At a glance.
- A look inside the GRU's psychological warfare doctrine.
- DPRK propaganda takes an unusual turn: sweet and sentimental.
- Vaccine disinformation and misinformation.
The Free Russia Foundation this week released a report, "Aquarium Leaks," on disinformation tactics used by Russia's GRU. The authors of the report are interested in showing the continuity they perceive between Soviet-era propaganda and disinformation and the successor programs Russia has operated since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
The GRU's Unit 54777 has taken a leading role in operating disinformation campaigns. It's also done so in cooperation with a different intelligence organization, the SVR, which is the successor agency of the Soviet-era KGB’s foreign branch, the First Chief Directorate.
The report consists largely of translations of files obtained from various sources: defectors, leakers, and so on. The main lesson they teach is that psychological warfare occupies a significant place in Russian military doctrine, that its services are organized to conduct it, and that significant resources are expended on training for it. It's a long study, but the account of target study (which presumably informs target selection and target attack) is particularly interesting. It's based on five principles:
- "The principle of comprehensiveness determines that when studying the targets of psychological influence, officers and management bodies for psychological warfare must always strive to define the amount of information required to draw conclusions. With that purpose, it is important to know which features and characteristics of the psywar targets must be studied in order to receive the necessary information. Moreover, it is always important to establish which methods and techniques should be used to complete the assigned task."
- "The principle of an activity-based approach is oriented toward obtaining the most important information about the psywar targets, drawn mainly from specific activity that is significant for them (in their everyday life, profession, studies, and so on). Only by analyzing people’s activity can grounded conclusions be made about the internal essence of the target for study, in order to provide an exhaustive characterization of him and to understand the specifics of his behavior and acts."
- "The principle of the socio-confessional approach requires a study of the psywar targets on the basis of analysis of social, economic, legal, cultural, religious, ethnic and other relationships which they must make in the process of their daily life, in communication and interaction with other people. These relationships have an imprint on all the most important features and characterizations of the targets for psychological warfare."
- "The principle of goal orientation implies a clear and definite goal, for whose sake the study of the psywar targets is in fact organized. If it is absent, then the study may not achieve concrete and persuasive results. As a rule, this goal must be the identification of the internal essence of the psywar target: his worldview, needs, motives for activity, and the specifics of his behavior and acts. Based on the purpose for the study, a plan is made and a program of study of targets of psychological warfare, which enables, first of all, to study precisely those aspects and features of the psychological warfare target’s activity and acts, which is determined by the set goal. Secondly, a plan and program for study of psychological war targets provides the opportunity to achieve the set goal step-by-step, comprehensively."
- "The principle of objectivity assumes that study of psychological warfare targets must rely on objectively expressed and comprehensively verified facts that must be compared with each other. Prejudice cannot be allowed in interpretation, explanation, and evaluation of these indicators. Haste in determination of the chief features of the psywar targets is unacceptable and dangerous."
Moscow expressed its disapproval of the Free Russia Foundation last year when it classified the group as, according to Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty, "undesirable." Whether you consider that a reason to disregard what the Foundation has to say or a letter of recommendation depends upon your view of the Moscow line. We incline toward letter of recommendation.
And why the title "Aquarium Leaks?" It's a gesture toward spook world slang: GRU headquarters is familiarly known as the "Aquarium."
Pyongyang imitates the Hallmark Channel.
The Wall Street Journal notices an unusual turn in North Korea’s self-presentation through social media: it’s become positively cuddly, with sweet homages to mom and kimchi, not to mention low-key, friendly tours of grocery stores and parks. The spoilsports at Twitter have banned some of the amplifying accounts (like “coldnoodlefan”) presumably on the basis of a hermeneutic that leads them to see things visible mostly to the Dear Successor. But the apparent goal of the charm offensive is apparently, South Korean observers think, to accustom people to thinking of North Korea as a normal sort of place, where normal, recognizable people can live quiet, fulfilled lives. Whether this will overcome earlier highlights from Pyongyang’s propaganda of the deed, like executions by anti-aircraft cannon, assassination by nerve agent, and so on, remains to be seen.
Vaccine misinformation and disinformation.
While the casual and tabloidesque "AstraZeneca will turn you into a monkey" line of Russian disinformation seems, predictably, not to have had legs, COVID-19 disinformation is likely to continue. Former CISA director Brian Krebs sees it as major problem, and would like to see the US take more action to counter it. FCW reports that his successor, acting director Wales, believes that CISA isn't the right agency to take the lead on the problem.
Social media platforms, prominently including Facebook, are seeking to find ways of handling both COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation, which often discloses itself in the form of coordinated inauthenticity, is in some respects an easier problem to contain than is misinformation, which often has its roots in the grass and crops up spontaneously. The Washington Post reports that on December 8th Facebook took down some pages holding misinformation after the German Marshall Fund presented Menlo Park with evidence that the pages and their content represented a coordinated effort, probably criminal rather than state-directed. Karen Kornbluh, director of the German Marshall Fund's Digital New Deal project said, “These networks are turning disinformation into dollars—at the expense of people’s health."