Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’

Flynn

January 19, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. A former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said,”The exponential explosion of publicly available information is changing the global intelligence system…It’s changing how we tool, how we organize, how we institutionalize—everything we do.” This is how he explained to the authors how the people who once owned and collected secrets—professional spies—were adjusting to this world without secrets.

U.S. intelligence agencies collected open source intelligence (OSINT) on a massive scale through much of the Cold War. The U.S. embassy in Moscow collected OSINT on a massive scale. The U.S. embassy in Moscow maintained subscriptions to over a thousand Soviet journals and magazines, while the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBIS) stretched across 19 regional bureaus, monitoring more than 3,500 publications in 55 languages, as well as nearly a thousand hours of television each week. Eventually FBIS was undone by the sheer volume of OSINT the internet produced. In 1993, FBIS was creating 17,000 reports a month; by 2004 that number had risen to 50,000. In 2005 FBIS was shuttered. The former director of DIA said, Publicly available information is now probably the greatest means of intelligence that we could bring to bear. Whether you’re a CEO, a commander in chief, or a military commander, if you don’t have a social media component…you’re going to fail.”

Michael Thomas Flynn was made the director of intelligence for the task force that deployed to Afghanistan. Then he assumed the same role for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization of elite units like the bin Laden-killing navy SEAL team. He made the commandos into “net fishermen” who eschewed individual nodes and focused instead on taking down he entire network, hitting it before it could react and reconstitute itself. JSOC got better as Flynn’s methods evolved capturing or killing dozens of terrorists in a single operation, gathering up intelligence, and then blasting off to hit another target before the night was done. The authors write, “Eventually, the shattered remnants of AQI would flee Iraq for Syria, where they would ironically later reorganize themselves as the core of ISIS.

Eventually the Peter Principle prevailed. The Peter Principle is that people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. The directorship of DIA was that level for Flynn. Flynn was forced to retire after 33 years of service. Flynn didn’t take his dismissal well . He became a professional critic of the Obama administration, which brought him to the attention of Donald Trump. He used his personal Twitter account to push out messages of hate (Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL). He put out one wild conspiracy theory after another. His postings alleged that Obam wasn’t just a secret Muslim, but a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for terrorists, and that if Hillary Clinton won the election she would help erect a one-world government to outlaw Christianity (notwithstanding that Hillary Clinton was and is a Christian). He also claimed that Hillary was involved in “Sex Crimes w Children. This resulted in someone going into a Pizzeria, the supposed locus of these sex crimes with children, and shooting it up. He was charged by the FBI for lying about his contact with a Russian official. This was based on a recorded phone conversation. This was a singularly dumb mistake for a former intelligence officer

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Crowdsourcing

January 18, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. The terrorist attack on Mumbai opened up all the resources of the internet using Twitter to defend against the attack. When the smoke cleared, the Mumbai attack left several legacies. It was a searing tragedy visited upon hundreds of families. It brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war. It foreshadowed a major technological shift. Hundreds of witnesses—some on-site, some from afar—had generated a volume of information that previously would have taken months of diligent reporting to assemble. By stitching these individual accounts together, the online community had woven seemingly disparate bits of data into a cohesive whole. The authors write, “It was like watching the growing synaptic connections of a giant electric brain.”

This Mumbai operation was a realization of “crowdsourcing,” an idea that had been on the lips of Silicon Valley evangelists for years. It had originally been conceived as a new way to outsource programming jobs, the internet bringing people together to work collectively, more quickly and cheaply than ever before. As social media use had sky rocketed, the promise of had extended a space beyond business.

Crowdsourcing is about redistributing power-vesting the many with a degree of influence once reserved for the few. Crowdsourcing might be about raising awareness, or about money (also known as “crowdfunding.”) It can kick-start a new business or throw support to people who might have remained little known. It was through crowdsourcing that Bernie Sanders became a fundraising juggernaut in the 2016 presidential election, raking in $218 million online.

