“There is no objective truth, there is only subjective truth”
The upcoming 2020 Election cycle will be an all out melee I suspect for a few reasons. The first reason I am making this claim is that the US has done pretty much nothing under Trump to secure the next election because Trump cannot bear to discuss what happened in 2016 and has rebuffed Homeland Security and others ovations to talk about 2020’s security. Additionally, even not talking about the subject, Trump has seen fit to do absolutely nothing about the problem because, hey, it’s how he won the last time right? The big difference in the next election cycle’s attacks will be that the field has opened up much more since the playbook was used by the GRU and SVR in 2016. Now we will have a slew of other nation states as well as internal players (Republicans, Dems, and private groups with interests) who now can spin up campaigns of their own using the Russian active measures playbook.
Russia will undoubtedly has already spun up operations tempo on the 2020 election cycle. We have seen an uptick already in GRU style action in disinformation stories being published by the likes of Sputnik and RT. Of course these entities are always at this, but, it seems the online game has also been at work with fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other places online. The real question now is how will the GRU and the Kremlin innovate to counter the paltry efforts of Facebook and Twitter and get their message out.
Of course Russia already has the in with Trump in office to begin with and it seems that play for play Trump emulates or communicated what the Kremlin wants, in effect Trump is Putin’s puppet even if he doesn’t really understand that fact. The reality though is this; the Russians have moved in on all fronts and are using proxies to effect the overall fractured nature of the political landscape today not only in the US but all over the world. Remember, Putin’s goal is to cause chaos, division, and a malaise that will leave their perceived enemies unable to function as a nation/government/force that could threaten them.
To that end, we even have been seeing more incursions lately into US air space by BEAR-FOXTROT bombers with SU-35’s. This is also a means of pressure to keep the US off balance and garner news cycles. Russia will continue overtly and covertly to influence the US in myriad ways to keep us off balance and continue the division that makes us unable to act on the world stage with decisive action. The most insidious actions though will be to continue to use money and power to further their goals internally within the US along with kompromat to keep a hold on those in power that they can use.
Trump & Surrogates
We have been seeing what Trump and his surrogates have been doing these last two years already if you have been paying attention. Trump’s use of the constant rallies, constant lies, and “iniquity signalling” will only crescendo as he leads up to the 2020 vote. Trump’s current actions against the IC are also a means of control and division as well. I am sure that Trump will use any and all TS/TSCI information that Barr might declassify to leak or blatantly beat the media and his perceived enemies with it. Let’s just say that a person like Trump with this kind of power will use anything and everything he can get his hands on to distort and destroy in furtherance of his own power.
I would be looking for more disinformation operations being created and played out by not only Trump’s internal teams but also any others who may feel a kinship to his world view. You will likely see more home grown operations like Jacob Wohl’s though some might actually not be as easily stopped as has last few attempts. I would also say that Trump himself, with his patterns of lies, half truths, and confabulation, is a main player in this because he has the multiple stages of media that include the internet via Twitter at his disposal. Of course now that Trump and Barr are in a position to declassify TS/SCI information and weaponize it, we are likely to see much more come from the candidate/president than we have ever seen before as a nation. As I am writing this as well, the debate cycle for the Democratic party starts this evening, so buckle up kids, it is all starting in earnest. It will be interesting though to watch the President and his minions to see exactly what operations they try. Perhaps I will take notes and have a follow up list of attacks that he and his minions carry out.
China has always had an interest in our politics and more specifically, our economy for a long time now. In that the shackles of information warfare have been removed by Russia, the Chinese are likely to be more aggressive in this arena as well. China is currently in an economic war with the whole of the world and it is their hegemony alone that they seek to effect. Of course now Trump has begun a trade war with China so there is even more inclination for China to play a part in effecting a change in our leadership with an eye toward a more accommodating trade policy from a more friendly candidate. The question there is who among the Democrats, Republicans (if any run) and or third party candidates suits their goals. I also wonder if maybe China might make the same calculus about American politics and dysfunction as the Russians do and just seek to cause more chaos. This would mean that the US as a global power would be that much more diminished and would give China a more free hand to assert their power along with Russia globally.
