The West’s relationship with General Soleimani and the Iranian Quds force has been chequered and been going on for many years. There is no doubt he and his organisation, has been responsible for the death and injury of hundreds of British, American and other allied military personnel and civilians over the years.
The excellent BBC documentary released last year, Shadow Commander: Iran’s Military Mastermind, quotes General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, as saying, “We saw Soleimani as a very capable, charismatic, skilled, professionally competent, diabolically evil human being.” The programme describes how components for the devastatingly efficient killing devices used by the Iranian backed, Sadarist Militias in Iraq, that killed so many – the EFP IED (Explosively formed Projectile, Improvised Explosive Device, the roadside bomb that devastated so many convoys), came from or through Iran and through Quds force networks controlled by Soleimani.
Yet during the same time we read reports of US intelligence operations buying chemical weapons, according to Bush and Blair that eventually never existed, from an unnamed individual in the Amara region of Iraq (under British control) to ensure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. The operation was called Operation Averice. The BBC documentary was very clear, nothing moved without Soleimani’s Quds force knowledge, none of the commentary has identified the ‘seller’ or where the US taxpayer’s money, used to buy these chemical weapons, went? It is highly probable it found its way to Soleimani’s Quds force and additional investigations throw doubt on the numbers reported in the New York times. It is believed the actual number of chemical weapons purchased was significantly higher.
There has been little commentary or analysis of the second ‘commander’ killed in the US drone strike, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group. That group was hated by many across Iraq, was a designated terror organisation by the US and had been founded by Soleimani’s Quds and used to support the fight against ISIS in Iraq and support Bashar Al Assad’s fight against ISIS in Syria, but only in battles where US supported organisations were not engaged. Complex is an understatement. However, one has to ask over the years, what is the relationship the US and the West has had in any form with Soleimani and his Quds? We can safely assess US taxpayers’ dollars possibly went to them.
Soleimani’s influence, in keeping areas of the Middle East in a less than stable position with the proxy war in Yemen, where his proxy forces are the Houthi’s and are fighting a Saudi led coalition. Additionally, his proxy insurgency keeping Israel occupied with Hezbollah, a long-standing terror exporter and Hezbollah backed militias, is clear. What remains unclear is, charismatic that he was, ruthless and evil that he was, he was one man and will have groomed successors in his own image, to his own thinking, following his own doctrine. He is and was replaceable and has been replaced. We wait to see the cut of the cloth of his successor, but his first task will be planning revenge for the death of his old boss.
So, what will that revenge look like? There has been much speculation and increasing sabre rattling rhetoric with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, warning of “severe revenge” for the attack and referring to Soleimani as having been “martyred;” Khamenei had a close personal relationship with Soleimani. The US Presidents response on twitter was that the US will strike 52 Iranian sites “very fast and very hard” if Tehran follows through with its vow of revenge.
The first thing to recognise about the revenge planning is timescales. The Iranian culture is such that planning is looked at in multigenerational timescales, not the timescale a Fox News headline or Twitter post, lasts in people memories. That makes potential Iranian responses all the more concerning; they will carefully choose the time and the place, or times and places for their revenge.
The second thing to recognise is that this isn’t a diplomatic issue that can be talked away, this isn’t something that will be forgotten because it was one evil man in the Wests eyes, this isn’t something that a solution could be bought through easing of sanctions or the like. This is a matter of honour, and national honour for Iran. This is a matter of honour for the Shi’a people and the military and paramilitary forces of the Houthi’s and Hezbollah. The conflicts and instability across the Middle East is as much a wider Sunni, Shi’a historical civil war as they are for power in different countries, hence the Quds force involvement supporting the Shi’a fight. The role of the Quds force is the extension of Iranian influence outside Iran.
The hoisting of a red flag on Jamkaran Mosque, one of the one of the most significant mosques in the city of Qom in Iran, is a significant symbol of this. Red flags, to the Shiite population are traditionally used to symbolise both blood spilled unjustly and serve as a call to avenge a person who is slain. Tradition has it that they can only be lowered when that death has been avenged.
The third thing to recognise is that the Iranians will do very careful consequence management when it comes to revenge attacks. It is highly unlikely that regular Iranian forces will attack US or UK interests at sea or in the air. It is highly likely that Iranian cyber capabilities will target the west, but that will not be seen as sufficient ‘revenge.’ It is highly likely that Iran will covertly encourage, enable, facilitate terror attacks across the globe using proxy organisations and often without them knowing who is ‘encouraging and enabling them. None of this will point directly back to Iran but everyone will know who is behind it; I doubt it will cross the threshold for Trumps 52 targets.
The fourth thing to recognise is President Trump has a re-election campaign to run this year and that, with the impeachment trial going ahead, will split his thinking – Iran will be aware of that and will exploit it.