For the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS, the internet was the “preferred arena for fundraising.” Besides allowing wide geographic reach, it expands the circle of fundraisers, seemingly linking even the smallest donor with their gift on a personal level. The “Economist” explained, this was, in fact, one of the key factors that fueled the years-long Syrian civil war. Fighters sourced needed funds by learning “to crowd fund their war by using Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. In exchange for a sense of what the war was really like, the fighters asked for donations via PayPal. In effect, they sold their war online.”

In 2016 a hard-line Iraqi militia took to Instagram to brag about capturing a suspected ISIS fighter. The militia then invited its 75,000 online fans to vote on whether to kill or release him. Eager, violent comments rolled in from around the world, including many from the United States. Two hours later, a member of the militia posted a follow-up selfie; the body of the prisoner lay in a pool of blood behind him. The caption read, “Thanks for the vote.” In the words of Adam Lineman, a blogger and U.S. Army veteran, this represented a bizarre evolution in warfare: “A guy on the toilet in Omaha, Nebraska could emerge from the bathroom with the blood of some 18-year-old Syrian on his hands.”

Of course, crowdsourcing can be used for good as well as for evil.

Sharing

January 17, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The authors blame sharing on Facebook rolling out a design update that included a small text box that asked the simple question: “What’s on your mind?” Since then, the “status update” has allowed people to use social media to share anything and everything about their lives they want to, from musings and geotagged photos to live video and augmented-reality stickers.

The authors continue, “The result is that we are now our own worst mythological monster—not just watchers but chronic over-sharers. We post on everything from events small (your grocery list) to momentous (the birth of a child, which one of us actually live-tweeted). The exemplar of this is the “selfie,” a picture taken of yourself and shared as widely as possible online. At the current pace, the average American millennial will take around 26,000 selfies in their lifetime. Fighter pilots take selfies during combat missions. Refugees take selfies to celebrate making it to safety. In 2016, one victim of an airplane hijacking scored the ultimate millennial coup: taking a selfie with his hijacker.”

Not only are these postings revelatory of our personal experiences, but they also convey the weightiest issues of public policy. The first sitting world leader to use social media was Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. A decade later, the leaders of 178 countries had joined in, including former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who banned Twitter during a brutal crackdown, has changed his mind on the morality—and utility—of social media. He debuted online with a friendly English-language video as he stood next to the Iranian flag. He tweeted, “Let’s all love each other.”

Not just world leaders, but agencies at every level and in every type of government now share their own news, from some 4,000 national embassies to the fifth-grade student council of the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary school. When the U.S. military’s Central Command expanded Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in 2016, Twitter users could follow along directly via the hashtag #TALKOIR.

Nothing actually disappears online. The data builds and builds and could reemerge at any moment. Law professor Jeffrey Rosen said that the social media revolution has essentially marked “the end of forgetting.”

The massive accumulation of all this information leads to revelations of its own. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon is the first president to have used social media before running for office. Being both a television celebrity and a social media addict, Donald Trump entered politics with a vast digital trail behind him. The Internet Archive has a fully perusable, downloadable collection of more than a thousand hours of Trump-related video, and his Twitter account has generated around 40,000 messages. Never has a president shared so much of himself—not just words but even neuroses and particular psychological tics—for all the world to see. Trump is a man—the most powerful in the world—whose very essence has been imprinted on the internet. Know this one wonders how such a man could be elected President by the Electoral College.

Tom Nichols is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who worked with the intelligence community during the Cold War explained the unprecedented value of this vault of information: “It’s something you never want the enemy to know. And yet it’s all out there…It’s also a window into how the President processes information—or how he doesn’t process information he doesn’t like. Solid gold info.” Reportedly Russian intelligence services came to the same conclusion, using Trump’s Twitter account as the basis on which to build a psychological profile of Trump.

