Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Danish Defence doing black psyops - against Denmark

I have been out of orbit on the blog for quite a while. But an escalating scandal here in Denmark just needs my two cents.

Basically, one employee in the very top of the Danish Defence has produced a fabrication to influence the Danish public by shaping the narrative of a controversial case. That is exactly the type of disinformation operations that the Soviets were masters at, also known as black (hidden) psyops.

The problem here is twofold: First of all, the most obvious, this is of course a disheartening action by a high ranking officer in a democratic country. Luckily he was found out rather quickly. But secondly, the fabrication and its dissemination was utterly unprofessionally carried out and then brought on by a number of top Defence employees, ending at the Defence Minister, with no simple technical questions asked until later. This might hint a structural dyslexia of the mechanics of public relations - and consequently information operations, which is an increasingly important part of modern war- and peacefare.

The case
* A former Jægerkorps soldier (Special Forces) was about to publish a book about his time in the forces. The book was a typical example of a secret operative who wanted to get some overdue glory and was unnecessarily full of technical details. The Defence Command moves to get the Court to restrain it on 14 September, stating that it contains unspecified knowledge that can be used by current enemies of Danish soldiers. Having read it, I understand why the Defence Command thought this.

* Seeing a potential limit to the freedom of expression, the newspaper Politiken quickly published the entire book as a section in their newspaper 16 September. The book had most likely been explicitly given to the paper by the publisher for that purpose, although the publisher banged the litigation drums. The same day the book is published on WikiLeaks.

* The Defence's IT executive translates the book via Google Translate, pastes it into a word document and says he found it on a torrent download site. This is then quickly brought through the ranks, sent to a newspaper on 23 September and repeated casually by the Defence Minister on a press conference 24 September. The paper, however, quickly establishes that the translation is Google gobbledygook and the Word file specifies that it is created by the Defence Command.

* In the coming days, the Defence Minister and the Defence Command's press relations executive both deny that the translation should be made by the Defence itself. They can't, they say, identify who sent the translation to the newspaper.

* On 1 October the IT Executive steps forward and is relieved of command immediately. On 2 October, the Defence Command's Press relations executive admits that he sent the book to the newspaper. The Minister's personal press relations employee has also sent it to a journalist at the state television DR.

* On 4 October the Chief of Defence steps down.

What it means
Trying to plant fabrications to sway a public against a case is something that has been done very often by militaries around the world. During the cold war, this was a common pastime for various intelligence agencies. The Soviets, for example, was supposedly behind the rumour that AIDS was developed by US scientists - a claim you will still hear in various corners of the world. Later, the Russians under the newly elected president Putin went to the second Chechen war after buildings were blown up in Russia, alledgedly by Chechen terrorists, but later doubted by a number of independent researchers. Putting out a "meme" in written or physical ways to sway a public, is wildly influential if done with thought. Most countries, however, have laws explicitly forbidding its military to target its own population with "propaganda" and disinformation. In a globalised world, however, controlling the flow of falsifications is impossible.

In this case, the system worked: Sceptic journalists uncovered that something was amiss, politicians and more journalists continued digging until Danish Defence Intelligence started an internal investigation which made the culprit and the disseminators confess before their computers had even been scanned.

A few years back I looked at the Danish Defence's capabilities and prospects of taking up "information operations" (a label for a number of different communication capabilities, ranging from press relations to cyber war and psyops). Being a small country with limited resources, information operations was a force multiplyer that the Danish Defence couldn't live without, in my opinion. There were some structural and organisational difficulties, but nothing that couldn't be overcome if the Danish Defence's heart was put into it.

But this case shows that the involved, high-ranking officers, were rather naïve about what you could get away with. I don't blame the IT executive for thinking that you could trick a journalist, generally some of the most tech-unsavy people around in my experience. But concocting something a Wednesday afternoon and then unleashing it to prove a point, that's just plain stupid of a man you would put in charge of a frigate - or the entire Defence's IT systems.

The real consequence of this, apart from the heads that will roll, is that the people in the Defence who work hard and earnest to use information actively in warfare and towards publics in the world, will be put even further back as the Defence most likely will cramp up in fear of allegations of working with "propaganda. This will mean that information operations will not be prioritised and the Defence will try even harder than it admittedly already has to be seen as a fair and earnest media outlet.



The mysterious Israeli Airstrike: Revisited

Last year, Israeli airplanes hit a target inside Syria - and the expected fuss over that incident, didn't materialise. This has led people to speculate that it was a nuclear facility, but not much is know.

Now, the New Yorker provides us with some quality journalism in digging deep into the story and revealing some of the contradictions that other media (and most of us bloggers) have raced past.

An interesting aspect of the article is how much information can be found in Open Sources and with some dedicated effort turned into usable intelligence.

Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture?or with nuclear reactors?but much to do with Syria?s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.

A Strike in the Dark. What did Israel bomb in Syria? by Seymour M. Hersh

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New publications with a Danish view

The Royal Danish Defence College is publishing a new series of briefs - probably in the effort of "scientificing" the organisation. There is a number of interesting subjects, The Taliban's Information Warfare written by RDDC's mr. INFOOPS Thomas Nissen, if of particular interest to me.

