Several operations launched by Russia during the 2016 elections now have been uncovered. While there is still no evidence that Russia affected the outcome of the election, the targets and nature of its operations tie into some of the deeper forms of ideological subversion at play in the United States.
The Russian government was promoting groups in the United States on both the “far left” and the “far right,” with the deeper intention of driving a wedge through American society and of further expanding perceptions of racism and conflict.
Yet Russia is just one of many players in this field. Several other groups, including special interests, political activists, and even major news outlets, have fed the machine of false perceptions that creates a picture of constant chaos and instability in society.
The goal of chaos is to tear society down, to break social harmony, and to drive people against each other. From a state of chaos, new policies can be created, power can change hands, and various groups with extreme agendas can use these tools to advance their ambitions.
To understand this concept, I’ve continued my discussion with James Scott started in the June 26 story on the nature of influence operations and psychological warfare. Scott is a cybersecurity and information warfare expert who has advised congress and the intelligence community on this topic and helped build the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology’s Center for Cyber Influence Operations Studies.
Scott says that for current operations being run in the United States, “chaos is the op.”
The Russian influence operations that have been uncovered were merely the continuation of similar programs going back to Russia’s Soviet era, when the Soviet Union was trying to spread the “communist revolution.”
During the Cold War and the nuclear standoff, the Soviets understood that direct warfare was not feasible, and so they turned to ideological subversion—tactics meant to demoralize a society and lead it into instability, then open conflict, then “normalization” of invasion or civil war.
According to Scott, this is the “Russian maskirovka”—military deception—and in its current form, the tactics being used by Russia and other groups have outgrown even what existed in the days of the Soviet Union.
“They’ve learned a lot from us as far as the color revolution component of a coup d’état,” Scott said. “We have a problem here of Russia trying to do this, [and] China [and the] Muslim Brotherhood, as part of their cyber-caliphate, and then we have malicious insider threats in the form of special interest groups who have an interest in stirring chaos.”
The “color revolution” model ties to the tactics of billionaire and Democrat financier George Soros. The model uses an “above” strategy and a “below” strategy. For the “below” part, financial support is given to radical organizations to protest and advocate for change, and for the “above” part, politicians linked to the system use that manufactured dissent to propose new policies.
“[Talking] about the color revolution, if you look for the color purple and you see who’s wearing it, what’s being announced, what’s the venue, you’ll see that there truly is an attempt at a purple revolution in this country,” Scott said.
This also pulls from communist “united front” tactics, designed to unite advocacy movements, student organizations, front companies, and controlled politicians under a single banner. Oftentimes, only the leaders of the organizations need to be aware of the broader strategy, while the rest are what Lenin described as “useful idiots” who unknowingly assist in the greater objectives.
Of course, the current problems in society cannot be viewed by conventional perceptions of “right” and “left,” or of Democrat and Republican. On the other side are manufactured inflation and debt economies, foreign subversion, and Edward Bernays’s propaganda tactics to feed what Scott described as “consumer fetishism.”
On top of this, Scott noted that in the digital age, “we have a problem now with dragnet surveillance capitalists.” Online companies that can curate what information we are shown and collect data on our online activities have themselves begun engaging in various forms of propaganda and censorship, forming what Scott called “a corporate nation-state censorship collective.”
Many of these movements work independently but have also learned from each other’s methods and tactics. Many activists and “community organizers” pull their methods from the book “Rules for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky, which likewise mirror the subversion and deception tactics of communist systems.
Others pull from the cultural Marxist tactics of the Frankfurt School, which introduced subversive concepts such as “critical theory” that redefines history through the lens of Marxism, and that has become the basis of many radical social movements.
Some tactics are also operated on a nation-state level. Russia is among the better known to do this, but Iran and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are also extremely active on this front.
The CCP’s People’s Liberation Army, for example, has its “Three Warfares” doctrine, based on the strategies of psychological warfare (to alter how information is perceived), media warfare (to control media narratives), and legal warfare (to manipulate international legal systems). Two Chinese colonels published the book “Unrestricted Warfare,” which outlines a system of war without morals, and which uses many nonmilitary tactics, including “culture warfare,” “drug warfare,” “economic aid warfare,” and others.
According to Scott, one of the deeper propaganda tactics at play is the use of “memetics.” The concept of memetics looks at how ideas are introduced into a society, how those ideas develop over time, and how they eventually impact a culture. Various groups are looking to weaponize memetics.
“Anything that is meaningful can also be weaponized,” Scott said. “The ‘meme’ is the embryo stage of information. It’s a micro-packet of information that’s distributed, and this is weaponized. It’s a potent ingredient in influence operations, information warfare, digitized psychological warfare. We’re seeing a lot of potency in this space.”
Scott said that in his own work at the Center for Cyber-Influence Operations Studies, “we teach the Intelligence Community how to use it to spread democracy, how to use it to gain influence abroad without having to lift a gun.”
Given how things are developing, and the bigger picture of the state of the world today, he said, “I think the mind is the new warspace.”