Further Perversions in Social Media: The Catalonian Independence Referendum

Catalonia is holding an independence referendum today. The national Spanish government has declared this an illegal and/or unconstitutional political act.

Spain’s democratic constitution of 1978, which was approved by more than 90% of Catalan voters, gave wide autonomy to the regions but affirmed “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. Only the Spanish parliament can change the constitution. Mr Puigdemont’s referendum is therefore illegal, and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s conservative prime minister, is determined to prevent it taking place.

Police have been deployed to stop it, leading to all too predictable violence.

Spanish riot police burst into polling stations across Catalonia on Sunday, confiscating ballot boxes and voting papers to try to halt a banned referendum on a split from Spain as Madrid asserted its authority over the rebel region.

Police broke down doors to force entry into voting stations as defiant Catalans shouted “Out with the occupying forces!” and sang the anthem of the wealthy northeastern region. In one incident in Barcelona, police fired rubber projectiles.

Catalan officials said 337 people had been injured in the police crackdown. Officers in riot gear hit people with batons and forcibly removed would-be voters, including women and the elderly, from polling stations.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

Here’s what things look like on the ground.

The good:

The bad:

And the ugly:

The Spanish news media, however, has noticed an unfortunate trend playing out in regard to the independence referendum regardless of one’s views on Catalonia and whether it should be independent, how far back the desire for independence goes, or how many Catalonians (around 40% by polling) favor independence. From El Pais:

The Russian meddling machine has intensified its efforts on social media to deepen divisiveness in the final hours before the Catalan independence referendum of Sunday. Pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts increased their mentions of the Catalan crisis by 2,000%, according to social conversation analysis tools. The attempt to hold an independence referendum has gotten star treatment not only in channels directly funded by the Russian government, but also from accounts that trade in conspiracy theories and helped Donald Trump become the US president.

The 2,000% increase in Catalonia-related online activity in Russia detected by the tool Hamilton 68, not only involves anonymous accounts, but also a sudden interest in this crisis by famous social media users from the US, including Jack Posobiec, a far-right agitator who has been retweeted by Trump himself. These past couple of days Posobiec has shared links about the measures taken to prevent the vote in Catalonia.

Accordingly, Assange has intensified efforts to make the Catalan crisis a global trend on social networks, always from his particular point of view. On Friday, he accused Spain and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of having triggered the first world war through Internet censorship. His message was shared 14,000 times on Twitter. Before the Civil Guard took action to prevent an electronic vote tally, Assange himself also recommended via Twitter sending in the ballots via Telegram, an application developed by a company based in Russia.

And while El Pais reported that InfoWars and Drudge had gotten into the action, The Sydney Morning Herald has found that the top influencers, the key nodes, in the social media campaign for Catalonian independence are Assange and Snowden. Quickly followed by Wikileaks and RT.

El Pais has also reported that the hosting for the independence movements website is in Russia and it is being supported by Russian hackers.

However, now that judicial authorities have blocked logistical preparations for the vote, pro-independence forces have only been left with the support of hackers to maintain websites containing the electoral roll and and information on where to vote.

In fact, according to Spain’s Civil Guard, a group of hackers based in Russia and satellite countries is permanently creating new links in order to have so many copies of the census site that it will be impossible for the Spanish judiciary and police to shut them down.

In terms of digital technology, pro-independence forces face two serious obstacles: any website based in the European Union is liable to be shut down by authorities relatively quickly, and any hacker that operates within EU territory could be accused of a crime. This is why those in favor of independence for Catalonia are using computer programmers based in Russia, which has no legal agreements with the EU when it comes to digital legislation.

While Assange’s activities in regard to Catalonian independence have gotten him into some trouble with his hosts, the real question here is who benefits by doing this? And by doing it now? It certainly isn’t going to be the Catalonians, especially the 40% of Catalonians that support independence and will turn out to vote for it today. Their actions are making them subject to arrest or, based on the video clips up top, extra-judicial suppression by Spanish police attempting to stop the referendum. It certainly isn’t Spain which is going to have to deal with a prolonged challenged to its political integrity and cohesion. Nor is it going to be the EU which will be dealing with yet another challenge within one of its southern members. Given all the social network analysis of the social media landscape surrounding the Catalonian independence referendum and the fact that the independence movement moved its servers to Russia, it would appear that Putin’s Maskirovka has once again slipped. The game was given away by who the social media players were. At this point the only state that seems to benefit from increased civil, political, and social disorder in Spain and the EU is Russia.