How to Convert Terrorists

November 16, 2017

This post is based in part on a Feature Article in the19 August 2017 issue of the New Scientist titled, “Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people extremists?” by Peter Byrne. Anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflicts asks the question, “What makes someone prepared to die for an idea? He suggests that the answer comes in two parts. Jihadists fuse their individual identity with that of the group, and they adhere to “sacred values.” He writes that sacred values are values that cannot be abandoned or exchanged for material gain. They tend to be associated with strong emotions and are often religious in nature, but beliefs held by nationalists and secularists may earn the label too.

Atran argues that individuals in this state are best understood, not as rational actors but as “devoted actors.” “Once they’re locked in as a devoted actor, none of the classic interventions seem to work. However, there can be openings. Although a sacred value cannot be abandoned it can be reinterpreted. Atran relates the case of an imam he interviewed who had worked for ISIS as a recruiter, but had left because he disagreed with their definition of jihad. For him, but not for them, jihadism could accommodate persuasion by non-violent means. As long as alternative interpretations are seen as coming from inside the group, they can be persuasive within it. Atran is now advising the US, UK, and French governments on the dynamics of jihadist networks to help them deal with terrorism.

Atran says that the key to combating extremism lies in addressing its social roots, and intervening early before anyone becomes a “devoted actor.” Until then there are all sorts of things that can be done. He says that one of the most effective countermeasures is community engagement. High-school football and the scouts movement have been effective responses to antisocial behavior among the disenfranchised children of US immigrants, for example.

Perspectives need to be changed. Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany thinks brain training could achieve similar effects. Neuroscientists have identified two pathways in the brain by which we relate to others. One mobilizes empathy and compassion, allowing us to share another person’s emotions. The second activates theory of mind, enabling us to see a situation from the other’s perspective. Her group recently completed a project called ReSource in which 300 volunteers spent nine months doing training first on mindfulness, and then on compassion and perspective training, and corresponding structural brain change were detectable in MRI scans.

Tania Singer notes that compassion evolved as part of an ancient nurturing instinct that is usually reserved for kin. To extend it to strangers, who may see the world differently from us, we need to add theory of mind. The full results from ReSource aren’t yet published, but Singer expects to see brain changes associated with perspective-taking training. She says that “only if you have both pathways working together in a coordinated fashion can you really move towards global cooperation.” By incorporating that training into school curricula, she suggests, we could build a more cohesive, cooperative society that is more resilient to extremism. To all of this, healthy memory say “Amen.’

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that had the prisoners held at Guantanomo been treated differently, an understanding could have been developed that would provide the basis for a new and more compelling narrative for these supposed terrorists. Once they had been converted, mindfulness training such as that in the ReSource program might have been highly effective.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Web of Lies

May 1, 2016

“Web of lies:  Is the Internet making a world without truth” is an article by Chris Baranluk in the Feb 20-26, 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  The World Economic Forum ranks massive digital misinformation as a geopolitical risk alongside terrorism.  This problem is especially pernicious as misinformation is very difficult to correct (enter “misinformation” into the healthy memory search block to see relevant posts).  Bruce Schneider, a director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that we’re entering an era of unprecedented psychological manipulation.

Walter Quattrociocchi at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, along with his colleagues looked at how different types of information are spread on Facebook by different communities.  They analyzed two groups:  those who shared conspiracy theories and those who shared science news articles.  They found that science stories received an initial spike of interest and were shared or “liked” frequently.  Conspiracy theories started with a low level of interest, but sometimes grew to be even more important than the science stories overall.  Both groups tended to ignore information that challenged they views.  Confirmation bias leads to an echo chamber.  Information that does not fit with an individual’s world view does not get passed on.  On social networks, people true their peers and use them as their primary information sources.   Quattrociocchi  says “The role of the expert is going to disappear.”

DARPA, a research agency for the U.S. Military,  is funding a Social Media in Strategic Communication Program, which funds dozens of studies looking at everything from subtle linguistic cues in specific posts to how information flows across large networks.
DARPA has also sponsored a challenge to design bots that can sniff out misinformation deliberately planted on Twitter.

