The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'psy-ops'
Today in weaponised sociolinguistics: the US intelligence research agency IARPA is running a programme to collect and catalogue metaphors used in different cultures, hopefully revealing how the Other thinks. This follows on from the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who theorised that whoever controls the metaphors used in language can tilt the playing field extensively:
Conceptual metaphors have been big business over the last few years. During the last Bush administration, Lakoff – a Democrat – set up the Rockridge Institute, a foundation that sought to reclaim metaphor as a tool of political communication from the right. The Republicans, he argued, had successfully set the terms of the national conversation by the way they framed their metaphors, in talking about the danger of ‘surrendering’ to terrorism or to the ‘wave’ of ‘illegal immigrants’. Not every Democrat agreed with his diagnosis that the central problem with American politics was that it was governed by the frame of the family, that conservatives were proponents of ‘authoritarian strict-father families’ while progressives reflected a ‘nurturant parent model, which values freedom, opportunity and community building’ (‘psychobabble’ was one verdict, ‘hooey’ another).
But there’s precious little evidence that they tell you what people think. One Lakoff-inspired study that at first glance resembles the Metaphor Program was carried out in the mid-1990s by Richard D. Anderson, a political scientist and Sovietologist at UCLA, who compared Brezhnev-era speeches by Politburo members with ‘transitional’ speeches made in 1989 and with post-1991 texts by post-Soviet politicians. He found, conclusively, that in the three periods of his study the metaphors used had changed entirely: ‘metaphors of personal superiority’, ‘metaphors of distance’, ‘metaphors of subordination’ were out; ‘metaphors of equality’ and ‘metaphors of choice’ were in. There was a measurable change in the prevailing metaphors that reflected the changing political situation. He concluded that ‘the change in Russian political discourse has been such as to promote the emergence of democracy’, that – in essence – the metaphors both revealed and enabled a change in thinking. On the other hand, he could more sensibly have concluded that the political system had changed and therefore the metaphors had to change too, because if a politician isn’t aware of what metaphors he’s using who is?The article is vague on the actual IARPA research programme, but reveals that it involves extracting metaphors from large bodies of texts in four languages (Farsi, Mexican Spanish, Russian and English) and classifying them according to emotional affect.
The IARPA metaphor programme follows an earlier proposal to weaponise irony:
If we don’t know how irony works and we don’t know how it is used by the enemy, we cannot identify it. As a result, we cannot take appropriate steps to neutralize ironizing threat postures. This fundamental problem is compounded by the enormous diversity of ironic modes in different world cultures and languages. Without the ability to detect and localize irony consistently, intelligence agents and agencies are likely to lose valuable time and resources pursuing chimerical leads and to overlook actionable instances of insolence. The first step toward addressing this situation is a multilingual, collaborative, and collative initiative that will generate an encyclopedic global inventory of ironic modalities and strategies. More than a handbook or field guide, the work product of this effort will take the shape of a vast, searchable, networked database of all known ironies. Making use of a sophisticated analytic markup language, this “Ironic Cloud” will be navigable by means of specific ironic tropes (e.g., litotes, hyperbole, innuendo, etc.), by geographical region or language field (e.g., Iran, North Korea, Mandarin Chinese, Davos, etc.), as well as by specific keywords (e.g., nose, jet ski, liberal arts, Hermès, night soil, etc.) By means of constantly reweighted nodal linkages, the Ironic Cloud will be to some extent self-organizing in real time and thus capable of signaling large-scale realignments in the “weather” of global irony as well as providing early warnings concerning the irruption of idiosyncratic ironic microclimates in particular locations—potential indications of geopolitical, economic, or cultural hot spots.The proposal goes on to suggest possibilities of using irony as a weapon:
Superpower-level political entities (e.g., Roman Empire, George W. Bush, large corporations, etc.) have tended to look on irony as a “weapon of the weak” and thus adopted a primarily defensive posture in the face of ironic assault. But a historically sensitive consideration of major strategic realignments suggests that many critical inflection points in geopolitics (e.g., Second Punic War, American Revolution, etc.) have involved the tactical redeployment of “guerrilla” techniques and tools by regional hegemons. There is reason to think that irony, properly concentrated and effectively mobilized, might well become a very powerful armament on the “battlefield of the future,” serving as a nonlethal—or even lethal—sidearm in the hands of human fighters in an information-intensive projection of awesome force. Without further fundamental research into the neurological and psychological basis of irony, it is difficult to say for certain how such systems might work, but the general mechanism is clear enough: irony manifestly involves a sudden and profound “doubling” of the inner life of the human subject. The ironizer no longer maintains an integrated and holistic perspective on the topic at hand but rather experiences something like a small tear in the consciousness, whereby the overt and covert meanings of a given text or expression are sundered. We do not now know just how far this tear could be opened—and we do not understand what the possible vital consequences might be.
How to win a basketball game: go online before the game, pretending to be an attractive young woman, chat up one of the opposing team's players and agree to meet him after the game to "party"; then, at the game, get your team's supporters to chant her name and flash her (purported) phone number:
On Saturday, at the game, when Pruitt was introduced in the starting lineup, the chants began: "Victoria, Victoria." One of the fans held up a sign with her phone number. The look on Pruitt's face when he turned to the bench after the first Victoria chant was priceless. The expression was unlike anything ever seen in collegiate or pro sports. Never did a chant by the opposing crowd have such an impact on a visiting player. Pruitt was in total shock.
