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.