At a glance.
- Tech companies seek to offer relief from Iranian censorship during ongoing protests.
- CISA and FBI publish advisory on foreign election influence operations.
- Section 230 under review. Dealing with the strike on the Kerch Bridge.
- Spinning Russian retaliatory strikes.
- Forward-looking swagger as influence.
Tech companies seek to offer relief from Iranian censorship during ongoing protests.
The US Government is encouraging tech companies to offer solutions that would enable Iranian protesters and dissidents to evade pervasive censorship from Tehran. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty reports that the Government has issued a general license to facilitate such services. "The general license, known as a GL D-2, opens the door for technology companies to provide people in Iran the tools they need to circumvent Internet shutdowns. Several U.S. technology companies are already providing new services to Iranians under the license, [Deputy Secretary of State] Sherman said." Among the services being offered, according to the Washington Post, is Google's Outline virtual private network (VPN).
CISA and FBI publish advisory on foreign election influence operations.
Late last week the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published a public service announcement on the sorts of foreign influence operations to be expected during the current US midterm election cycle. "Foreign actors can use a number of methods to knowingly spread and amplify false claims and narratives about malicious cyber activity, voting processes, and results surrounding the midterm election cycle."
Recorded Future's Insikt Group sees continuing interest on the part of foreign intelligence services and domestic extremists in US elections, and that interest is active during the current midterms. Their specific goals are as follows:
- "Russia, as it has in the past, wants to undermine faith in U.S. institutions." Russian services are likely to continue the negative, disruptive, and opportunistic tactics that have marked Moscow's disinformation campaigns in the past. The goal is to darken counsel.
- "China, besides its anger over Pelosi’s visit, wants to tar candidates who are critical of China and position itself as a better global leader than the United States." Thus China's goals are, from its point of view, positive ones. They aim to persuade, not merely confuse, and that's an inherently harder task.
- "Iran seeks a favorable outcome to nuclear negotiations." Also largely a positive, persuasive goal.
- "Domestic extremist groups want to cast doubt on U.S. electoral processes." And note that such groups are ripe for opportunistic use by Russian intelligence services in particular. (In an unrelated study, a University of Chicago poll finds that a majority of Americans believe political extremism is fed by misinformation that's amplified to the point of virality.)
Section 230 under review.
The US Supreme Court is reviewing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that gives Internet platforms broad immunity from liability for the content published on them and, at the same time, confers on the platforms a license to control the content their users publish. Those two provisions have long been in tension, with observers of widely opposed political views seeing them as giving the platforms a dangerous degree of power over public discourse. A Guardian op-ed argues that the likeliest outcome is a decision that treats the platforms as common carriers, more like telephone companies than publishers.
Dealing with the strike on the Kerch Bridge...
Hard-liners expressed shock and frustration over the Kerch Bridge explosion on Saturday, and called for revenge. The Kerch Bridge is at once a prestige product of Russian civil engineering, a tangible connection of the conquered province of Crimea to Russia proper, and an important line of communication for Russian forces operating in the southern parts of Ukraine, thus the damage it sustained aroused widespread outrage and concern among Russian deadenders. The New York Times offered a selection of representative comments from the regime's journalists. Komsomolskaya Pravda's correspondent Aleksandr Kots called upon Russian forces to “hammer Ukraine into the 18th century, without meaningless reflection on how this will affect the civilian population.” RT's Evgeny Poddubny urged action that would put fear into Ukraine's leaders. “The enemy has stopped being afraid, and this circumstance needs to be corrected promptly,” he wrote. "Commanders of formations, heads of intelligence agencies, politicians of the Kyiv criminal regime sleep peacefully, wake up without a headache and in a good mood, without a sense of inevitability of punishment for crimes committed.” Mr. Poddubny advocated reviving the tactics used in the Chechen war as a winning formula: pursue the enemy relentlessly, and “waste them in the outhouse.”
...and spinning Russian retaliatory strikes.
Russia retaliated with long-range missile strikes against ten Ukrainian cities. Their military effect was negligible, but they excited enthusiasm and approval among the Kremlin's state-approved commentariat. The AP reported widespread applause for Russian strikes against civilian targets from hard-line propagandists and Duma members. The New York Times summarizes the opinions of military analysts who assess the strategic effects, the military effects proper, of the strikes as negligible. The point is to impose pain, and that's been acknowledged and approved by Russia's commentariat.
Julia Davis, columnist at the Daily Beast and founder of the Russian Media Monitor, tweeted an excerpt from an appearance by Konstantin Dolgov, former Russian commissioner for human rights, on Olga Skabeeva's political talk show, aired this morning on Rossiya-1. "This is a fundamental point, a turning point in the operation, and, as a whole, the situation surrounding Ukraine," Mr. Dolgov said of Monday morning's missile strikes against Ukrainian cities.
