If you were of my generation, you should instantly recognize the title for this post as a late sixty’s song by Buffalo Springfield – but for me it now brings something much different to mind. And this time around it has to do with today’s international political warfare. In my book “Creating Chaos”, I lay out and provide detailed examples of the levels of geopolitical warfare, from the most prevalent and benign activities right up to the point where it turns into active campaigns of regime change.
Actually, its normal for all governments to engage in “Shaping”, efforts to project positive images of themselves, to the establishment of economic and cultural bonds, and to the use of social networking to establish bonds with persons of influence who can influence relations between the nations.
But things start to go sour when there is a move to influence relationships via “Active Measures”, the collection of economic and military intelligence via covert activities, structured programs to penetrate target groups of decision makers using various types of leverage, and of course the cultivation of “fellow travelers” – individual motivated by shared ideological views or political agendas.
As an example of such a transition I review the sea change in Russian/American relations which began circa 2010. At that point a new round of Russian active measures were launched, taking advantage of the business relationships which had developed over the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union – in several instances involving Americans involved in both business and consulting activities within both Russia and Ukraine.
Those efforts were addressed in a series of FBI investigations which by 2015 culminated in actual court cases involving charges related to attempts to “infiltrate the upper levels of U.S. business and government”. Interestingly, a side effect of the FBI scrutiny was a renewed interest in the extent to which Russia was utilizing its diplomatic facilities for communications intelligence collections – at locations ranging from New York and Washington DC to San Francisco. That is a fascinating story in itself, having to do with the physical locations of the facilities and the covert installation of extensive communications intercept equipment.
There are other levels to the pursuit of political warfare, the next step up involving both efforts to fragment an adversary, making use of known social, racial and cultural issues and extending that to the destabilization of various institutions. At a minimum a move to that level reflects an intent to destabilize the targeted government, making it less able to respond to any international events – if successful it can effectively turn the target back in on itself, creating a number of opportunities for any international adversary.
When I wrote “Creating Chaos” a good bit of this – including actual examples from 2014 onward of Russian fragmentation efforts first targeting Western Europe and then the United States – was new and somewhat over the top. Now it has simply become a matter of contemporary American history.
All of which leads me to the point of this post and what appears to have become yet another of example of escalating political warfare, moving up to the point of “active measures”. This time the measures are a bit different though, based largely in the technology advantage of the adversary. As with the earlier FBI efforts against Russian active measures, which took years to culminate in actual charges, this appears to have been under investigation for years as well.
Due to the techniques being used, is seems less likely to end up with actual charges. It is however a strong warning that a new level of engagement bye yet another adversary has come into play – something is definitely happening, something new, something different and something inherently dangerous. To explore this new threat, check out the following link:
Cyber warfare has been going on for quite a long time. Fifteen years ago, I was working as a data systems technician for the County I live in. Every day we would experience cyber attacks into the database. In discussions with our security staff, I discovered that most of these attacks came from two places: China, and Eastern Europe, the majority coming from China.
What I’d like to ask is could domestic Intelligence agencies be doing just the same thing as a means of social control? The ties of the tech industry with the Intelligence establishment is indeed documented and undisputed, along with journalism, entertainment, the arts, publishing, and all other media. And they’re no longer covert about it either. Look at all the “former” Intel types you see on the news or as “advisors” to Hollywood movies. While the evidence is murky, based on past history it is not an unwarranted suspicion.
I’ll end with a quote from Bill Moyer’s 1989 documentary- “The Secret Government”
“If we act in other countries with the idea that there are no rules, and anything goes,
what we do abroad may return home to haunt us.”
Personally all the concrete data I could find, both related to social media and in person surrogates, pointed back to Russian sources, which were rather clumsy at first but they learned quickly. And actually they did many of their initial practice runs against former Soviet Republics.
On your other point, the first half of Creating Chaos is devoted to the long history of these types of measures, with examples from the British and Russian empires and then during the decades of the Cold War, to American administrations beginning with that of Truman. What has changed in this century is not the basic techniques but the tools which are available – and dramatically cheaper, quicker and appalling more effective since they can quickly be modified and re-calibrated. Not talking about cyberwarare per se, but active measures and fragmentation campaigns. And as far as those tools go, Russia has been in a class of its own in regard to fragmentation; China appears to be taking a much different approach in trying to leverage its semiconductor industry, applications code and technology sales. There have been fears of that for many years, these recent revelations appear to justify those fears.