 



Ukrainian Independence Day

Today is Ukrainian Independence Day. And a lot of stuff is happening.

Secretary of Defense Mattis acknowledged that Russia is trying to redraw European borders.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has accused Russia of seeking to “redraw international borders by force” and said that Washington is “actively reviewing” supplying Ukraine with new defensive weaponry.

Mattis, the first U.S. defense chief to visit Ukraine in a decade, also reiterated that the United States “won’t accept” Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Mattis made the comments in Kyiv on August 24, the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

“Have no doubt,” he said at a joint news conference with President Petro Poroshenko. “The United States stands with Ukraine.”

Russia confirmed that it is trying to redraw European borders.

Just a quick note: when Russia refers to Rus they’re spreading a fiction. The Kyivan Rus is not the same, nor were they related to the actual historic Russian ethno-national and ethno-linguistic forebears, state, and society. The Russian government, and before it the Soviet government, purposefully conflates several different historical ethno-national/ethno-linguistic groups into a catchall category of Rus to justify Russian claims to Ukraine and Finland, as well as other areas that Russia considers part of its historic near abroad.

Earlier today there was an explosion in Kyiv.

Police in Kyiv reported that two people were injured as a result of an explosion in the center of the capital of Ukraine on August 24.

“At 14:06 in the next part there was a message about an explosion of an unknown object on Hrushevsky Street. As a result, the husband and the woman suffered bodily injuries “, – reported in the police.

As all of this is going on, the Poles, and several other Eastern European members of NATO, are rightly concerned about Russia’s upcoming ZAPAD17 military exercise.

This is part of why Poland is spending an additional $55 billion on defense spending.

Poland will allocate an additional 200 billion zlotys ($55 billion) on defense over the next 15 years to modernize its army amid signs of growing aggression from Russia, a deputy defense minister said.

Russia’s Zapad military exercises next month in Belarus and western Russia, the largest in years, have raised concerns for their lack of transparency, with NATO worried the official number of troops participating might be understated.

Russia’s Zapad military exercises next month in Belarus and western Russia, the largest in years, have raised concerns for their lack of transparency, with NATO worried the official number of troops participating might be understated.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Poland on Thursday and Friday to check on deployment of U.S. troops in the east of the country and to meet Polish, Romanian and Turkish government officials.

Poland, alarmed by what it sees as Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Yesterday was the anniversary for the victims of NAZIism and Stalinism known as Black Ribbon Day. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 AUG 1939 divided Europe into a NAZI German and Soviet spheres of interest. Tensions are running high as Russia continues a military buildup in advance of its ZAPAD17 exercise. ZAPAD17 kicks off on 14 September 2017. What is unknown is whether this is just the 2017 annual exercise along Russia’s western border or whether, as was the case in 2008 with Russia’s invasion of Georgia, it is a prelude to something else.

And what exactly does all Russia mean to Vladimir Putin?

 



The US Surge in Iraq and Other Thoughts on Counterinsurgency

In John’s post earlier today Jim, Foolish Literalist asked a question regarding the US Surge in Iraq, specifically whether if it wasn’t just the US paying off the Sunnis in Anbar. As someone who was assigned as the cultural advisor for a brigade combat team that was part of the Surge in 2008 (the second and final rotation of Surge brigades), I had a front row seat to what the Surge was and was not about. Jim is correct, but…

The US Surge in Iraq had the following components:

  1. A reversal in policy towards the Sunni tribes in Anbar that allowed a change in theater strategy so that US commanders could engage with the Sunni, and eventually some Shi’a, tribes involved in the Awakenings (Sawha).
  2. These engagements would leverage the Sawha and the tribes to create the Sons of Iraq program, where we paid Iraqis to serve as local security forces that were networked throughout each operational environment (OE).
  3. We Surged brigade combat teams (BCTs) into the city of Baghdad, as well as the agricultural areas surrounding the city of Baghdad in order to stop anti-Iraqi Government forces (al Qaeda/al Qaeda in Iraq, Jesh al Mehdi, etc). These are called qadas – the BCT I was assigned to was assigned first to Madai’an Qada, which was south and east of Baghdad and, by late 2008, also to Mahmudiya Qada, which is south and west of Baghdad.
  4. The Surged BCTs within the city of Baghdad were intended to restore order and normalcy after the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad in 2005 and 2006. The reality is that US forces in Baghdad did not so much as pacify the violence and stop the cleansing as stepped in after the cleansing had occurred, consolidated the Iraqi clearing into US forces holding. By doing so we basically blessed off on the results of the inter-sectarian cleansing and made it an irreversible fact on the ground and the de facto reality to this day in Baghdad. The Surged BCTs in the qadas were there to keep anti-Iraqi government forces from entering Baghdad to cause trouble.
  5. By 2008, as the first group of five surge BCTs was preparing to rotate home, and their replacements to rotate in, we began to more fully transition to working with the Iraqis to rebuild. Using counterinsurgency terminology we were moving from clearing and holding to holding and building.
  6. All of this was supposed to be done in a by, with, and through manner. Basically working with our Iraqi military, law enforcement, intelligence, governmental, community, and business partners. (This has worked far better in the fight against ISIS than it ever did prior to 2010. Some of this has to do with the Iraqis really wanting help this time, some of it is we’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years.)

That is pretty much the reality of the Surge. But there’s a few additional caveats I want to make. The first is that we were not really doing counterinsurgency (COIN). Despite all the ink spilled and digits digitized between the COINTras and the COINDinistas from 2007 on, we were not doing COIN in Iraq! What we were doing was adapting concepts from FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency. With the exception of Special Forces and some personnel in joint, multinational patrol bases, US forces in Iraq were not living among the host country population. Sure, we took the real estate we thought made tactical sense, fortified it, built bases on it – from patrol bases (PBs) to combat outposts (COPs) to forward operating bases (FOBs) to camps, and then we would roll off them for missions and return to them to reside. This is not what FM 3-24 means by living among/with the host country populace. The Iraqis could not enter one of our bases without permission, without being screened.

We drove from place to place in heavily fortified vehicles because of the IED threat, dismounted armed and armored, and proceeded to do whatever business we had to do. I’m almost 100% convinced that the first patrol that I and two of my teammates went on through Jisr Diyala’s market in Spring 2008 is etched in the local memories as two security contractors (me and one of my teammates) and an Army patrol escorting a US senator or congressperson through the market (we still tease him about it 9 years later – we love you Larry!). The patrol leader in charge of our security, and properly wary of the bad guys looking to exploit our newness in theater and having improper knowledge, kept us moving through, which partially negated why I wanted to tour the market – to get an idea of how well stocked it was, where the goods were coming from, and who and how many locals were in the market. Technically we were following GEN Petreaus’s oft stated concept, adapted from MG Buford’s own cavalry directives during the Civil War, to move mounted, work dismounted. But it was only a technicality.

Finally, in regard to the US Surge in Iraq, the closest we got to actually doing counterinsurgency was trying to work by, with, and through the Iraqis. This covered everything from training Iraqi security forces to overseeing the Sons of Iraq programs to working with local leaders, elected and traditional tribal and religious leadership. Unfortunately, regardless of all the tactical successes from 2007 through 2009 we had no strategic success. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that a hallmark of a good COIN strategy, working by, with, and through the local population is that while you are working by with and through at the tactical (local) level you also have to do so at the theater strategic (national) level. The idea being that as you’re tactically building with the host country population you then pull that layer up to tether it to national government and attach the two. In Iraq, even when there was an effort to do this, the connection points always missed. This was the result of failures of the national command authority (Bush 43 Administration) in DC and their strategic priority of elections and a SOFA agreement, instead of reconciling the various Iraqi societal elements with each other, to their government, and their government to them. It also resulted from not listening to the Iraqis. Or listening, but not hearing. One of the things my teammates and I discovered after taking five months and doing in depth interviews with sheikhs, imams, and other local leaders, as well as more impromptu engagements with internally displaced Iraqis,* is that the Iraqis still had scores to settle with each other. This was also clear if one paid attention to the news reporting from Anbar and of officials from Maliki’s government between 2006 and 2009. The Iraqis were telling us that inter-sectarian violence was coming once we left. And when we did they proved that they weren’t just being hyperbolic.