"And not only Ukraine," he added. "We clearly understand, and have often said, that there is a war against Russia. It's more than a hybrid war against the West. Today's statement by the President and today's strikes show that the Kyiv regime, which is a terrorist regime, is not only illegal, but terrorist in nature. There are unlawful regimes in the world that are not terrorist regimes. Zelensky and his clique are a combination of both. Vladimir Vladimirovich [that is, Putin] is absolutely correct, citing an incomplete list of examples. By these actions, they put the remnants of Ukraine's statehood on a path of destruction. Lenin gave it, and Zelensky took it away. This is obvious," he asserted.
"I'm not saying that the strikes themselves lead to that." Ukraine's destruction is, Mr. Dolgov added, it's own doing, and Russia is waging a properly discriminating war, hitting military and not civilian targets. "These strikes are not against the civilian infrastructure. In my opinion, it's very important to understand these as strikes against military infrastructure, the infrastructure of war. All of Ukraine's plumbing isn't working for civilians. It's working for war."
"Despite the desire of millions of Ukrainians, I'm sure, regardless of how they feel toward us, under the influence of Ukraine's media and propaganda, I'm certain they don't want war," Mr. Dolgov continued, seeking to frame the war as Ukrainian aggression. "They don't want their children and husbands to die. I'm absolutely sure of that. Zelensky doesn't care, and the West could care even less."
"It's very important that we struck today. It's very important because it changes the outlook. This war is happening and we are fighting against terrorism. The title of the operation is not the key here, a special military operation or otherwise. At its core, this is an anti-terrorist operation, and against terrorism. This terrorism threatens not only Russia, not only the new regions of Russia, not only the residents of the Donbas. It's a threat to Europe and the entire world. That's certain."
The AP elsewhere summarized elsewhere increasingly strident calls by President Putin's domestic supporters for more violence and an end to what they perceive as half measures. An account in the Telegraph sees Russian public opinion as caught in a dilemma: "Put yourselves in the Russians’ shoes: you can either accept as false the premise of this war, in which Putin has tied up your national identity, and demand the radical overhaul of society in the face of terrifying force, or you can pretend the real issue is that the military and politicians haven’t been trying hard enough and, once they start doing so, Russia will win."
It's worth noting that the television screens in the chat shows' background repeatedly show video of a Russian missile hitting a long footbridge in Kyiv (arguably a permissible target, but equally a pointless one) or hitting roads and neighborhoods indiscriminately. The footage is attractive to the producers, we surmise, because it's clear, brightly lit, violent, startling, and a little disquieting. The point is to make the enemy fear Russia, a tactic of direct terrorism which the regime and its supporters understand and approve. The incoherence doesn't matter. Indeed, the incoherence is part of the effect. Say this, the state commands. Say this obvious nonsense, and acknowledge thereby our power, and your powerlessness.
Forward-looking swagger as influence.
President Putin's announcement that four Ukrainian provinces would be annexed to Russia was itself forward-looking and informational, designed to stiffen public opinion and provide some coloration of legality to the continuation of his war of choice against Ukraine. If, after all, the provinces voted to become part of Russia, then the Ukrainian counteroffensive would be aggression, right? Internationally this line has seen few takers. Some of the commentary from the Kremlin on the occasion of the ceremonial announcement is instructive, however, as an exercise in forward-looking, ruthless brag. Russian war correspondent Vladlen Tatarsky (also identified as a member of the "Vostok" battalion) was on-hand and on-camera to explain, matter-of-factly, the need for and justification of ruthless war against Ukrainian civilians. "Many people," he explained, "have a strange love for Ukrainians. They don't understand why we're destroying their infrastructure. Why do we make them angry? Look, those pigs were already angry. Even when defending, we must destroy the infrastructure. Hospitals will not work and more Ukrainians will die." (Mr. Tatarsky picks his nose meditatively at 0:21, immediately after he refers to Ukrainians as "those pigs," "eti svin'i." Sensitive viewers may wish to look away.)
This and similarly candid descriptions of Russian tactics and war aims should be borne in mind when considering Mr. Putin's special pleading that the explosion on the Kerch Bridge was "terrorism." “There’s no doubt it was a terrorist act directed at the destruction of critically important civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” the AP quotes Mr. Putin as saying Sunday. "And the authors, perpetrators, and those who ordered it are the special services of Ukraine.” If dropping two of the bridge's spans and damaging the others was indeed the work of Ukrainian special operators, as it almost certainly was, it was interdiction, not terrorism. But then Mr. Putin is engaging, as we've said, in special pleading.