The chant "Victoria" lasted all night. To add to his embarrassment, transcripts of their IM conversations were handed out to the bench before the game: "You look like you have a very fit body." "Now I want to c u so bad."Via Bruce Schneier, who called this the cleverest social engineering attack he has read about in a long time. And coming from someone who comments on the various ATM skimming/phishing scams as they comes out, that means something.
Forget spin doctors: the latest in public-opinion management is "strategic communications" firms, who will, for a fee, use psy-ops techniques to control public reaction to anything from disease outbreaks to coups:
A shadowy media firm steps in to help orchestrate a sophisticated campaign of mass deception. Rather than alert the public to the smallpox threat, the company sets up a high-tech "ops center" to convince the public that an accident at a chemical plant threatens London. As the fictitious toxic cloud approaches the city, TV news outlets are provided graphic visuals charting the path of the invisible toxins. Londoners stay indoors, glued to the telly, convinced that even a short walk into the streets could be fatal... While Londoners fret over fictitious toxins, the government works to contain the smallpox outbreak. The final result, according to SCL's calculations, is that only thousands perish, rather than the 10 million originally projected. Another success.
"If your definition of propaganda is framing communications to do something that's going to save lives, that's fine," says Mark Broughton, SCL's public affairs director. "That's not a word I would use for that."The consultancy in question, Strategic Communications Laboratories, allegedly has expertise in areas including "psychological warfare", "public diplomacy" and "influence operations", including operations in a number of foreign countries (an example cited at their exhibit at the recent London arms fair involves benignly overthrowing an unstable Asian democracy to head off the threat of an insurgency, a scenario not unlike what happened in Nepal recently). It's hardly surprising that, in the post-9/11 age, they are gearing up to grab a slice of the lucrative homeland-security market.
Government deception may even be justified in some cases, according to Michael Schrage, a senior adviser to the security-studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "If you tell the population that there's been a bio-warfare attack, hospital emergency rooms will be overwhelmed with people who sincerely believe they have all the symptoms and require immediate attention," Schrage says.
The problem, he adds, is that in a democracy, a large-scale ruse would work just once.
(via Mind Hacks)
I just watched the first part of Crazy Rulers Of The World, a documentary series by Jon Ronson (author of THEM, an exposé of conspiracy theorists, political extremists and other fellow travellers). It was very interesting; the programme was about the US military's paranormal research programmes, hatched in the heady collision of the post-Vietnam doldrums and the rise of Californian New Age spirituality. We met Lt. Col. Jim Channon, a wild-haired, wide-eyed hippy shaman-type who wrote the fantastically new-agey (not to mention lavishly illustrated) "First Earth Battalion" report, which envisioned a new US Army trained to sense plant auras and be at one with the universe; into confrontation, they would carry baby lambs, and wear loudspeakers from which emanated indigenous music and words of peace; if things got really heavy, this would change to discordant acid rock. Anyway, Channon's ideas inspired a lot of others to begin various less peaceful project, including the Fort Bragg "Goat Lab", where Special Forces would practice staring at goats and killing them with their psychic energy. One of the practitioners of this (now running a dance studio in the Midwest) claimed to have recently killed a hamster with psychic energy. Apparently he is being brought out of retirement to assist in using psychic energy to interrogate Iraqi insurgents, hopefully preventing another Abu Ghraib incident, or so he claims.
The convincingness of this programme was varied; parts of it, like the chakra-point weapon adapted from Channon's teachings and apparently being used to bloodlessly defeat Iraqi insurgents in hand-to-hand combat, looked like it could work, perhaps along similar principles to acupuncture or pressure-point tactics. The goat-staring and hamster-staring videos, however, seemed rather ambiguous; in both cases, nothing seemed to happen on the screen, though excuses were given (the goat experiment was only aiming for a "level 1" effect of lowering its heart rate, and the hamster could have been interpreted as collapsing and then trying to flee its cage; the experimenter didn't show the video of it dying, in case the Guardian columnist Ronson was a "bleeding-heart liberal").
Anyway, there are two more parts in this programme, not to mention a book titled The Men Who Stare At Goats, which should be interesting.
A list of nonlethal weapon ideas, from a USAF report; ranging from the relatively mundane to the bizarre and Strangelovian:
Curdler Unit: A device that is plugged into a sound system to produce a shrill, shrieking, blatting noise. It is used to irritate and disperse rioters and has a decibel range just below that of the danger level to the human ear. It is used in night operations to produce a "voodoo" effect and breaks up chanting, singing, and clapping.
Smoke, Colored: Colored-smoke concentrations produce greater initial psychological and panic effect than white smoke. Caucasians are said to have a greater repugnance to brilliant green smoke, whereas Negroids and Latins are declared to be most adversely affected by brilliant red. Rioters confronted with a strong concentration of colored smoke feel, instinctively, that they are being marked, or stained, and therefore lose anonymity.
Genetic Alteration: The act of changing genetic code to create a desired less-than-lethal but long-term disablement effect, perhaps for generations, thereby creating a societal burden.
Prophet: The projection of the image of an ancient god over an enemy capital whose public communications have been seized and used against it in a massive psychological operation.