Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Information is the New Battlefield

We're interested in information... And we believe that the whole battlefield (if there is one in the human situation) is about information. We don't think that politicians or arms have any real power, we think that's just a facade. We think the real power lies with who controls the information... - Throbbing Gristle

There is no such thing as bad information. Any piece of information can tell you something, provided that you can pose the appropriate question that the information answers. Generally the best question to ask concerns the source and his or her or its motives. There is some circularity in this, but motives can be gauged by the nature of the information that is put out... Does it always come with a particular "spin"? The veracity bar on the referent of a piece of information is likely much lower if it reinforces the ideological structure of the teller than if it threatens it. If some piece of information does threaten, then one should expect some accompanying ideological readjustment. Ideological structure comes in varying degrees of rigidity: the greater the rigidity, the more information will be rejected or arranged in conformity to it; the less rigid, the more adjustable the structure will be. Generally, reinforcing information will say more about the source - the vehicle - of the information than it does of its "currency". More often than not, a source wearing ideological bias on their sleeve will simply refrain from conveying a non-reinforcing piece of information, and forgo the vetting of reinforcing information. Such ideologically rigid "low-pass filters" then offer themselves up as unwitting vehicles for passing disinformation. These in turn can shape the ideologically less rigid who are more "open" to new and challenging "facts" and "ideas". In evaluating a piece of information, then, one should focus on establishing its provenance: its originating source and the position it subsequently occupies within varying ideological structures.

Not every passer of information readily discloses their ideological motives, however. They may even dissemble their motives... A case in point is found in some of the proposals for infiltrating the "infosphere" through blogs in a 2006 JSOU report by James Kinniburgh and Dorothy Denning, as posted on Cryptome:

Blogs and Military Information Strategy

In order to select or design a useful blog for conducting IO [information operations], developing measures of the blog’s ability to reach and activate the conventional, middle and micro layers of the entire infosphere, as well as the development of a method for measuring the change in attitudes, thinking, beliefs and ultimately actions that are directly attributable to the blog, is critical in order to fine tune military efforts. Selecting or creating a likely candidate blog is the first step, since the hard measure of effectiveness must necessarily come after an operation. -Pg. 17

Segmentary opposition and its gentler cousin, in-group/out-group dynamics, may prevent a foreign audience from taking an overtly U.S. government-run or sponsored blog seriously... In this regard, information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence already within the target nation, group, or community to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital... An alternative strategy is to “make” a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect. -Pg. 20

There are certain to be cases where some blog, outside the control of the U.S. government, promotes a message that is antithetical to U.S. interests, or actively supports the informational, recruiting and logistical activities of our enemies. The initial reaction may be to take down the site, but this is problematic in that doing so does not guarantee that the site will remain down. As has been the case with many such sites, the offending site will likely move to a different host server, often in a third country. Moreover, such action will likely produce even more interest in the site and its contents. Also, taking down a site that is known to pass enemy EEIs (essential elements of information) and that gives us their key messages denies us a valuable information source. This is not to say that once the information passed becomes redundant or is superseded by a better source that the site should be taken down. At that point the enemy blog might be used covertly as a vehicle for friendly information operations. Hacking the site and subtly changing the messages and data—merely a few words or phrases—may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger’s credibility with the audience. -Pg. 21

There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media, on all three layers, in support of military deception activities... In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and nonattribution, as well as employing a well-thought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure. Because of the potential blowback effect, information strategy should avoid planting false information as much as possible. -Pg. 22

Now the caveat:

This brings us to an even more fundamental issue. Because the U.S. military is prohibited from conducting information operations against U.S. persons, it is reluctant to engage in Internet IO operations that might be characterized as PSYOP or deception. Once information is on the Internet, it can reach anyone, including those in the U.S. Thus, while the military offers factual news on the Internet through Public Affairs, it generally stays away from commentary and IO. -ibid.

And the end-run:

Some of the possible techniques we have explored in our discussion of the military use of blogging require a certain degree of subtlety, finesse, and yes, covert action. By giving military blog-based operations to the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, these uses become less risky and more feasible. -Pg. 27

While these recommendations are directed primarily towards blog-making, certainly it must have occurred to the authors (or at least to certain of their readers) that other kinds of sites on the Internet might be similarly utilized or created. For instance, data-cache sites like Cryptome (which had been around for well over a decade) and WikiLeaks (which was just beginning in the year of this JSOU paper) would be likely places to deploy tactically shaped information. Unlike the average ax-grinding blogger, John Young and Julian Assange (founders of Cryptome and WikiLeaks repectively) simply embrace the mission of information emancipation regardless of whatever ideological framework such liberated information may help or hurt. Assange does state that he is on a mission of hurting unjust governments, corporations and institutions, but we can say that WikiLeaks appears to be somewhat ideologically neutral in that, to take a couple of examples, the IPCC email leaks were embraced by the right (and other anthropogenic global warming skeptics) while the Collateral Murder video leak was embraced by the anti-war left (but the recent Afghan War Diary leak can lend itself both to the left and right).

As ideologically neutral venues and, more importantly, as source protecting venues, WikiLeaks and Cryptome thus offer themselves as fertile information battlefields for the dissembler. John Young acknowledges this, but Assange gives the dubious assurance that WikiLeaks thoroughly vets its documents, with the exception of its most recent leak, which was forwarded to The Gaurdian, N.Y.Times, und Der Spiegel for vetting...

Questions about the provenance of the Afghan War Diary have been raised - not in the mainstream media, which, across the board, has uncharacteristically been the primary purveyor of this leak, touted as the "Pentagon Papers" of our time - but in the independent media. In interviews with Alex Jones, John Young states that these documents are not digitally authenticated, while Wayne Madsen and Webster Tarply suggest that the leak my be planted in order to garner support for expanding the war into Pakistan and even to Iran. On the other hand, we have pondered whether the leak may have been planted by the Obama administration itself in order to generate a public groundswell of anti-war sentiment in order to give Obama a way out of this inherited quagmire.

Next: Part 2

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