When an agent micro-targets weaponized information to engineer a social behavior, this agent has officially discharged the first round in a cyberwar. This will be a long war, perhaps the longest and largest war ever experienced by our species since it will affect every human being. It will be unlike any other war, the fallen not a count of flags but the degradation of our values and the perceivable fading of our national identity. The heroes of this war will not be those dragging wounded warriors off the line of fire but those who take a stand for the rule of law, who defy defamation and slander to uphold the constitution, who risk their careers and sacrifice their political ambitions to mend the broken fabric of our country.
“Without firing a single bullet”: this is the core goal of a friend of mine, an ex-member of a IDF cyberunit, explaining the cyberwarfare the IDF is executing in Syria. The mission, he said, is to prevent high-risk individuals from becoming extremist and terrorists. By micro-targeting this pool of individuals through social media and other methods they were able to stop terrorist attacks and save lives without overt military action.
It is of extreme importance to interiorize and acknowledge the grandiosity that this purposely and artificially manufactured human behavior has in regards of who we are as people. The definition of nation that most of us are familiar with: a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language. It is based on our personal ancestry, the history we share, and our cultural experience being taught through a common language that all of us develop a sense of patriotism, ethical behavior and even the way we relate to one another. It is in the very essence of who we are. It is what makes us who we are and the fact that generation after generation have been working to perfect our union by moving forward and extending the creeds of equality before the law, and the pursuit of happiness and liberty. Without these common elements, we are not a cohesive nation but a large group of people inhabiting a particular country or territory.
The pervasiveness of this set of beliefs does not require for all of us, at this particular moment, to stop completely believing that democracy requires a fair field to bloom but suffices for some to justify that if “he had to cheat to get there, I am ok with it”. This “some” no longer share an uncontroversial and pivotal thread in the tapestry of democracy but have subverted it to accommodate a transitive political position. By doing so they have degenerated that very idea for their descendant, who in turn will teach this perverted version of democracy to their own descendants in aeternum. For a clearer example, take the word “Patriotism.” Has it ever been more unclear who is a patriot? The muddy lens we use now to see who qualifies as a patriot and who doesn’t, based on our narrow set of requirements, is not an isolated event to be experienced through the vacuum of our own thoughts but a demonstrable signal that we can grow to distrust, in just a matter of a few years, those who we are raised to lock arms with. One does not have to stop upholding his or her own principles, which may never change, but what it is manipulable and changeable is the way one respects those principles. And here it comes, the first discharge in this cyberwar.
Let’s define who is the target of the attack. Unlike conventional war, which is play in a theater determined by geography, the theater of this war exists in the mind, and uses our own circuits, mental and social, to spread. Think about it as a bacterial invasion: a number of infecting bacteria, in this case propaganda (weaponized information) use a route of entry, our external sense, into the mind. These effect the host’s defense mechanisms, in this case the set of beliefs described above. And there are environmental factors influencing the rate of this bacterial growth such as an ambivalent stance on such previously mentioned set of beliefs, enhanced hatred or resentment, or an intrinsic and justifiable cynicism towards the political process. Not all of them are required to be present to make any mind a receptive, conductive and fertile host for this bacterial growth because advanced mechanisms of self-affirmation trap us within our own echoing bubbles of information. Our daily consumption of such information is designed to nurture the biosphere that in turn regulates our minds themselves to become affable ecosystems for the bacterial contamination and thus the complete corruption of the person’s thoughts and by extension his or her behavior, by taking action or not taking action. A low propensity voter in a swing district within a swing state that is ambivalent about the political process and receives most of his or her information through social media is a “perfect target”.
Voter rolls in every state have personal and very particular information about email addresses. When a highly developed, capable and experienced cyberunit obtains the email address of such “perfect target” it can in a matter of minutes, through a social media scan, determine what makes this person tick. Let’s say this “perfect target” is an African American living in Milwaukee’s majority-black District 15, where a quarter of residents live below the poverty line. For the sake of argument this person has been posting about police brutality given the events sparked by the fatal police shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith. One can extrapolate to argue that an army of trolls, working out of a facility in Russia, can take over a series of computers called a botnet, which will then generate “news”, weaponized information, down to specific areas, with enough and effective microtargeted lies about a candidate’s stance on police brutality, that it is not difficult to persuade this “perfect target” from going to work on election day instead of voting. “Inducing hopelessness is a disinformation tactic. It is a narrative that exhausts opposition and leaves them defenseless”. In District 15 voter turnout fell 20 points, in a state, Wisconsin, that had the lowest turnout in 16 years and was won by just 27,000 voters.
