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Weaponized Information, An Existential Threat To Democracy And National Security? – Part II

Disinformation And National Security Weaponized information wields the unparalleled capacity to destabilize a target country’s peace, stability, democracy, and national security even without firing a single shot. This consistent with Chinese military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu’s concept of subduing the enemy without fighting. United States’ Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads both NSA and Cyber Command, opined that ”Foreign adversaries have stepped up the use of information warfare to control populations since 2011 and the operations are one of the new threats in the digital age”. How Disinformation Flips Elections, Impacts Democracy Philippine’s controversial President Rodrigo Duterte’s inadvertently admitted that he used keyboard troll army to manipulate social media during 2016 campaign.  “In Mexico, an estimated 75,000 automated accounts known colloquially as Peñabots have been employed to overwhelm political opposition on Twitter.” “When a new hashtag emerges to raise awareness about a protest or corruption scandal, government backers employ two methods to game the system in favor of President Enrique Peña Nieto.” In South Korea, an investigation found that state-sponsored disinformation operation during the country’s 2012 presidential election by the National Intelligence Service generated more than 1.2 million Twitter messages which supported now-impeached South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and while denigrating her rival in the election. It is widely speculated that influence operations by Russia in tandem with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data boosted Trump’s prospect during the US presidential election. Since 2010 political parties and governments have reportedly spent more than half a billion dollars on social-­media manipulation. Disinformation and social media manipulation are now monetized (disinformation as a service (DaaS) and has become an essential component of electioneering worldwide. This new normal has morphed into a “guns for hire” professional service, as Professor Andrew Chadwick, Co-Director, New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway described it. UK parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee believes that democracy is at risk unless the government and regulators take urgent action to combat a growing crisis of data manipulation, disinformation, and so-called fake news. Explains why streetwise politicians assemble and bankroll retinue (social) media teams – cyber-warriors, spin-doctors, and Goebbels. Such subtle battle for hearts and minds can catapult an ‘unlikely’ candidate to power. Writing on the activities of the Buhari Media Centre (BMC) which was recently rebranded as Buhari New Media Centre (BNMC), a Nigerian journalist, author, blogger and US-based professor, Dr. Farooq Kperogi, refers to the Buhari government as ”an absolute propagandocracy, that is, a government conducted by intentionally false and manipulative information”. Just recently, Demola Olarewaju, a political strategist and PDP member raised an alarm in a series of tweets about sinister plans by the BNMC to use bots and online trolls to attack his person.  Demola advised handlers of the BNMC to rein in the bots else he would expose “minutes of meetings, letters requesting money, phone numbers, addresses, bank details, planned propaganda etc”.   Countering Weaponized Information, Fake News 2.0 Preparatory to the 2018 midterm elections in the US, social media companies scrambled to reassure the United States government that their platforms would not be abused by vested interests. Pursuant to what can be deemed ‘anti-disinformation as a service’ (AdaaS) provided by an enterprise cybersecurity company – FireEye, Facebook declared on August 21, 2018, that it took down 652 fake accounts. Twitter foiled and removed political influence social media campaigns allegedly originating from Russia. Similarly, Microsoft dismantled six phishing domains linked to Russian election hackers. Google reportedly took down 39 YouTube channels linked to Iranian influence campaign. Given the growing threat of weaponized information to national security, the British Army announced the creation of a new unit for psychological and social media warfare to help Britain “fight in the information age” and control the “narrative” of warfare. The United Kingdom recently set up a ”dedicated national security unit to tackle fake news and disinformation”. The equivalent in the United States is the ”Global Engagement Center (GEC)”, which is ”charged with leading the U.S. government’s efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation from international terrorist organizations and foreign countries”. Similar bodies established to counter weaponized information and hybrid threats include: the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (CoE) which was set up in Finland, aftermath of an agreement between eight European countries, the US, and NATO; EU’s East StratCom Task Force, NATO’s StratCom Center of Excellence, amongst others. Egyptian President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi recently ratified a law that seeks to monitor social media users in Egypt. This legislation empowers Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulations the power to place people with more than 5,000 followers — on social media or with a personal blog or website — under supervision – and to suspend or block any personal account which “publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything [information] inciting violating the law, violence or hatred.” Those who administer or visit such websites, intentionally or “in error without a valid reason,” can now face jail time and fines. Not to be outdone, the Nigerian military says it now monitors social media for anti-government and anti-military information. Nigeria’s Minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has since set up a ”National Campaign Against Fake News”. Hacking Critical Election Infrastructure Apart from weaponizing information and using social to hack hearts and minds, hacking critical election infrastructure is also doable. In 2016, hackers breached databases for election systems in Illinois and Arizona, in the United States. This explains why as part of proactive election security measure, 36 states in the US have deployed Albert Sensors, a cybersecurity detection system that could detect hacking attempts and send alerts to federal and state government agencies. If the United States which parades some of the best cybersecurity brasses and professionals, struggles to ward off cyber-attacks, one wonders the fate of Nigeria where a fire-brigade approach is a state policy. Interestingly, I read the Director General of Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr. Isa Pantami recently saying that the 2019 general elections may be disrupted if adequate information technology security measures were not put in place. Dr. Pantami

Reports

Weaponized Information, An Existential Threat To Democracy And National Security? – Part I