Frankly, China has more to lose were the US to go up in flames financially than in trying to stabilize things here though. My gut tells me that they will attempt to get Trump out and place a more friendly face in the office with any means that they can (probably dark money to candidate of their choice) to stop the Trump trade war…
Well, this will be the new and youthful player in the space this election cycle. Iran is presently on the edge of forever war with Bolton and Trump it seems and their delusions are getting stronger by the day that Iran is an existential threat. Iran will have to play catch up with regard to disinformation and information operations before they can be a real player like Russia or even China but I am sure they will be playing the game as well. In fact, there have been more moves on the internet of late that seem to be leading toward psyops and disinfo ops for the upcoming elections so keep an eye on them.
DPRK is a dark horse here and I am sure they will be taking part as well in the great games of 2020. History has shown that Un and his forces are a little more kinetic than most of the others in their operations online and off. Actually, in the arena they are second to Russia so I would be looking for some hacks and perhaps dumps akin to what Russia pulled off in 2016 to muddy the waters further. Of course in the case of Un and DPRK it is also in their interest to keep Donny in office. Donny is a weak president that Un can lie to and manipulate in order to further his own ends no matter what Donny says about their great relationship. I think if we watch for DPRK activity we will see some hacks, dumps, and more likely than those dark monies being funneled to campaigns to further their ends.
Saudi… What’s more to say right? Money, more money, more influence, and perhaps some disinformation as an appetizer? My bet would be that Saudi will go full in on Trump and perhaps be passing him dirt on candidates as well as funneling large sums to the Trump campaign to keep him in there. With the Kashoggi killing and the total air cover by Trump for that killing, I am sure that Saudi is a lock in support for Trump. With the alleged hack and dump on Bezos’ phone, we can see that if it was indeed Saudi who carried that out in retaliation for the WashPo, well, then they are certainly capable of much more. The question for me is just how much they will care to try and obfuscate where it’s all emanating from.
What we have seen in disinformation operations since 2016 is just the tip of the iceberg. With the advent of social media and now computing power, we will likely see even more forgery of information or distortion of data that will cause people to believe all kinds of things in this election cycle. Remember, the point is to cause friction and sow chaos so the media does not have to be air tight, it only has to feed the cognitive dissonance of the target audience that they target. Even with information being proven to be false, we have seen people’s inability to get past their own beliefs to see the truth of things. So by dropping video, audio, articles, etc the damage is done and the momentum is carried. Look for the following types of disinformation operations:
- Fake video (DeepFake) of individuals in the election cycle (even if they are easily found to be false)
- Tampered video (Pelosi is slurring words)
- Faked or tampered audio files
- False information being leaked or posted (including forged email spools, documents, etc)
- False or misleading stories being amplified on media
- Leaking false information to news outlets (Leaked forged or tampered with databases)
- Leaking false information in the form of oppo (opposition research) to opponents (Think Steele dossier on steroids created whole cloth)
- YouTube and other video documentaries or clips with totally fictional content offered as “the truth” like flat earth videos
- Insertion and operation of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Discord, Redit, basically any feed available with an audience to spill disinformation on
Propaganda and Disinformation are kissing cousins really. Basically all of the above being pumped out by the likes of RT, FOX News, and other outlets. The ubiquity of the advertising and the news feeds that have become wholly about propaganda has made this hard to miss and or be affected by today.
- Television/Internet/Radio news and advertising
- YouTube videos and ads (lately they have been buying up interstitial space as well as before and after videos)
Dirty tricks have been a long standing go to in our political system and now it is getting a re-assessment and revitalization since 2016. I would wholly attribute this to Roger Stone and his machinations along with the Trump/Russia collusion that took place. Incidents can be clearly outlined in 2016 like the actions of Cambridge Analytica that were caught on tape. Cambridge was looking to sell services of not only analytics but also dirty tricks by capturing people on tape with hookers etc to destroy them. Stone is famously known as being a dirty trickster and worked as such in the Nixon campaign. So yeah, we are likely to see this play out in 2020 as well. I would hasten to add that the recent Giuliani attempts in Ukraine to get dirt on Joe Biden are exactly this type of activity albeit totally and nakedly open to us all to see. You see, even the whiff of this dirt feeds the cognitive dissonance of the avid Trumper.
