Monday, February 4, 2019

Russian Disinformation - How Effective Is It?

While the United States focusses on the Russian electoral interference narrative, a publication by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) entitled "Chaos As A Strategy: Putin's Promethean Gamble" provides us with an interesting analysis of the techniques that Russia may have used to spread disinformation and chaos across the Western world and whether or not these techniques were effective. 

The paper begins by noting that there are several reasons why Russia is seeking to create global chaos:

1.) Russia is in a power competition with Europe and the United States.

2.) To compensate for Russia's long-term internal decline, it is willing to take risks to balance its relative weakness against the West's relative strengths.

3.) Russia is using a strategy that offsets its own internal weaknesses by using a strategy in which the side that copes best with disorder is the winner.

4.) Russia is seeding chaos in the West by asymmetrical means including disinformation and political warfare.

According to the authors, the Kremlin has a number of disinformation techniques that it can use to spread disinformation:

1.) Ping pong - the co-ordinated use of complementary websites to springboard a news story into the mainstream media.

2.) Misleading Title - while the facts or statements in a news story are accurate, the title of the story is misleading.

3.) No Proof - the facts in a news story are not backed up with proof or accurate sources.

4.) Wolf Cries Wolf - an individual or organization is vilified for something that Russia also does.

5.) Card-Stacking - the facts or statements in a news story are partially true - the information is generally correct however key facts are omitted in an attempt to guide audiences to a false conclusion.

6.) False Fact - the facts or statements in a news story are completely false.

7.) False Visuals - fake or manipulated visual material accompanies a false fact or narrative to lend it extra credibility.

8.) Denying Facts - the real facts in a story are denied, undermined or reinterpreted to establish doubt regarding the validity of a story or narrative.

9.) Exaggeration and over-generalization.

10.) Changing a quotation, source or context of a news story to change its meaning or importance.

11.) Loaded Words or Metaphors - using expressions to support a fake or distract from a true  narrative (i.e. "mysterious death" rather than "murder" or "poisoning")

12.) Narrative Laundering - concealing the provenance of a source or claim or imitating the format used by the mainstream media (i.e. the use of guest scholars or experts).

13.) Presenting Opinions As Facts (and vice versa).

14.) Use of Conspiracy Theories.

15.) Use of False Dilemmas - forcing audiences to choose between two options.

16.) Drown Facts With Emotions - present news stories in a fashion that causes facts to become less important.

The authors suggest that there are several other methods that Russia is using to spread disinformation, however, these are generally variations of the methods that I have listed.  

The authors note that Russia's authoritarian media (i.e. RT, Sputnik etcetera) have some clear advantages when it comes to creating chaos.  Here is a quote:

"The Russian practice of information warfare combines a number of tried and tested tools of influence with a new embrace of modern technology. Some underlying objectives, guiding principles, and state activity are broadly recognizable as reinvigorated aspects of subversion campaigns dating back to the Cold War era (and earlier). But Russia also has invested extensively in updating the principles of subversion...

It should be emphasized that Russian disinformation operations visible to English-language audiences are only part of a broader front covering multiple languages. These include not only state-backed media and trolling, but also “false flag” media—sock puppet websites set up to resemble genuine news outlets. These seed news feeds with false or contentious reporting that ties in with Russian narratives. This false flag approach extends in different directions, with RT determinedly masquerading as a broadcaster or cloning accounts on social media in order to mimic and discredit genuine Western media outlets.  The Kremlin also relies on conferences, cultural activities (concerts and other events), video products (documentaries, art films, cartoons, video games, NGOs, individual speakers, opinion leaders, think tanks, and academia). The level of creativity deployed to undermine the West is certainly impressive."

With that background, let's look at exactly who the Center for European Policy Analysis is and how they are backed.  Here is their mission:

"The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, non-partisan, public policy research institute. Our mission is to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure, and politically free Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States. Our analytical team consists of the world’s leading experts on Central-East Europe, Russia, and its neighbors. Through cutting-edge research, analysis, and programs we provide fresh insight on energy, security and defense to government officials and agencies; we help transatlantic businesses navigate changing strategic landscapes; and we build networks of future Atlanticist leaders."

Most importantly, here are CEPA's financial backers:

You'll note the close links between CEPA, United States defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, Textron and the United States Departments of State and Defense.   Obviously, CEPA has an agenda that is driven by its military-industrial-government stakeholders.

With that knowledge of CEPA, let's look at what the authors of the report had to say about Russia's interference in American politics during 2016 and the weakness/ineffectiveness of its disinformation campaigns:

1.) Weakness 1 - "A first weakness of disinformation is that the Kremlin’s information campaigns can have unintended consequences inside countries that it is targeting.  While the authors do not believe that Kremlin interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election altered the final result in any way, the ensuing investigations, hearings, media, and public attention to this attack have placed Russian malign influence operations under unprecedented scrutiny. It is now harder for Russia to fly below the radar with disinformation operations. Its bot networks are easier to identify. Its trolls are easier to ignore. And social media companies are taking unprecedented steps to shut down both. Moreover, Russian observers have noted an increase in the appeal of “anti-Russian” political positions by leaders.  This is what blowback looks like."

2.) Weakness 2 - "A second weakness of disinformation is that it becomes inherently more escalatory with time. Subversive moves that are initially surreptitious become more recognizable with use. Since it is ultimately a part of war, it is hard to know when a disinformation campaign is a prelude to more kinetic operations. The preparations and counter-moves that it prompts on the part of a target can trigger tests of strength, the avoidance of which was the starting aim of the strategy. Although Putin has escalated crises in order to escape them, he appears unwilling or politically unable to deescalate in a way that would not look like defeat.

3.) Weakness 3 - "A third weakness of disinformation operations is that they are hard to measure precisely— and their actual impact may be exaggerated."

It is interesting to see that, despite the numerous methods of Russian disinformation propagation that the authors present in this paper, they believe that the impact of the Russian propaganda/disinformation has been relatively minor, having no impact on the final result of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.  That said, CEPA still stands behind its anti-Russia narrative, much of which is driven by its financial backers who have a vested interest in ensuring that Washington remains on a war-footing.  In addition, it's certainly a good thing that the Western media would never dirty itself with any of the disinformation techniques used by the Russians, isn't it?

I would like to close this posting with this quote:

"To prevent war and insure our survival in a stable world, it is essential that we look abroad through our own American eyes and not through the eyes of...the anti-Russian press.

We must not let our Russian policy be guided or influenced by those inside or outside the United States who want war with Russia.

The real peace treaty we now need is between the United States and Russia. On our part, we should recognize that we have no more business in the political affairs of eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, western Europe, and the United States.  We may not like what Russia does in eastern Europe. Her type of land reform, industrial expropriation, and suppression of basic liberties offends the great majority of the people of the United States.

But whether we like it or not the Russians will try to socialize their sphere of influence just as we try to democratize our sphere of influence.  If we can overcome the imperialistic urge in the Western world, I’m convinced there’ll be no war." (my bolds)

Henry A Wallace - 33rd Vice President of the United States

The Way to Peace - September 12, 1946.

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