Belmont Club

Never outsmarted but always fooled

There seems to be nothing the Kremlin “fake news” merchants can’t accomplish.  The Russians are now being credited with causing the breakup of Spain. “Russian propagandists scored a victory in Spain this weekend after “boldly injecting fake news and disinformation” into the debate over Catalonian independence and seemingly influencing the election results, according to U.S. information warfare experts.” Each time the technique is the same: divide and conquer.

U.S. information warfare expert Molly K. McKew told The Washington Times. “It’s the constant drumbeat; minorities are disadvantaged, the West has nothing to offer, democracy doesn’t work.”

On Capitol Hill, multiple congressional probes currently investigating the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have zeroed in on a similar pattern of Kremlin-backed propaganda seemingly amplifying divisive social issues across Facebook and Twitter last year.

Experts say the Kremlin has perfected not promoting a single candidate but instead finding divisive social issues including race, gun control, religion or gay rights to amplify. Eastern European, or Russian, troll farms and robotic accounts then use algorithms to make “emotional hot-button topics” trend across a country’s Internet space.

Jonathan Capehart, writing in the Washington Post wryly describes “how we got played by the Russians on Facebook”. How? They simply amplified the media’s own biases until they created a kind of self sustaining feedback loop. The WaPo article gives an example of Putin’s technique:

Among the more than 3,000 Facebook ads handed over to Congress was one that “featured photographs of an armed black woman ‘dry firing’ a rifle — pulling the trigger of the weapon without a bullet in the chamber, according to people familiar with the investigation.

“Investigators believe the advertisement may have been designed to encourage African American militancy and, at the same time, to stoke fears within white communities, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe,” the story goes on to note. “But the precise purpose of the ad remains unclear to investigators, the people said.”

How do the Russians achieve results so disproportionate with their meager means?  By taking over the host.  What makes “fake news” so difficult to counter is its memes are nearly indistinguishable from “real news”, which it can readily hijack.  Perhaps the only way to tell them apart is real McCoy is usually more absurd and as inflammatory as the Kremlin counterfeit.  Some recent “real news” headlines include:

  1. Black Lives Matter Students Shut Down the ACLU’s Campus Free Speech Event Because ‘Liberalism Is White Supremacy’
  2. Myanmar beauty queen is stripped of her title after accusing Rohingya Muslims of a ‘caliphate-style movement’
  3. Britain to limit acid sales after steep rise in assaults
  4. Brussels defends use of ‘proportionate force’ in Catalonia

You can’t make this stuff up.  Or maybe you can.

With the real news now more astonishing than fiction — in fact there is the suspicion real news sometimes is fiction — propaganda can easily personate facts and one can pass as the other.  To make matters worse David Maxwell in the Small Wars Journal argues that a public uncritically reliant on “vast social networks” gets its opinions from the thundering herd.  They are now far too dependent on spoon fed memes to think for themselves allowing the Kremlin or anyone else to lead them by the nose with ease.

This perhaps was what the architects of the Narrative intended.  What they failed to realize was that Putin could grab away the reins they intended to hold.  How can we recover?

Maxwell believes the main challenge of the 21st century Western societies is to rediscover the existence of their actual neighbors and take back their brains. They need to get their nose out of their cellphones and think for themselves.  Do all the things in other words that previous knuckle dragging generations did as a matter of course.

That apparently simple task may take some doing.  As the Guardian points an increasing number of Westerners no longer know how to wash dishes by hand. Among the skills now being lost are the ability to replace fuses, change tires, sew on buttons and unscrew lightbulbs.

The great weakness of Western collectivism was a fatal reliance on the Only Adults in the Room.  But the badged politicians, and talking heads on TV turned out not to be so smart after all. Their challenge is to face the challenge Russian disinformation without admitting the media parade was led by clowns.

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Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, by Fred Charles Ikle. In this eloquent and impassioned book, defense expert Fred Iklé predicts a revolution in national security that few strategists have grasped; fewer still are mindful of its historic roots. We are preoccupied with suicide bombers, jihadist terrorists, and rogue nations producing nuclear weapons, but these menaces are merely distant thunder that foretells the gathering storm.

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by Gregory A. Freeman. This book is an account of Operation Halyard, the OSS mission to recover more than 500 American airmen shot down and trapped behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. While local Serbian peasants gave refuge to the soldiers while they waited for rescue, once the operation started, the risks were incredible. The starving Americans had to construct a landing strip large enough for C-47 cargo planes — without tools, without alerting the Germans, and without endangering the villagers. And the cargo planes had to make it through enemy airspace and back — without getting shot down themselves.

Tank: The Definitive Visual History of Armored Vehicles, by DK. A visual history of armored vehicles, from the early tanks of World War I to present-day models, created in association with the Smithsonian Institution. It combines comprehensive photographic spreads with in-depth histories of key manufacturers and specially commissioned visual tours of the most iconic examples of their groundbreaking firepower. With two exclusive prints of a 1940 M3A1 (Stuart) and a 1940 StuG III.

Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world’s leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, from David’s use of deception against Goliath, to the modern use of game theory in economics; from the surprisingly advanced strategy practiced in primate groups, to those of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, the great military innovations of Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, the insights into corporate strategy by Peter Drucker and Alfred Sloan, and the work of leading social scientists working on strategy today. He tackles the core issue at the heart of strategy – whether it is possible to manipulate and shape our environment rather than simply become the victim of forces beyond one’s control – and emerges with a picture of strategy through time – and inherently unpredictable circumstances – that is fluid and flexible.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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