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If you have a secret, don't put it on the internet. That seems to be a very reasonable advice, but of course it is never heeded by anyone, as secrets are only worth something if they can be spread in a controlled manner. A recent leak of the Osama Bin Laden video illustrates the strengths and perils of the internet. But lets look at OPSEC first.

OPerational SECurity is the concept of keeping your secrets in a controlled manner. OPSEC is about protecting your own operations secret so that others can't harvest useful intelligence from them. Basically, it is eliminating your own "emission" so there is less for others to interpret on. In intelligence, OPSEC is for example not to reveal yourself when doing surveillance.

This concept is very relevant on the internet as well. Every month I can go to Google Analytics and have a report on who has visited my site, what they looked for and where they came from. This forms the basis of my own "intelligence" where I can get a crude overview of who are interested in what, what military, government and private companies look for what and so on.

Now for the case: The internet private intel service SITE that monitors jihadists on the Internet and usually has an edge in getting the newest before everyone else, recently obtained the Osama Bin Laden video through an Al Qaeda "Intranet", a web of sites on the internet that is used for internal AQ communication. They shared this with the US government and told them to keep it a secret until it was released through the actual websites. This didn't happen and suddenly a lot of medias had the video before AQ thought they had released it. This of course meant that the AQ intranet closed down, shutting SITE and others out of the loop. A parallel would be if the Germans had found out that the Allied knew their Enigma codes in WWII. Read about the case here.

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What they think over there

It seems that it is a time-honored journalistic tradition to report what the other reporters think about us. Danish television and newspapers excel at this kind of navel-gazing. However, the news show Vesti on the Russian television station "Rossia" has alledgedly done this with a sinister twist: they have designed their own version of front page for Times of London. It says that Russian millionaire "Berezovsky is playing us, and it's embarrassing". They have grabbed a piece of opinion from the letters department and constructed a front page around it. I don't know how grave this is - but it sure sounds as a text book example of manipulation of consent and opinion.

All in all it seems that Vesti is pretty obsessed with Beresovskij at the moment: C?? ? ?????? ??????? ????? ?? ??????? ???????????? ?? ??????? (about a French connection of his).

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The media economy of hostages

After a bit upwound report of a Danish journalist's near-kidnap in Afghanistan, it is worth reading John Robb's thoughts on the subject of hostage taking in the new type of warfare in hollow states. Global Guerrillas: HOSTAGE GAMES. His view is pronounced systemic and he defines the new media-reality of hostage taking as:

In short, a hostage drama that involves a foreign national can now manufacture a global systempunkt (the node/connection in any network, regardless of whether it's a physical or social network, which will cause a cascade of failure if removed/attacked/damaged). In today's environment, it really doesn't matter who is grabbed, the effects will usually be the same: a disruption of globalization.
The Danish story only shows that not only criminals and insurgents know the system of kidnapping as disruption, the medias also activate a certain narrative whenever this stuff happens.

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Gongo: A democratic oxymoron

Okay. During the next few lines, I'm gonna spread a lot of nice words around. But with a higher purpose, I suppose.

Starting off with Gongo. It rolls nicely off the tongue, doesn't it? It is an abbreviation (or actually more correctly an acronym) meaning "Government-sponsored Non Governmental Organisation". This is a phenomenon I have written on before, just set in the commercial world, where organisations set up by companies are called "Astroturf" (another nice word and a type of fake grass, including roots).

Gongos are the typical fare of autocratic regimes like the Russian, Chinese and the Central Asian republics, but we also have examples from democracies, such as the National Endowment for Democracy in the US.

I wonder if we could come up with any European Gongos?

Gongos are a democratic oxymorons. That is, a contradiction in terms on behalf of democracy. NGOs were set up to level the playing-field of power, but when un-democratic regimes set up gongos, they kick the ball way back for everyone involved.



Privatised Psyops?

I can't quite figure this one out. Apparently a company doing PsyOps, Information Operations etc. on a commercial basis - with a very behaviouristic slant (in other words, saying that language and communication can be used to precondition and shape actions with people). They install "OPS rooms" where they can conduct information warfare and deception campaigns for governments and the military.

The language, though, is stumbling close to Orwell (which has been noted by several observers). And as it might work with military decision makers, the promise to provide an "Opcentre [that] can override all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis", but it doesn't sit well with all the rest of us.

Strategic Communication Laboratories : Strategic Communication Laboratories



The cyber-ballads of drug cartels

John Robb has compiled an interesting little brief on the Latin American Drug Cartels' use of YouTube. Apparently they started making music videos depicting their "fight against evil" (eg. other cartels), using these videos as recruiting and deterrent.

"Many of these ballads [narcocorridos, or drug trafficker's ballad] are in the classic Medieval style, and they are an anachronistic link between the earliest European poetic traditions and the world of crack cocaine and gangsta rap." Elija Wald.

Info Warfare, Narcocorridos, and YouTube