Archive for May, 2017



For many Americans, Russian hacking remains a story about the 2016 election. But there is another story taking shape. Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. “Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it’s becoming easier every day,” says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology.

If that sounds alarming, it helps to understand the battlescape of this new information war. As they tweet and like and upvote their way through social media, Americans generate a vast trove of data on what they think and how they respond to ideas and arguments–literally thousands of expressions of belief every second on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Google. All of those digitized convictions are collected and stored, and much of that data is available commercially to anyone with sufficient computing power to take advantage of it.
That’s where the algorithms come in. American researchers have found they can use mathematical formulas to segment huge populations into thousands of subgroups according to defining characteristics like religion and political beliefs or taste in TV shows and music. Other algorithms can determine those groups’ hot-button issues and identify “followers” among them, pinpointing those most susceptible to suggestion. Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior.
That is what Moscow is doing, more than a dozen senior intelligence officials and others investigating Russia’s influence operations tell TIME.
In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election. Like much of America, many in the U.S. government hadn’t imagined the kind of influence operation that Russia was preparing to unleash on the 2016 election. Fewer still realized it had been five years in the making.
These officials have seen evidence of Russia using its algorithmic techniques to target the social media accounts of particular reporters, senior intelligence officials tell TIME. “It’s not necessarily the journal or the newspaper or the TV show,” says the senior intelligence official. “It’s the specific reporter that they find who might be a little bit slanted toward believing things, and they’ll hit him” with a flood of fake news stories.
By raising doubts about the validity of the 2016 vote and the vulnerability of future elections, Russia has achieved its most important objective: undermining the credibility of American democracy.
For now, investigators have added the names of specific trolls and botnets to their wall charts in the offices of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. They say the best way to compete with the Russian model is by having a better message. “It requires critical thinkers and people who have a more powerful vision” than the cynical Russian view, says former NSA deputy Inglis. And what message is powerful enough to take on the firehose of falsehoods that Russia is deploying in targeted, effective ways across a range of new media? One good place to start: telling the truth.
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“It is significant that we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and not an individual leader, ruler, office or entity,” reads an explainer on the oath on the FBI website. “A government based on individuals–who are inconsistent, fallible and often prone to error–too easily leads to tyranny on the one extreme or anarchy on the other.”
In practice, this means the FBI is built to resist loyalty requests from a President. Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s acting director and a candidate for the job, has testified to the Senate that there will be no letup, whatever the wishes of the President, in the inquiry into his campaign’s contacts with the Russians. “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” he said. “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, from protecting the American people, from upholding the Constitution.”
Both factions have labored to protect the President from his worst instincts. Aides have tried everything from restricting access to the Oval Office to filling the President’s schedule in a futile bid to minimize distractions. Staffers are frustrated by leaks about staff turmoil coming from Trump’s extended circle of allies. But Trump has so far resisted attempts to impose order, insisting on long stretches of unstructured time to watch television and call allies. Unlike most CEOs, he is an “instinctive and reactive” leader, in the words of one aide, “unwilling or incapable” of hewing to a long-term strategy. Others inside the White House have likened his itchy Twitter finger and obsession with cable chatter to a drug addict who cannot grasp that his habits have become a problem. A single segment “can take over the day” for the entire West Wing, complains a staffer.
The result is a dysfunctional workplace. The President has made clear that he believes he has been let down by his staff. Meanwhile, his staff is increasingly hesitant to sacrifice their credibility for a boss who won’t protect them. When news of the classified intelligence given to the Russians came out, the press office, still reeling from supplying bad information on the firing of Comey, sent out McMaster to issue a spirited defense. One day later, when news broke of Comey’s memo alleging that Trump had asked him to drop the Flynn investigation, no White House staff rushed to the cameras. Instead, reporters received a denial from the White House by email. No adviser to the President chose to attach their name to his defense.

 


Because Trump says so many outrageous things every day, it’s easy to lose sight of just how dramatic this shift in paradigm is going to be and just how profound will be the consequences on the ground. For 70 years, the United States has helped maintain peace in much of the world thanks to a system of alliances based on a common belief in democracy. For the same period of time, American presidents have supported those alliances rhetorically as well as militarily and economically, and the United States has profited from that support. Now that the U.S. president no longer distinguishes between dictators and democrats, expect the former to grow stronger and more violent. Expect democratic alliances to grow weaker. Expect peace and prosperity to diminish.
Expect people to look elsewhere for moral leadership. During a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, one Western leader publicly asked him to stop religious repression and the torture of gay men in Russian prisons. That’s the kind of language we were once accustomed to hearing from the “leader of the free world” — and, of course, that’s the language we can expect now only from the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.~Anne Applebaum The Washington Post

Article: It is widely known that Trump — whose political profile over the decades has vacillated from liberal to conservative to moderate to populist, and supported and opposed abortion rights, higher taxes on the rich, and universal health care — does not care very much about political ideas. This explanation is true, but incomplete. The president also does not know very much about political ideas. And it is not merely the details of policy that he lacks. Trump has no context for processing ideas. He does not understand which kinds of ideas imply support for which kinds of policies, nor why political figures tend to believe what they do, nor why they agree or disagree with one another. He is capable of forming strongly held beliefs about people in politics, but he does so in entirely personal terms. Trump’s flamboyant, weird ignorance reveals a distinct pattern. He is not so much nonideological as sub-ideological.
Trump thinks about politics like a low-information voter, which enabled him to speak their language naturally. His stated belief during the campaign that he could expertly craft a series of popular deals — “it’s going to be so easy” — appealed to low-information voters because it earnestly described the political world as they see it. Trump’s experience as a developer and professional celebrity have put a narcissistic gloss on Trump’s low-information worldview. He sees politics as a variation of real estate or reality television — a field where the players are sorted not so much as combatants on opposing teams (though they may compete at times) but on a hierarchy of success, with the big stars at the top sharing interests in common. His vague boasts that his presidency would create terrific things that everybody loves and is winning again is a version of how he truly sees the world.
Politics is a strange institution that forces committed professionals who have coherent philosophical beliefs to persuade voters who mostly do not. Barack Obama accomplished this in highbrow fashion. His characteristic political style was to incorporate the values of both left and right and try to technocratically synthesize the perspectives together. (“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”) Trump accomplishes it in lowbrow style, by literally not understanding the source of the disagreement.
Trump Isn’t a Pragmatist. He Doesn’t Understand Ideology.

Three months into his presidency, the rest of Europe too is still deeply unsettled over this new president unlike any other, confused about whether he’s a dangerous ideologue or merely dangerously ignorant—and desperately seeking ways to stop him from pursuing the foreign policy of Russia-reconciling and European Union-bashing he promised on the campaign trail.
As Trump prepares for the first overseas trip of his presidency later this month, with European stops planned in Brussels for a NATO summit and Sicily, Italy, for a G7 meeting, it’s clear he’ll be coming to a continent whose political class both fears and loathes him to an unprecedented degree.
“Donald Trump is probably one of the least popular American presidents on this side of the Atlantic for a very long time,” says Bildt, a card-carrying member of Europe’s political class and charter member of the security institutions that have shaped its post-Cold War order.
Do Europeans dislike Trump even more than George W. Bush, I ask, recalling the hostile days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that most Europeans opposed and which keeps Bush from visiting the continent to this day?
Yes, Bildt tells me. Trump’s “brutal” and “vulgar” campaigning, his disdain for the facts, his lack of “civility,” are much worse than the policy disputes of the Bush era; they’ve already “caused a gulf to open up between us.”

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/01/trump-europe-carl-bildt-global-politico-215087

 

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