. As cyberspace and VE ideology is a global phenomenon, both can have a powerful effect on ones view of the world and ‘perceived’ grievances. 

Although online identities may be difficult to ascertained due to identity cues being masked or purposely misrepresented, by careful observations and comparisons, online activities and their visible traces may be analysed. If we take LinkedIn as an example, many members who have confronted Russian trolls have identified the use of Selective Self-Presentation to reveal a number of false profiles held by one person. The term ‘selective’  is used to describe a false profile which has been selected for a given purpose. For instance, in the case of Russian propagandists some may claim to be involved in international affairs in the hope of encouraging greater credibility to their comments and other internet activities. Likewise, it is not uncommon for those with a terrorist agenda to claim they are professionally involved in ‘positive’ occupations such as human rights, humanitarian aid etc.

 Asynchronous

In the ‘real world’ human interaction and communications are of a synchronous nature- non-verbal communications, eye contact, speech tones etc., and this is a two- way process giving further meaning and substance to the conversation.

CMC (computer-mediated communications) is of an asynchronous nature and thus void of any meaningful communications and identity cues. This time delay allows sufficient time to carefully compose messages tailored to meet the needs and also appeal to the subject/s being manipulated by the focal actor (extremist groomer/recruiter).  For example, in an earlier thread a young person may have mentioned concerns regarding their home life, problems at schools or concerns regarding their employment situation. Although the focal actor may have no personal experience of these problems the natural time delay in responding provides opportunities to use the Internet to read-up on these concerns. They are now in a position to offer ‘disguised’ advice and support. Showing empathy and creating rapport are among the methods used during the induction phase.   

The above represents just some of the methods used to encourage belief in a common or collective identity which is the foundation of VE ideology. 

Reference and further reading:

The Psychology behind social media interpretation, Liraz margalt, Psychology Today, 29 August 2014.

 A Psychological Perspective on virtual communities: Supporting terrorism and extremist’s ideology, Lorraine Bowman-Grievet, Security Informatics, 2013, (2:9)

Primer of Deception, Joseph W. Caddel, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2004

Lying Words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles, Matthew Newman, James W. Penneboke, University of Texas and University of Washington, 2003.

Induced negative subliminal reactions to radical media: Countering recruiting methods in a congested media environment, Small Wars Journal, 7 August 2016.

 Manipulation through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, Susan T. Fiske, Academy of Sciences, Princetown University, 23 October 2013.

Fallacies: The art of mental trickery and manipulation, Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Foundation of Critical Thinking 2004 (Understanding self-deception)

Future Identities: Changing Identities in the UK- the next ten-years, Social Media and identity, Nicole Ellison, Michigan State University 3 January 2013. 
For current research and recent publications go to https://www.narrative-strategies.com/