- Setup’s like ACORN or Cambridge Analytica offerings of secret videos
- Sex stings with video/audio/pictures
- National Enquirer-esque leaks of dirt
- Blog posts, tweets, etc that can be forged and said to be from a candidate
- Fake claims made against candidates etc
- Theft and release of information that is not flattering to a candidate (honestly, this is what happened to Clinton in 2016, what was really revelatory in those email dumps?)
Russia really set the bar here for direct action. The hacking and leaking of information, even data that like the Clinton emails was a big “meh” was enough to feed the base of Trump and perhaps change minds of those who were on the fence about voting for her. Then again, the idea of hacking the election systems and the systems that tally the rolls has not been totally elucidated upon by the FBI and others. The fact of the matter is this, we now know that the GRU hacked those systems and had access, we just have no idea of what they actually did while on them. Did GRU put their thumb on the electoral scale and win Donny the election by the smallest of margins via the electoral system?
…. I kinda think they did but no proof means no certainty.
With that, consider what may happen this go round in 2020.
- Hacking and dumping of data as we saw in 2016
- Hacking and destruction of systems in an effort to make systems seem insecure/not trustworthy
- Hacking and placing disinformation into data then leaking for effect
- Hacking election systems and tampering with them secretly for vote control
- Hacking systems not to actually damage them or change the vote but only to sow FUD on their security
- Hacking and use of data in blackmail
- Hacking and using ransomware etc to lock up systems and cause chaos and inaction
Donny has been hard at work since taking office by having the constant rallies for his base. He has been feeding them a steady mixture of lies, distortions, and promises of “winning” since the start. Faced now with another election cycle where he could potentially be beat, he will go into overdrive with his antics to keep his base active as well as make all opponents look bad. What Trump will double down on though will be the same things as he has previously, e.g. “rigged elections, fake news, and whatever the Kremlin line is being put out there currently” I would add though, these bullet points of what he will likely try in 2020 pre and post election.
- Begins to call election system into question pre-election
- Leverages National Guard and or Active MIL to “guard” polling stations nationally (pressure on people to not vote through intimidation)
- Calls the election “rigged” and challenges the result
- Makes calls for his term to be extended
- Calls a national emergency if he loses and attempts to go to court over the election results
- Calls for a re-call election due to tampering
- His usual disinformation road show will go full steam during the election cycle
- Trump will amp up the discord by doing more outrageous things
- Lastly, the Trump/Barr IC war will be leveraged against his perceived enemies using secret data to dump or distort to attack if not actually attempt to arrest his enemies.
Well, here we are at what kind of feels like the end of Democracy. Trump is the catalyst for so much that is a detriment to the values of the United States that it is hard to even to attempt to prognosticate what he will try to keep his place in the White House. Of course, as I said before in this piece, the norms have all been broken now and the US and other countries still have not made any inroads and how to respond to these kinds of attacks. This means that we are all just unable to stop these things from happening and without solid responses when they do. This will all just escalate and get worse I fear with a specific scenario that Trump, by hook or by crook, wins in 2020 and is allowed to destroy how the countries government is supposed to work.
This is a key fact, we do not have a means of stopping the disinformation propagation nor do we have a means to effectively counter its effects. without laws and norms around this as well as a means to counter it all, we are lost. I have been watching the think tank reports and have in fact taken part in some of these working groups and in every case, it comes back to “what does the government have as tools and techniques to counter this?” and the answer even more so now is “none” … In fact, Trump has cut funding as well as ignored calls to formulate plans to stop these attacks on Democracy.
The net effect is we are fucked.
So, sit back kids, grab a tasty beverage and watch the fires of what is left of our Democracy burn.
… That’s kinda Millennial huh?
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