‘’Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral’’ Laws of Technology By Professor Melvin Kranzberg (1917-1995) Introduction Social media, big data and artificial intelligence (AI) can be likened to the 21st century arms race. These innovations have disrupted the way we communicate, predict patterns/the stock market, national security (electronic intelligence and cyber-defence), and democracy, amongst others. Evidence abound of States, rogue states, non-state actors or ‘’lone wolves’’ (cyber troops) weaponizing information or launching information warfare (IW), psychological warfare (PSYWAR) or psychological operations (PSYOPs), and in some cases, manipulating social media with a bid to influencing the outcome of an election. This trend is apparently a global problem. Mr. Sean Gourley, an Artificial Intelligence(AI) consultant to the US Intelligence agencies warns that fake news may have already influenced politics in the US, but ‘’it’s going to get a lot worse’’. He argues that the next generation of fake news would be far more sophisticated thanks to AI. Another report foresees AI mimicking human voice leading to a ‘’complete destruction of trust in anything you see or hear’’. In October 2015, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö warned of the “information warfare” that was already affecting Finns, and said that it was the duty of every citizen to combat it. Finnish officials claim to have documented 20 disinformation campaigns against Finland emanating directly from the Kremlin. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) acknowledges that, ‘Psychological warfare is becoming an increasing threat to Sweden with the country exposed to daily attacks of disinformation’. The Polish Foreign Intelligence agency – Agencja Wywiadu or AW says it uncovered a plan to sow discord between Poland and Ukraine and lead an “informational war…against Poland and in the interests of Russia.” Disinformation is also potent in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, says ‘Nigeria is under siege of disinformation and fake news that can bring the country on her knees if not checked’. We understand that the infamous Cambridge Analytica sought to influence the Nigerian presidential election in 2015 and that AKPD Message and Media, A PR firm founded by former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod, also worked for the then Opposition. What Is Weaponized Information? A weaponized information (also referred to as weaponized narrative, cognitive hacking, or disinformation) is a message or content contrived to affect the recipient’s perception of an event or someone in a way that is not warranted thereby serving the strategic objective of the purveyor of the information. Weaponized information or disinformation is akin to hybrid warfare or hybrid threats – defined as a military strategy that blends political warfare, conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber-warfare, diplomacy with other influencing (social engineering) methods, such as fake news, and foreign electoral intervention deployed by both state and non-state actors to destabilize a country, organization or an opponent. Weaponized information could be a blend of truth, a faux pas, deliberate falsehoods (or fake news) aimed at spreading fear, paranoia, uncertainty and distrust about a product, an individual or even a country. A weaponized narrative can be authentic but taken out of context. An example is a remark intentionally selected from a longer statement and tweaked in such a way that it waters down or magnifies what the speaker said or meant. Just about anything – a trending topic, information or hashtag on social media can be weaponized. For instance, sequel to President Trump’s purported #lifeless comment about the Nigerian president, it appears ‘’lifeless’’ is now a popular lexicon on many online forums, social media platforms and the Nigerian public space. Another example is the #LazyNigerianYouth comment and hashtag which trended on Twitter for quite some time. Information weaponization is interwoven with what is referred to in military parlance as ‘’Information operations’’ – the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent, or as ‘’Sharp power’’ – the use of manipulative diplomatic policies or information warfare by one country to influence and undermine the political system of a target country. More often than not, weaponized information is astroturfed – disseminated in a way that masks the sponsors of the message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) and they are made to appear as though the message originates from and is supported by grassroots contributors. Granted weaponized information, disinformation, information warfare and hybrid warfare are quite nuanced but permit them being used interchangeably in this discourse. Weaponized Information, Proliferating Global Phenomenon From the United States to the United Kingdom, Sweden to Germany, weaponized information of disinformation is a proliferating global phenomenon. The Atlantic reports that ”disinformation is spreading on WhatsApp in India—and it’s getting dangerous”. The British embassy in Moscow recently accused Russia of spreading “disinformation” after London charged two supposed G.U. or GRU (Russian military intelligence) operatives traveling under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as the chief suspects in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK. In its piece titled – ”Disinformation Wars”, Foreign Policy says, ”Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts. The University of Oxford-based Computational Propaganda Project researched myriads of ways in which big data, bots and computational propaganda are employed in weaponizing information and manipulating public opinion over major social networking platforms. The research established that cyber troops are a pervasive and global phenomenon. The report asserts that, ”Many different countries employ significant numbers of people and resources to manage and manipulate public opinion online, sometimes targeting domestic audiences and sometimes targeting foreign publics”.   Government-Sponsored Disinformation, Computational Propaganda Scholars argue that nearly 50 million accounts on Twitter are actually automatically run by computer bots – a software application programmed to run

CURATED OSINT

Israel marks 70 years as a nation

Israel readied to mark 70 years since the country’s creation on Wednesday, celebrating its improbable economic success and military prowess but facing a range of political and security challenges. The anniversary of the proclamation of the state of Israel by founding father David Ben-Gurion begins at sundown on Wednesday under the Hebrew calendar, but falls […]

CURATED OSINT

Israel jails African asylum seekers refusing deportation

By Bethan McKernan Hundreds of detained Eritreans go on hunger strike as state begins much-criticised expulsion programme to third countries. Seven Eritreans who have had their asylum petitions rejected have been jailed indefinitely by Israel after refusing deportation to Rwanda. The men are the first to be detained since the Israeli authorities announced a initiative last November to make…

The post Israel jails African asylum seekers refusing deportation appeared first on Global Sentinel.

CURATED OSINT

Israeli pilots refuse to fly deported refugees back to Africa

By Carlos Ballesteros A group of airline pilots in Israel recently vowed not to fly deported African asylum seekers and refugees back to war-stricken countries in their home continent, Israeli media has reported. Their protest comes days after Zizim Community Action, an Israeli non-government organization, launched an online campaign calling on pilots from the Israel Aviation Association and the Israel…

The post Israeli pilots refuse to fly deported refugees back to Africa appeared first on Global Sentinel.

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