The final thing to recognise is that Iran has proxies with Hezbollah and the Houthis that it can use to carry out a spectacular or several spectacular revenge attacks and Hezbollah have a global reach! Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the drone strikes on Saudi Aramco facilities, saying 10 drones had been deployed in the attack in September last year. Would similar or more spectacular attacks from them or Hezbollah cross Trumps 52 target threshold?
The Iranians will have noted the Wests response to the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, the Russian ‘rebel’ downing of MH17 in 2014, the US response, or lack thereof in real terms, to the shooting down of a US RQ-4A Global Hawk in international airspace over the Gulf in June last year and more, and will carefully weave this into their revenge planning and who executes the inevitable spectacular ensuring sufficient plausible deniability to reduce the probability of crossing Trumps 52 target threshold.
Two things come out of this. The first is the revenge, when, not if, will have consequences for non-Americans and possibly civilians even though Americans will be targeted. The second is, the increased chaos and instability, especially in Iraq, compounded by the Iraqi parliament asking for US forces to leave Iraq, is now being exploited by the rump of ISIS and they are regrouping and growing in influence again.
Has the killing of Soleimani in this way made the world safer in any way, evil that was, the answer is no. Could it have been done differently and the same message of ‘we can’t let you continue to destabilise the region’ be sent to Iran, definitely.
This blog was written by Philip Ingram MBE, who experienced 13 service personnel killed by Solemani’s IEDs and other weapons when he was in Iraq, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence. He is available for further analysis or comment.
Soleimani attack – an oh S**t moment for the world?
***Updated 03 1930Z Jan 20***
The US Secretary of Defense, Dr Mark T. Esper prepared a statement on 02 Jan 2020 outlining the concerns the US had for Iranian backed activities across the region in recent months. Citing concerns with actions in November and through December, the statement was released just after the US carried out an air attack on a convoy leaving Baghdad Airport in Iraq, killing General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds force and an Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Forces, amongst others.
The Iranian Quds force is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), set up approximately 40 years ago, answering to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and separate from Iran’s conventional military who answer to the political government under Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani. The Quds force themselves are a secretive organisation responsible for irregular and overseas operations and Soleimani will have reported directly to the Supreme Leader, without consultation with the President. In essence, Soleimani is more important than Iran’s President.
So, what do we know? We know that the US and allied countries have been interested in Soleimani for some time and will have declared him as a ‘High Value Target’ and as such will have a constantly updated targeting pack against him, updated with new intelligence as it came in. That targeting pack does not automatically mean it is there to kill or capture him, but is continuously refined so any action, could be expedited in a timely manner.
Mark Esper’s pre-prepared statement cites a number of what in military parlance are tactical incidents, puts them into an operational framework and used that to explain a grand strategic action. That is the equivalent of using a Trident D5 missile to crack a nut – the nut will be vapourised, Soleimani was, however, there will be fallout from the immediate blast and shock wave, immediate damage from the radiation and then longer-term implications from the radioactive fallout!
It has to be said at the outset, that the Quds force have been responsible for many atrocities across the region resulting in the deaths of many Americans and innocent people. They are ruthless, capable and operate outside any legal or moral compass we would recognise in the West and have infiltrated many organisations across the Middle East and further. They are the main element enabling a proxy conflict with the Saudis in Yemen. Their wider destabilising influence has regional (operational) and global (strategic) implications that have been going on for too long. The Quds force are seen by many as a state-owned terror organisation, but they are so much more. They are a mixture between the Russian GRU, the CIA of the 1970’s, Mossad and a global terror organisation and have an influence and autonomy far beyond their size an Iran’s political and military needs.
It seems that Soleimani was tracked on a flight from Damascus in Syria to Baghdad whilst Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was tracked in a convoy going to meet his flight and pick him up. It is probable that they both were being tracked using human intelligence (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) with a degree of fidelity that gave their exact movements and planned movements to the US intelligence machinery allowing the targeting pack to be updated. Given the actions against the US embassy in Baghdad over the proceeding days, coordinated by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis militias, that targeting pack, and any options, would have been discussed at least daily.
The US will not have reacted without thinking through the implications and briefing those to the executive decision maker. The response to the downing of a US RQ-4A Global Hawk in international airspace by IRGC forces in June 2019 was measured and proportionate, designed to minimise any potential escalation. The response was a cyber-attack on Iranian air defence assets. The equivalent of a slap on the wrists.
However, given what was going on with the US Embassy, the deployment of troops from Kuwait to protect the Embassy, the deployment of additional troops from 82nd Airborne Division into the region to reconstitute a reserve the decision making process and review process will have been at the forefront of President Trumps mind. It is widely reported that President Trump gave the order personally and given the profile of the target that is what would be expected.
