It’s not all about Wikileaks.  At least psychological warfare is not all about Wikileaks and whether or not Russian hackers used it as an outlet to insert information into the America presidential campaign. It’s true that a skeptical person might wonder about why all the recent email hacks being leaked targeted only one candidate, or about the timing given that many of the emails in question are several years old. Certainly an agenda is obvious, regardless of whoever is logistically involved.

What seems strange is that some of the same skeptics who have long been suspicious of Wikipedia as a tool for manipulating history and opinion don’t seem to realize that same exposure when brought to the table in the form of Wikileaks. From an actual tradecraft standpoint Wikileaks is far better for psychological warfare since the insertion of both real and crafted documents offers much more potential. The news media live on leaks and protected sources, mysteriously appearing documents have always had great impact – whether they turn out to be totally true as with the Pentagon papers, totally false or a well-crafted combination.

But the Russian psychological warfare I’ve been blogging on, and will continue to, is far more complex and has been in play for at least four years now. Perhaps that makes it harder to recognize?  I don’t know but I began writing about it when I was working on Surprise Attack. The key point is that psychological warfare is all about reducing the will to resist – it can be the will to resist an attack during wartime, the will to resist a geopolitical initiative during peace time or even the reshaping of your target’s political system before either of the those – “shaping the battle” doesn’t just occur during combat.

And psychological warfare always includes at least three elements – intimidation, the creation of doubt and the diminishment of the will to resist. Diminishing the will to resist includes convincing the target that whatever is your goal may be, it’s not really that bad, not really harmful and actually may be in the best interests of peace, morality, and maintaining the status quo.

So – back to Mr. Putin and his agenda (which over the last four years he has been able to make the Russian agenda – certainly the two were not one in the same for some years following the end of the Soviet hegemony). The earliest years of the Putin campaign truly focused on Eastern Europe and involved a push back against Western influence in former Soviet bloc nations. While much of that influence was economic and even cultural, there was a military element to it and the expansion of NATO provided the context for what began as a campaign to reinvigorate Russian nationalism domestically (and to insert Putin back into power) and military intimidation against NATO nations in support of that nationalism. The intimidation included not only conventional Russian military activities but seemingly out of the blue, the frequent assertion of Russian nuclear capabilities. I’ve covered all this in the book and in earlier blog posts so for the moment I’m going to try to illustrate my point that psychological warfare is not all about Wikileaks by turning to a smaller venue and certain less dramatic – but very effective psychological warfare tactics relating to Russian involvement in Syria.

Given that the Russian objective was to maintain a vital position on the Mediterranean Sea and grow influence in the Mideast (not an easy feat given their fiasco in Afghanistan) they needed to maximize intimidation – which they did though the use of sub launched cruise missiles out of the Baltic (totally unnecessary), tactical air strikes with nuclear capable strategic bombers (also not necessary) and finally the deployment of their most advanced Anti-Aircraft defense systems (not all that helpful against either ISIS or the Syrian rebels who have no air assets). It all sent a very strong media message, highly publicized by Russian outlets from Sputnik to RT (which had made a large expansion into the American media market, even bringing on respected liberal American news commentators).

But following intimidation comes “shaping”, convincing the American public – which at one time was strongly supportive of major American military involvement in Syria. First that involved the story line that Russia was actually wanting to work with the U.S. targeting ISIS. And that became the Russian media line – regardless of what the actual air strike data showed. You can check that out for yourself – and of course it’s even more effective if your stories get repeated into the American presidential campaign so as to create an instant base for your theme.

To take a step further, doubt and confusion are very handy, perhaps a few news stories to convince everyone that the American government is really the unseen evil hand in Syria.

First intimidation – accept that Russian forces are really in control of Syria already – then doubt as to who really is the bad guy and finally diminished will on the part of your target.  There are many ways to do that but one is to shape matters so that your target appears to be the trouble maker, the adversary of peace. If the target would only be more accommodating things would be far less dangerous, if not – it could mean war or a full return to a Cold War.  Again, if you think that is an exaggeration check out these links – and remember, these story lines are being carried as heavily inside Russia as they are internationally:

I’m sure this will be controversial but I offer it for your consideration.



About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

3 responses »

  1. Anthony M says:

    Hope this doesn’t leave multiple replies…didn’t seem to go through right at first…
    One thought that occurs is that we need to think about a strategy to counter this type of threat. That gets into tricky questions around freedom of speech but where someone is clearly aiming at undermining the open society we enjoy that crosses the line as far as I’m concerned.
    A significant investment in ‘fact checking’ and educating people to be more sceptical of sources of information are my limited initial thoughts.
    There is obviously a risk that those engaging in low intensity information warfare may come to believe it will never draw a reaction, which could prove a dangerous error.

    • Anthony, I could not agree with you more. I’ve been harping on fact checking for some time now in blog and forum posts – and personal conversations. The only way to deal with this is a) don’t accept and start talking about something you receive in an email or hear in the media without a fact check, especially if it involves a political figure, national policy or national security and b) the same rule applies to anything you hear from a talk radio host or a political figure. Unfortunately there is now a long history of talk radio hosts being totally unreliable as far as facts are concerned. Now we are seeing legislators and candidates also repeating “factoids” with no apparent checking.

      The MSM media is actually taking some positive steps with this in regard to more widespread Fact Checking in reference to candidates, that needs to go much further. I have suggested that what we need is a Fact Check App for smart phones and email and that the serious media outlets need to run Fact Check news sites modeled after SNOPES and some of the others, with live investigative journalists essentially working a new type of “beat”. Of course many people will not accept Fact Checking if it disagrees with what they want to hear but it would be a start.

      The other thing is that our legislators and politicians have to become alert to the danger of being fed “mixed” information or even false information in terms of documents – especially via Wikileaks or through anonymous leaks of any sort. I was impressed by the few Republicans who refused to jump on the recent Podesta leaks…but they did so because they realized such leaks could be used against them. That’s a start but they haven’t caught onto the fact that leaked documents can be tweaked – and a tweaked document makes news the first time out it is almost impossible to overcome the results once someone determines its not totally true. I have seen that time and again in my own research; and unfortunately folks who normally tend to consider themselves skeptics seem to be easy to mislead with false and spun documents – as long as the documents say what they want to hear.

      Its back to the classic – “if you find or hear something that matches exactly what you wanted to hear then you best take a really close look”…if its too good to be true it probably isn’t.

  2. Anthony m says:

    Yes, education may well also be a vital component, giving people the skills needed. There’s some of this already in schools over here in the U.K. and I presume over on your side of the pond too, but given the size of the market for what can only be described as gutter journalism that side of things may need increasing significantly and extending to adults.
    Actually there could be a commercial opportunity for higher quality media outlets to really major in fact checking services. Like the idea of the app too!

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