Ultimately the aim of this research is to find ways to identify misinformation and effectively counter it, reducing the ability of groups like ISIS to manipulate events.  Jonathan Russell, head of policy at counter-terrorism think tank Quilliam in London says, “They have managed to digitize propaganda in a way that is completely understanding of social media and how it’s used.  Russell says that a lack of other voices also gives the impression that they are winning.  There’s no other  effective media coming out of Iraq and Syria.  Think tank Quilliam has attempted to counter such narratives with videos like “Not Another Brother,” which depicts a jihadist recruit in desperate circumstances.  It aims to show how easily people can be seduced by exposure to a narrow view of the world.

This research is key.  Information warfare will play an increasingly larger percentage of warfare than kinetic effects.

Pangiotis Metasxes of Wellsley College believes that we have entered a new ea in which the definition of literacy needs to be updated.  “In the past to be literate you needed to know reading and writing.  Today, these two are not enough.  Information reaches us from a vast number of sources.  We need to learn what to read, as well as how.”

Cognitive Misers and Democracy

February 17, 2016

Cognitive misers are people who do not like to exert the effort involved in thinking.   In addition to entering “cognitive misers” into the healtymemory search block, you can also enter “System 1” or “Kahneman.”  Cognitive misers like to believe in things because questioning beliefs or principles or learning new things involves cognitive effort and thinking.

A short while back I read a poll that I found extremely discouraging.  The question asked what was more important to voters, a politician’s willingness to compromise or to  principles.
Here is a breakdown of the responses by political party.  Note that they do not add up to 100% as some respondents refused to answer.

Group                   Principles        Willing to Compromise
All Voters             40%                  50%
Republicans        54%                   36%
Independents     40%                  47%
Democrats           23%                  68%

I guess that the good news is that with the exception of one group, the remaining groups a larger percentage indicated a Willingness to Compromise.  In only one group did this percentage reach 50% and only one other group indicated a slightly greater than a two to one preference.  If the results are representative, then I argue that these beliefs present a far greater existential threat to the Democracy in the United States than does ISIS.

Before addressing cognitive miserliness per se, let me remind readers what a democracy is supposed to be..  A democracy is a system in which people vote for candidates and the candidates try to vote for what they think are the correct policies, but negotiate when the need to get the most palatable policy that they can accept.  There will be times when the vote goes against them, but they accept the result.  They do not threaten to shut down the government or actually shut down the government.  As you know this has already happened at least twice.

It is unfortunate that “politician” has negative connotations.  Using “politician” in a pejorative sense, “he’s a politician,” or he is doing this for “political reasons” is both unfair and wrong.  The first requirement of a politician is to make the political system work.  Sometimes that might correspond to political beliefs, sometimes it will not.  But beliefs or principals should not be the driving factor.

The advancement of mankind has been in direct proportion to the advancement of science.  Key to science is thinking.  Cognitive miserliness is anathema to effective science.  Whatever beliefs science has are beliefs that are subject to change.  It that is not the case, then the enterprise is not science.  There have been enormous changes in science during my lifetime.  There is not a single subject matter that has not changed.  Until fairly recently science believed that humans could not generate new neurons.  In other words there was no such think as neurogenesis.  Had I argued to the contrary as a graduate student I would have quickly been booted out of graduate school.  It was not until close to the end of the 20th century that neurogenesis was accepted and the notion of neuroplasticity  was advanced.

I become particularly annoyed when I hear reporters accuse politicians of flip flopping.  It seems like this is the stock in trade for many reporters.  This reminds me of the response the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes gave when he was accused of a statement that was in conflict with previous comments.  He responded,”when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir.”  An argument can be made that opinions are not being changed by facts, but by political considerations.  Here I would refer you to the remedial exposition on democracy I offered above.