However, that does not necessarily mean it was the preferred option of the US military of diplomatic corps. President Trump is known for having premade up his mind before he speaks to his advisors, he has stopped listening to regional specialists and has ensured his inner circle of advisors are what can only be described as sycophants. He will have been running an emotional high from his concerns about the US embassy in Baghdad.
I am reminded of a UK General, just back from Afghanistan who I briefed weekly on Afghanistan intelligence matters. One brief indicated that the Taliban were changing their tactics from conventional military type attacks to more IED based attacks as they couldn’t sustain their casualty rate. The General ‘blew his top’ in public with me accusing me of inventing “defeatist intelligence reporting” and ordering me never to say such things again as he had been there, and he knew that would never happen. I do hope he has the moral courage to look the families of all those who died to IEDs and admit he was wrong, he never said it to me, and I didn’t stop my assessments from my intelligence enabled perspective, bollockings or not.
At this stage we do not know if President Trump properly listened to and took heed of wider fall out, or if he shot from the hip! A statement from the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
This is a clear indication that the UK knew nothing of the attack beforehand, wants to show support to its ally the US and then run for the bunkers! Iran cannot and will not let this go. In a statement appointing Soleimani’s successor the supreme leader describes his death as “martyrdom of the glorious general,” in a previous statement announcing three days of mourning he said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack.
It is probable that there will be several layers of retaliation; the immediate, a decisive act and then long-term actions, just like the Trident analogy I mentioned. The immediate will be to show strength and will probably happen just after the 3 days of mourning. It will be decisive act will be to send a clear message to the US that Iran will not stand back and do nothing and is likely to be spectacular in nature. Then we will possibly see a massive increase in proxy terror using AQ, ISIS and other organisations, often without their direct knowledge, as plausibly deniable outlets targeting terror at the US and its allies across the globe. Alongside we will likely see greater cooperation’s with the Russians and increasing activity in the proxy wars across the region including in Yemen.
A key question is, is the killing of this commander, evil that he is, going to make things safer for US troops, diplomats or other personnel within the Gulf region? To answer that it is worth asking if the threat comes from one man, and the answer clearly is no? The Quds force is approx 15,000 strong and as an organisation it is bigger than one personality. Soleimani has been replaced already, so the Quds Force activity will continue but now with greater murderous intent and a cause to seek revenge for. So, the killing of one man and his entourage in reality, has made the region and the world a more dangerous place for US interests and the interests of their allies. Mike Pompeo’s assertion that the US airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani was to disrupt an “imminent attack” could be true in the very short term however, his statement that Americans “are safer in the region” after the strike and demise of Soleimani is definitely not true.
Two things are certain, we don’t have the full picture and the world has suddenly become a less safe place.
This blog was written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence who has served in and studied the Middle East from a wider intelligence perspective. It will be updated as new information emerges.
To begin to understand where I’m coming from, we have to look at a little of the history behind a game that came out of nowhere, took the world by storm before going quiet. However, given the hype it has created a market and momentum it created all of its own, it seems to be coming back. It is always worth starting with a little history.
In 2001, a company called Keyhole Inc. was founded by John Hanke whose first job out of college was in a foreign affairs position within the U.S. government before he moved into the technology industry. Keyhole was an interesting choice of names as the name “Keyhole” is a homage to the KH reconnaissance satellites, the original eye-in-the-sky military reconnaissance system now some 50 years old.
Keyhole Inc. was a pioneering software development company specialising in geospatial data visualisation applications, it was acquired by Google in 2004 for $35 million. It was initially launched as a spin-off from a company called Intrinsic Graphics with initial funding coming from a Sony venture capital fund and others, with additional capital coming from the US graphics giant NVIDIA bundling deal including a company called In-Q-Tel.
The name, Keyhole combined with In-Q-Tel involvement starts to make the history of Pokémon Go very interesting in deed. In-Q-Tel was widely billed as the venture capital arm of the CIA and the majority of the funds it used for its venture with Keyhole came from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIC). Other funding came from the angel investor Brian McClendon who later became a VP with Google, when they acquired Keyhole, before moving to Uber.
The link between Keyhole and In-Q-Tel wasn’t as sinister as it could first seem when you understand the project that Keyhole was working on. It was called Earth Viewer which later became the widely used opensource mapping and imagery tool, Google Earth when Google acquired Keyhole in 2004.
In 2010, the company behind Pokémon Go was founded, initially inside Google, by Keyhole’s founder, John Henke. As it launched the initial game allowed a lot of activity for players for free which meant it quickly went viral across the globe; there were news storied of people chasing high priced ‘monsters’ all over the place and a rush to see who could get them all first. There was no obvious revenue stream that would pay for this ground-breaking, complex interactive game.
