“Information Warfare” Comes Home
In March of 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the New York Times published a curious story titled “Fact and Mythmaking Blend in Ukraine’s Information War.” It seemed much-hyped episodes celebrating Ukrainian mettle on the battlefield, like the exploits of the “Ghost of Kiev” ace pilot, “may be a myth,” as the Times put it euphemistically. The paper noted with seeming approval that platforms like Twitter chose not to remove that and other tales that turned out to be not-exactly-true, like the famed “Go Fuck Yourself” send-off of Ukrainian soldiers who reportedly chose to die rather than surrender to Russians on Snake Island.
Who cared if that story sounded just a tad too much like an R-rated version of General Anthony McAuliffe’s “Nuts” reply to Nazis demanding American surrender at Bastogne? What if that was the point, the paper wondered?
“Why can’t we just let people believe some things?” the Times quoted one “Twitter user” as saying. “If the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope.” The sentiment was expressed in plainer terms later in the article by former Facebook executive Alex Stamos, head of the Stanford Internet Observatory, which piloted the controversial Election Integrity Partnership social-media-monitoring project:
In exercising discretion over how unverified or false content is moderated, social media companies have decided to “pick a side,” said Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and a former head of security at Facebook.
The theme of the U.S. and its allies not only engaging in informational fakery but boasting about deceptions in public has been a constant since Russia’s invasion. NBC for instance did a story — before you check, yes, it was written by Ken Dilanian, lol — celebrating the Biden administration’s decision to “break with the past” and release “classified” intelligence even if it “wasn’t rock solid.” An example was an announcement that the Russians were considering the use of chemical weapons.
That American officials engage in public deception is no surprise to anyone who remembers the runup to the Iraq War. Still, the eagerness of officials to admit this on TV, or in papers like the Times, and even embrace goofball terms like “false flag,” is a new development.
It’s becoming clear that deploying fake news themes as “information warfare” is a tactic American government agencies are bringing home. Last week, in a story that first broke on Public, Michael Shellenberger, Alexandra Gutentag, and myself began publishing documents provided by a whistleblower about a group called the Cyber Threat Intelligence or (CTI) League, CTIL for short. CTIL, a supposed volunteer organization named as partner in April of 2020 by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency chief Chris Krebs, ostensibly had a narrow focus on Covid-19 “misinformation.” But the whistleblower’s documents revealed something far more ambitious, and unnerving.
It was obvious right away that the #CTIFiles Michael and I testified about before congress last week were newsworthy, quickly filling gaps in the public’s understanding of the mechanics of state-aided censorship programs. However, as was the case with the Twitter Files, more troubling themes have emerged as we’ve had more time to read through the material. In a piece published on Public yesterday, for instance, Alex detailed the myriad guidelines in the #CTIFiles for “offensive” information operations.
These include discrediting techniques, use of sock-puppet accounts for trolling and surveillance purposes, strategies to divide groups via infiltration, and a long list of tradecraft lunacies called “counter” actions described taxonomically in the AMITT framework pushed by CTI figures like British data scientist Sarah-Jayne Terp and Special Operations Command “technologist” Pablo Breuer.
The punch line of the upcoming #CTIFiles #4 thread is that these documents don’t merely offer instructions in the use of sockpuppets and small-scale trolling operations. They show a through-line to the much larger frauds that spread like wildfire in the legacy news landscape between 2016 and the present, chief among them the Hamilton 68 scam exposed in the Twitter Files.
Put simply, the community of individuals who are both provably connected to fake news scandals and have ties to federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, and the FBI is just too intimate and consistent now to be a coincidence. Four federal judges have already determined that many of these agencies likely violated the First Amendment and engaged in prohibited speech suppression, but it’s past time to begin exploring the thesis that federal government agencies have informational ambitions at home that extend beyond censorship.
Today’s thread will necessarily be limited to a small group of incidents with which Racket readers may be familiar, but we’re learning also about white papers and military research justifying the use of fakery that are important context to the CTI story. More on that soon. In the meantime, check out the thread, and see you on a livestream on the subject tonight at 6:00 PM.