Read more



War Pigheadedness

“Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will certainly face defeat.”

I just read President Carrot top’s speech from last night, and the usual suspects are, predictably, participating in the usual “presidential pivot” mutual masturbation society after party:

Ugh. To the speech. What the fuck does this mean:

But to prosecute this war, we will learn from history. As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways.

A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options.

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.

I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.

Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.

Did I miss Bush and Obama announcing our attacks from a podium or something? And learning from history? How in the fuck is sending in a paltry force of 4k troops and expecting anything different learning from history. A refresher- Bush’s “surge” in Iraq was about 20k troops, but it may have amounted to more in theater briefly because they also extended the tour for folks already there. Trump is sending 4k more.

And just what does 4k troops mean?

Basically, nothing. Whenever you hear of troop numbers, you need to understand that sending 4,000 more soldiers somewhere does not mean you are sending 4,000 more trigger pullers. The vast majority of these 4,000 soldiers will be logo toads dealing with supply and logistics and maintenance and signals and what not. This probably amounts to about 800 actual combat troops being sent there. That’s basically a batallion. They’ll be able to do what- build another firebase? And you can’t have all of them on patrol at once, because soldiers need sleep and rest, they need to pull security, etc.

Again, I have not been in the military for almost twenty years, so I am not an expert and my numbers may be wrong, but from where I sit, this isn’t a fucking plan. It’s a blood sacrifice.

If the most abrasive, arrogant, and imperious President we have ever known thinks all he can get is political support for 4k more troops, it’s game over, man. I heard McMaster pushed for 50k more troops and was rejected, and that wouldn’t have been enough.

This is bullshit. After sixteen years, the American people have moved on. We have lost the will to fight in Afghanistan, as we should have. It’s just a waste of blood and money. All we are doing now is feeding the war pig. Stop sending Americans off to slaughter for no reason. Bring home the troops now.



Late Night Roundup: Statler, Waldorf & Groucho Review Trump’s “Afghanistan” Speech


.

“Let’s Get This Over With” edition:


Read more



Afghanistan Address Spoilers

Even if you don’t use Twitter, you’ve probably heard about the amazing predictive powers of Trump’s Twitter archive. For every stupid action Trump takes as president (and there are no other kind), there is an equal and opposite reaction tweet from the Trump Twitter archive. The many Trump tweets criticizing President Obama for golfing or vacationing are just the most obvious examples.

Tonight, Trump will announce a “new” strategy in Afghanistan. If the Nostradumbass principle holds true, Trump will follow the well-worn path of pouring yet more billions into the pockets of kleptocrats, war lords and contractors. Dan Eggen (@daneggenwpost) at the Washington Post pulled up some tweets from the archive:

Dickish backseat driving aside, these tweets express a fundamental break with both the Bush 2 and Obama administrations’ approach to Afghanistan. And while it’s likely that only a handful of certified idiots would have voted for Trump specifically to change those policies, he’s about to expose them for the suckers they are: Tonight, Trump will find a way to walk that shit back while making it all about himself.

Expect much praise for the sagacity of the generals and much more for the wisdom of Trump himself in tonight’s address, with emphasis on how past presidents were total losers but Trump will win because he’s a winner. It will, as usual, be a tapestry of lies. The only winners will be the kleptocrats, war lords and mercenaries, who have been winning all along.



Meanwhile in Ukraine…

It appears that Putin’s little green men are acting up in his other pet project.

It is going to be a long night in Charlottesville – things will get worse after dark. But it is also looking to be a long night in Ukraine.