“More of this is true than you would believe…” ~ The Men Who Stare At Goats
Psi- or parapsychology; is the study of paranormal and psychic phenomena. The application of psi on the battlefield has long been a seen as a distinct advantage in the arms race traditionally defined by brute force, technological mastery and strategic warfare.
Psi as a tactic of warfare isn’t new: a short stroll through history tells us tales of psychic spies, spoon bending agents and KGB superheroes. If you think that all sounds like an episode of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, read the books for yourself:
In his memoirs ‘The Stargate Chronicles’ Joseph McMoneagle details a career as a psychic spy with the United States Army.
The Secret Life of Uri Geller: CIA Masterspy? by authorized biographer Jonathon Margolis; explores Uri’s covert work with the Mossad and CIA.
While in Russia, extensive research in the field is well documented in Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder.
Psi – believe it … or not?
Actually – that’s exactly the point.
The Men Who Stare at Goats: #IOinAction
As the movie starring George Clooney – ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ depicted, the United States was in a psychic arms race with Russia.
As a method of information operations (Info Ops) – whether the film is fact or fiction or a combination of the two is irrelevant. The resulting outcome is the same: the creation of a perception that compels your enemy to attempt to counter your actions through- for example, a diversion of resources or a change in strategy.
In a social media Info Ops context, the creation of such a perception is an extremely powerful tool.
Social media in itself creates a hype-infused culture of envy – from who has more followers or likes, to content based one-up-man-ship. It’s inherently competitive by nature and it’s application in the battlespace; where winning equates to mission success – means the infusion of Info Ops into official and unofficial social media channels has the ability to change the perceptions of target audiences by simple, old-school misinformation tactics with a savvy digital spin.
One of the most noteworthy military misinformation campaigns ‘Who’s Who in the CIA’ – a book published in 1968 by the KGB, purported to name over 3,000 CIA operatives across the world. Of course only some of those listed were actually CIA operatives, whilst others were simply American’s abroad affiliated with diplomatic stations.
Fast forward to today – and if such Info Ops campaigns were to be waged, social media would play a critical part in it’s dissemination- as either a weapon of cyberwar or tool of misinformation. The latest James Bond film Skyfall tackles this social and digital Info Ops revolution via Bond’s nemesis; a cyber-terrroist who uses YouTube to blow the cover of Western intelligence agents embedded in terrorist cells around the world.
Bond’s nemesis uses socially savvy cyber warfare to achieve real-world objectives; not unlike Wiki-Leaks and Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures- both of which are good examples of how social and digital media have redefined influence at time when the general global population is primed to digest their communications in 140 character bursts and 30 second video-bytes.
Often polarizing and nearly always controversial, using social media as a conduit for modern Info Ops has the ability to influence far beyond the battlespace. It can instantaneously generate news to exploit the insatiable global appetite for #trendingtopics, to fill the information void or to spin pure fiction as fact.
With armchair Generals and smartphone warriors now a commonly accepted part of the global cyber debate; by adding Psi into the Info Ops cocktail – you can create the stuff of conspiracy theories with Tarantino-esque plot twists, leveraging local superstitions and cultural belief systems.
The disappearance of flight MH370 is a recent example of how the online information void was quickly filled by ‘experts’ and armchair commentators spinning all manner of outright conspiracy theories as pseudo-fact. Mainstream media were running these stories simply due a lack of any other available information. For a period of time, the disappearance of MH370 = newsjacking + psi + smartphone warrior Info Ops There are lessons in opportunity here for socially savvy military’s in exploiting newsjacking for Info Ops purposes.
As a tactic of cyberwarfare; the promulgation of such outrageous theories is more than pure distraction – it creates a belief, however implausible- that can generate enough doubt to divert resources or in the case of news and social media – online diversion, subversion and influence.
Psi as a weapon of social media based Info Ops: whether that be stories of your psychic army staring at goats or special agents bending spoons – creates a multi-staged, labyrinth like sociological cyber offensive. As a tool in the application of influence, it’s reach goes far beyond the defined battlespace and has the ability to tap a global social audience to generate money-can’t-buy Google rankings and consequently; Info Ops reach.
Is your military unit churning out unimaginative press releases at a rate of knots?
Or are you #StaringAtGoats Info Ops style?
(Hat tip to @ric_cole for the online curation of social Info Ops via #IOinAction)