Info Ops – Staying Alert

I said in a post last week that I’m going to try to keep you all current on what we know about information operations, as we approach November’s elections and the 2020 presidential election. I’ll post short summaries or longer commentaries if they are warranted. We’ve all got to stay alert for malign influencers.

The FBI has launched two websites, Protected Voices and Combating Foreign Influence.  Protected Voices offers advice on cyberhygiene – they have a set of short videos on things like passwords, browser safety, wi-fi, and router hardening. Looks like they might be useful for internal corporation training or just anyone who has questions about the various topics. Combating Foreign Influence is newer and intends “to educate the public about the threats faced from disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, and the overall impact of foreign influence on society.”

I’m a little dubious about government initiatives of this sort, but it was the FBI and others who went to President Obama in summer 2016 to tell him that the Russians were doing damage. So I’ll keep an eye on these sites. I also hope that the jackal computer nerds will chime in too.

BuzzFeed has a big article on Russian propaganda operations in the Baltic states. Three news outlets set up in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to spread the Russian point of view without saying that’s what they were doing.

The websites presented themselves as independent news outlets, but in fact, editorial lines were dictated directly by Moscow.

The purpose was to turn Russian speakers in those three countries toward Russia and away from the countries they live in. The article is very detailed, working from Skype calls among the managers of the news outlets. I kept thinking about Fox News as something of an analogy in the United States.



9 replies
  1. 1
    Ceci n est pas mon nym says:

    I have in the past been a little worried about our cyber defenses. When I was working for the federal government, my agency got burned very badly in a cyber attack.

    The stuff that we’ve learned in the open press about what folks like Christopher Steele and Robert Mueller know about the enemy, has made me feel a little better about that.

    We still seem to be babes in the woods on the propaganda game though.

  2. 2
    Schlemazel says:

    The thing is, the Russians could not be nearly so effective in the West if there were not forces already preparing the ground for them. Rush, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, GG Liddy, Ollie North, Fox and so many local wannabes plowed & fertilized the fields for 20+ years so that they would yield a rich harvest for Putin & his oligarchs.

  3. 3
    Jay says:

    @Ceci n est pas mon nym:

    The US invented the modern propaganda campaign, not only targetting foreign nations but Americans at home.

    The difference is that Russia just wants to cause chaos and destruction while US Propaganda is aimed at Policies and Governments.

  4. 4
    EZSmirkzz says:

    Well the three letter boy’s site doesn’t really carry a lot of information on the topic does it? I had just read a post at Stone Kettle Station on critical thinking,

    Weaponized information.

    Active measures.

    This was my specialty. Over time, as the intelligence community changed, as technology evolved, my own career changed with it, I went from being a junior technician specializing in electronic signals to an information warfare officer, one of the first in my field to be specifically designated as such. And one of the first to go to war specifically as such. Now I’m not going to discuss the details of my own military career any further, because those specifics are still highly classified. Suffice it to say, this is a field with which I am intimately familiar. And one at which I was very, very good.

    And from that experience, I will tell you this:

    An educated population trained from early age in critical thinking, whose worldview is based on fact, validated evidence, and science, is the single strongest defense – the only true defense — against this form of assault.

    Mr. Wright does most of his posting, as best as I can gather, on social media outlets other than his blog. The post is well worth a look see.

    So is this post if you’re wondering/tired of nonsense being reported as accidental shootings. I wouldn’t let this second link dilute the importance of what he wrote in the first link however.

    I inadvertently pissed a lot of commenters here off with my comment on information overload and OODA and trade wars, which is a shame if it keeps any of you from digging around Wright’s site, especially since this is dead on topical to your discussion.

  5. 5
    FlyingToaster says:

    I went to look at both links.

    The “Protected Voices” is really only aimed at political campaigns and government contractors. And the advice is the bog-standard security stuff that was current in the 90s, with modern additions for phishing and password vaults. And a plug to join their 3rd-party security service.

    There’s NOTHING on the “Combatting Foreign Influence” site but the press release, and links to other press releases and back to “Protected Voices”.

    I suspect that this is the limit of what they can do; they’re an investigative agency. Right now, there’s nothing there nearly as useful as the info we jackals share (and Adam’s posts on Kompromat, etc.).

  6. 6

    @FlyingToaster: They are works in progress. Let’s keep an eye on them.

  7. 7
    J R in WV says:


    I’ve had you pied for quite a while, but this comment deserves to be read by everyone!

    And Jim Wright is a pretty great commenter. I hope he keeps up telling how it is at Stonekettle Station.

  8. 8
    Bill Arnold says:


    I suspect that this is the limit of what they can do; they’re an investigative agency. Right now, there’s nothing there nearly as useful as the info we jackals share (and Adam’s posts on Kompromat, etc.).

    I kinda agree. Though the bog-standard infosec/comsec advice is always helpful.
    The influence operations (and this also applies to malignant (or just partisan) purely domestic influence operations) in particular need to be identified and spiked in realtime, before they go fully viral. This is not easy; it involves intelligent (human, and self-aware) agents. (Also, to be effective against factory-scale opponents, fighting such operations requires a lot of amplifying automation, for both sensing and effecting, though diligent amateur collectives can and do do good (or bad work.)

    This recent Bloomberg opinion piece:
    Four Ways to Counter Russia’s Social-Media Warfare (James Stavridis August 7, 2018)
    seems wrong/crude/MIComplex-boosterism to me, but might be worth a read and is not entirely shallow.
    I’m more interested in the public propaganda research literature (especially computational propaganda), which has gotten feisty and interesting since the 2016 US election (and also the Brexit vote).

  9. 9
    EZSmirkzz says:

    @J R in WV:

    I’ve had you pied for quite a while, but this comment deserves to be read by everyone!

    No problem, I’m used to it, especially here at BJ. Apparently one time I poked John in the nose, and was accused of punching down by the ‘A’ lister blogger who hates me because I didn’t apologize for being wrong about an entirely different issue. I wasn’t aware that I was that tall or important to some of the movement people, and so failed to uphold their standards and in my opinion, delusions. GenXers and younger tend to have a problem with my bluntness I suppose. Of course this is all intuition and conjecture on my part here.

    I tend to despise people that cut themselves off from opinions and people they disagree with, which only feeds back into the information bubbles that produce bland, non-informative, regurgitation’s of other peoples opinions and analysis, which I find to be the case more and more often with the major television networks reporting and analysis, and common in community conversations found on the blogs. It doesn’t help much that I’m an asshole about thinking for yourself, and various and other sundry things which makes me pretty corrosive to typical tribal bullshit that passes for political discourse today, whatever source it may present itself to me from.

    I have concluded however not to post from a mobile device since I’m old and have fat fingers, and the thirty-five strokes per minute on a full size keyboard is my maximum.

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