I also argue that cognitive miserliness is a problem for the Supreme Court of the United States.  There are two views of the Constitution.  One is that it is supposed to be a dynamic document that has been written that is expected to change with the times.  The other, originalism, is that the Constitution needs to be interpreted in terms of what the authors intended.  We need to remember that when the Constitution was written, slavery existed, black people were counted as three-fifths of a human being, and women could not vote.  It should also be remembered that one of the most advanced scientists of the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not know what current high school physics students know.  Moreover, I am virtually certain that if the framers of the constitution knew what we do today, they would have written a different constitution.  I am upset when the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away is described as having a brilliant mind.  He was an originalist.  He believed that what the framers of the constitution believed at that time should provide the basis of judicial decisions.  I regard such individuals as intellectual runts.

The results of cognitive miserliness are readily apparent in the United States.  Realize that the United States is the only advanced country that does not have a system of national health insurance.  What we do have is the country with the most expensive medical costs with results comparable to third world countries.  We are the only advanced country that has no control over the cost of prescription medications.  And we are the only country that has a major political party that refuses to believe in global warming.  We also have a major TV network that insists on always having a denier of global warming on a show where a scientist is presenting data bearing on global warming and its ramifications.  This is in spite of the fact that this is a small minority of scientists, some of whom are paid scientific guns to counter the overwhelming evidence.

The reason that is often presented is one of American Exceptionalism.  This exceptionalism is a product of cognitive miserliness.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Syndrome E

November 27, 2015

In the recent healthymemory blog post, “A Single Shifting Mega-Organism,” Syndrome E (E stands for evil) was briefly discussed.  Syndrome E was developed to describe the atrocities, mass-killings, genocides such as the holocaust and the killings by ISIS.  The neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried describes these atrocities as examples of Syndrome E.   He defined the following seven symptoms of Syndrome E:

Compulsive repetitive violence
Obsessive beliefs
Rapid desensitisation to violence
Flat emotional state
Separation of violence from everyday activities
Obedience to an authority
Perceiving group members as virtuous

Having decided that neuroscience has come a long way since his original paper in 1997 (Syndrome E in The Lancet, Volume 150, No. 9094, p1845-1847) Fried  organized a conference in Paris earlier this year to revisit the concept.  Highlights of this conference were published in the New Scientist, November 14-20, 2015 in a feature by Laura Spinney.

Fried’s theory starts with the assumption that people normally have an aversion to harming others.  If this is correct, the higher brain overrides this instinct in people with Syndrome E.  So how might this occur.

The lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are sensitive to rules from the newer parts of the brain.  The medial region of the PFC receives information from the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain that processes emotional states and is sensitive to our innate to preferences.  An experiment using brain scanning was designed to put these two parts of the brain in conflict.  Both these parts of the PFC were observed to light up.  People followed the rule but still considered their personal preference showing that activity in the lateral PFC overrode the personal preference.  The idea here is in the normal brain the higher brain overrides signals coming from the primitive brain.  However, in the pathological brain with Syndrome E, the primitive brain prevails.

Fried suggests that people experience a visceral reaction when they kill for the first time, but some become rapidly desensitized.  And the primary instinct not to harm may become more easily overcome when people are “just following orders.”  Unpublished research using brain scans has shown that coercion makes us feel less responsible for our actions.  Although coercion can cause people to take extraordinarily actions (see the healthy memory blog post “Good vs. Evil”), there are individuals who are predisposed to violence who are just awaiting an opportunity.

Unfortunately, the question remains as to how to prevent people from joining such radicalized groups.  Research in this area is just beginning and much more needs to be done (See the healthy memory blog post,”Why DARPA is studying stories”). Being a neuroscientist, it is not surprising that Fried thinks  that we should use our growing neuroscientific knowledge to identify radicalization early, isolate those affected and help them change.  We wish him, and hopefully many others in this effort.

What is not mentioned in this article is that it can be advantageous for one group to adopt Syndrome E to take from or to take advantage of another group.  Consider North America.  Syndrome E was involved in vacating Native American lands for Europeans.  Moreover, up until the Civil War, blacks were enslaved and slavery was a key component of the economy of the United States.  I sometimes ponder how would North America been settled by Europeans had we the moral and ethical standards of today.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.