Creating Chaos is just a dynamite piece of work… I’ve been going back to it in the last year and find myself amazed by its prescience. I greatly admire your body of work. Part of the appeal of engaging with the mysteries surrounding the Kennedy and King assassinations is the ways it provides an entryway into larger questions of American power and identity in the global landscape after WWII. Your work leans into this door-opening with an inspiring level of care and restraint. That your research lead you to Creating Chaos speaks to the value of engaging with the underside of America’s recent political history. It isn’t just a dynamic understanding of the past that you are developing, but an informed eye on the unfolding present. Whenever the JFK community asks itself how to present the relevance of the case to new generations I often think of your projects and how you have moved back and forth from in-depth study of the cases to broader historical narratives that slide into the present. You handle the implications of these narratives in a manner that is not over-determined or forced. Your instinct to present bold assertions supported by sober and cautious analysis is extremely refreshing. While I was reading CC back in 2018 (fresh off the press) a friend introduced me to a writer/commentator named Aaron Maté who I had not heard of. Are you familiar with him? Maté has gained some level of notoriety since I met him that would qualify him as a dispenser of disinformation but at the time I met him he came across more as a contrarian than anything else. Before meeting him I was vaguely aware that Maté was suspicious of claims that Putin had interfered in the 2016 election in any meaningful way. My own opinion was that with or without Putin, Clinton was a polarizing figure who ran a flawed campaign that resulted in her loss. So I was open to the idea that there was an alarmist aspect to the Russian interference story while remaining convinced that it was only natural that Putin did what he could to improve his circumstances and saw an opportunity in Trump. At the time I had recently published a long non-fiction poem about Omar Abdel-Rahman and the birth of al Qaeda called Coercive Beliefs. A friend of mine thought Maté would be interested in the book so we met for drinks. There is a section of my book that focuses on the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt, which ends with the death of Qaddafi and the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War – so I had ideas about the conflicts in the region. The conversation quickly went to Syria particularly Seymour Hersh’s reports on the US and Turkish operations in Syria and Libya. I told him I thought Hersh’s take on Libya and Syria was oddly two dimensional and that Hersh’s then-recent work seemed like it came from a hyperbolic source or two. I don’t think I even addressed Hersh allegations that Turkey was behind chemical attacks in Syria. From the start the conversation wasn’t going well – Maté had discussed Hersh’s trio of articles with Hersh himself and clearly admired them (I should say I do admire many of Hersh’s past accomplishments as well. Additionally I’m not dismissing Hersh’s articles in defense of any operations or policy). Then the conversation drifted to Assad and Putin and all of a sudden I felt a vibe that not only did Maté fully endorse Hersh’s false-flag story but that he felt that Assad and Putin had been wrongfully demonized in the American press and that they had Syria’s best interests at heart. I found myself defensively stating that while I was seriously critical of American foreign policy that this did not make me in any way sympathetic to either Assad or Putin’s nasty regimes. I felt sort of crazy that I was even saying this at all. I clumsily brought up some thoughts I had on Consortium News – that I was admirer of Robert Parry but was perplexed by the growing sense that in the name of criticizing American foreign policy it seemed as though the website was willing to accept or diminish authoritarian abuses abroad. I brought up Hedges and Chomsky going on RT which I thought contradicted the integrity of their anti-fascist stances. By that point Maté had had enough of me. Feeling a little bit of contempt from a total stranger I then brought up Creating Chaos and stridently suggested he read it. Larry, I’m sorry to say I probably didn’t do you any favors in that moment. We did have a polite email exchange after where I sent him a link to CC’s amazon page. Ever since that encounter I loosely follow the Maté/Max Blumenthal current of commentary and I can’t help but think of CC when I do… since then Maté put a good deal of time and energy into the Syrian false-flag chem attack story. What was ambiguous in 2018 has become explicit. This guy professionally presents a counter-narrative that recasts Assad and Putin as innocent rulers forced to do nasty things by their adversaries. Even after watching a few years I don’t really have a stance on the nature of Maté’s friendliness towards Putin’s policy. There is a story that Maté traveled to Syria and met with members of Assad regime. There are allegations that the Assad regime financed the trip. It is extraordinary how consistently their commentary lines up with Moscows outlook and objectives. And yet I can still imagine plausible scenarios where Maté finds himself in his position through the sheer power of internet inertia. He found the clicks and chased them – boom, there he is more or less defending Putin and Assad’s foreign policy with little or no direct support from either regime. A parallel figure would be Glen Greenwald. There is little to no in-depth commentary on these guys (understandably so – there’s a lot going on out there…). I would be curious if you have any thoughts on this emerging, if marginal, trend. Anyhow, I’m sorry this has gotten so long. It was wild that Creating Chaos manifested itself that night in the midst of reading it.
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Oof… I didn’t intend for this to be a comment on your post… thought it was an e-mail straight to you.
Hi Matt, unfortunately I can’t delete it but if you would drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org I can offer a few thoughts in response. Thanks for your kind words about Creating Chaos, which along with Shadow Warfare I still think of as my best offerings to present a broad and objective history of the geopolitical jousting (a nice term for a lot of very dirty actions – with tremendous collateral damage) from the immediate post war period up to the present.
Please delete if it’s no trouble … sorry…