Active measures, as defined by Wikipedia is: A Soviet term for the actions of political warfare conducted by the Soviet and Russian security services to influence the course of world events, in addition to collecting intelligence and producing “politically correct” assessment of it. Active measures range “from media manipulations to special actions involving various degrees of violence”.
Here comes the second discharge: a voice, popular and with culturally given authority, knowingly and purposely repeats the same story not long ago showed in the perfect target’s feed but also adds that the elections are rigged, and that the “perfect target’s” vote is not important because the other candidate is a crook. A thought is reaffirmed and the active measures begin to create consciousness. One bacteria became two. With enough sophistication, this can be done on such a huge people scale that mere percentile changes can make a difference big enough to win the presidency even while losing the popular vote by more than three million votes. This manipulation, akin to a violation of mind, is one of the most abrasive and invasive act any human can take over another.
Millions upon millions of our countrymen and woman have been manipulated. They have been victimized by a visible and sensible discharge that they were not aware of. It would not be necessary to enumerate the endless barrage of lies and propaganda that was propagated during last year’s presidential campaign but it suffices to indicate a few conclusions from Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow research at Stanford: “1) 62 percent of US adults get news on social media (Gottfried and Shearer 2016); 2) the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories (Silverman 2016); 3) many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them (Silverman and Singer-Vine 2016); and 4) the most discussed fake news stories tended to favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton (Silverman 2016). Putting these facts together, a number of commentators have suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected president were it not for the influence of fake news” and even a more staggering piece of information “115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times…the ratio of page visits to shares of stories on social media would suggest that the 38 million shares of fake news in our database translates into 760 million instances of a user clicking through and reading a fake news story, or about three stories read per American adult.” It is important to point out that more than 100 sites posting fake news were run from the small town of Veles in Macedonia (Subramanian 2017). Endingthefed.com, a site that was responsible for four of the ten most popular fake news stories on Facebook, was run by a 24-year-old Romanian man. (Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow 2017).
And now, for a third and final discharge. The Nation reported that Wisconsin’s Voter-ID law suppressed 200,000 votes, via a voter suppression tactic executed by the Republican Party with specific goals in mind. Thus, our “perfect target” not only has created consciousness of an active measure and been told by a voice with authority that his or her vote is not important, but to put a cherry on top, the very act of voting has gotten harder. See, collusion is defined as a secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others. One could argue that all these events are fortuitous and that Trump’s campaign was as lucky as a four-leaf clover. I raise to argue the opposite, this was a coordinate three front attack on our democracy and on our right as free people to choose freely. It was a violation of our rights to make our choices based on the threads that unite as a nation and not on the bacterial lies implanted by an invader, repeated by a colluder and favored by a servile party of unwitting traitors. The investigations into these matters are many and their conclusions will be extensive, however it is the answer to the most important question, if any American citizens acted in concert with the Kremlin to commit acts of espionage, the one that will give us not only unrefutable proof that we are experiencing a war unlike any other but that the center of power of the most powerful nation in the world has been taken over “without firing a single bullet”.
The plastic folder that Natalia Veselnitskaya left in Donald Trump Jr’s hand, in the presence of Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, did not have to contain real evidence of criminality committed by Hillary Clinton to break the law by conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine an election. All it needed to be was “dirt on Hillary” propaganda created by, for example a Romanian man followed by a conspiratorial conversation on how to distribute this weaponized information by micro-targeting specific voters using Russian infrastructure and Russian hackers. There is no doubt that the Russian government organized a large scale cyberattack to retrieve information like the ones suffered by the DNC and the different software companies in charge of processing various states’ voting rolls. There is no doubt that they weaponized and used this information by accessing the personal bubble of specific individuals to produce a desired social behavior. Social engineering is a common practice among hackers, and hack-engineered behavior in relationship to long held national creeds in order to pervert the outcome of the democratic process is an act of cyberwar.
These invaders and conspirators have planted a virus in our minds, a virus of separation, a bacteria eating away the fabric of our nation, and we are unconsciously perpetuating it. They are winning only because of that and nothing else. We must evolve our capacity to discern and adapt in the struggle to protect our right to choose as a free nation. This is the most permutable characteristic of our nation because it becomes each one of us, as one person one vote.