Working on the principal that you get nothing for free the only answer to the lack of obvious revenue is you paid in some other way, and that way had to be data. So, on launch, if we look at the data the game could access on any facility, (spook speak for a phone, tablet, laptop or computer associated with an individual), we get a list of what, when you click install and accept terms, you have just allowed the app to access on an android device:
Find accounts on the facility
Find accounts on the facility
Precise location (GPS and network-based)
Approximate location (network-based)
Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
Read the contents of your USB storage
Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
Read the contents of your USB storage
Take pictures and videos
Receive data from the internet
Pair with Bluetooth devices
Access Bluetooth settings
Full network access
Use accounts on the device
View network connections
Prevent the device from sleeping
So, what the game app can do with no difficulty is identify:
Where you are
Where you were
What route you took between those locations
When you were at each location
How long it took you to get between them
What you are looking at right now
What you were looking at in the past
What you look like
What files you have on your device and the entire contents of those files
What other facilities you are connected to
Access the data via Bluetooth and network connections on those other facilities
My next step was to look at the terms and conditions to see what was being done with all of this data. I have used extracts to illustrate certain points and those extracts have been italicised for clarity, there are the boring T’s and C’s but worth a scan!
Information Collected Using Cookies and other Web Technologies: Like many website owners and operators, we use automated data collection tools such as Cookies and Web Beacons to collect certain information on our Site.
We may use both session Cookies and persistent Cookies to identify that you (or your authorized child) have logged in to the Services and to tell us how and when you (or your authorized child) interact with our Services.
Some third-party services providers that we engage (including third party advertisers) may also place their own Cookies on your hard drive.
“Web Beacons” (also known as web bugs, pixel tags, or clear GIFs) are tiny graphics with a unique identifier that may be included on our Services.
In essence, you agree to data collection capabilities to be put on the facility with the app and give it access to almost everything.
Information Related to Use of the Services: Our servers automatically record certain information about how a person uses our Services. This may include information such as a User’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, user agent, browser type, operating system, the web page that a User was visiting before accessing our Services, the pages or features of our Services to which a User browsed and the time spent on those pages or features, search terms, the links on our Services that a User clicked on, and other statistics.
Information Sent by Your Mobile Device: We collect certain information that your (or your authorized child’s) mobile device sends when you (or your authorized child) use our Services, like a device identifier, user settings, and the operating system of your (or your authorized child’s) device, as well as information about your use of our Services while using the mobile device. We may use this information to provide the Services and to improve and personalize our Services for you (or your authorized child).
And the team are great, they tell you they are going to assess everything.
Location Information: The App is a location-based game. We collect and store information about your (or your authorized child’s) location when you (or your authorized child) use our App and take game actions that use the location services made available through your (or your authorized child’s) device’s mobile operating system, which makes use of cell/mobile tower triangulation, wifi triangulation, and/or GPS. You understand and agree that by using our App you (or your authorized child) will be transmitting your (or your authorized child’s) device location to us and some of that location information, along with your (or your authorized child’s) username, may be shared through the App. For example, when you take certain actions during gameplay, your (or your authorized child’s) username and location may be shared through the App with other users who are playing the game. We may also use location information to improve and personalize our Services for you (or your authorized child).
They also tell you they will track you through your facility and the cell towers and wifi you use, gathering all of that data. Think of the threat to your home router or the work routers?
International Transfer: Your (or your authorized child’s) PII may be transferred to, and maintained on, computers located outside of your state, province, country, or other governmental jurisdiction where the privacy laws may not be as protective as those in your jurisdiction. If you’re located outside the United States and choose to provide your (or your authorized child’s) PII to us, we may transfer your (or your authorized child’s) PII to the United States and process it there.
And the ‘coup de grâce’ is the data will be transferred to the US for processing (there is an opt out clause, but it is buried and goes on to say if you do, the game won’t work (I paraphrased it.)
The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act describes procedures for physical searches and electronic surveillance of activities of foreign entities and individuals where a significant purpose of the search or surveillance and the collection of information is to obtain “foreign intelligence information.” The term “foreign intelligence information” is defined to include information that relates to actual or potential attacks or grave hostile acts of a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power, sabotage, international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, clandestine intelligence activity by or on behalf of a foreign power, or similar issues.
The Patriot Act enlarged the scope of the existing law to apply when “a significant purpose” of the search or surveillance is the collection of foreign intelligence thereby bringing the sort of capability provided through Pokémon Go into the legal statute for intelligence collection.
The FISA was amended in 2008 through the FISA Amendment Act (FAA) to permit the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of National intelligence to jointly authorize the targeting of non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States, in order to acquire foreign intelligence information.
In essence by signing up to Pokémon Go, developed through a linke to US intelligence agency money, designed to encourage taking pictures where high priced ‘monsters’ appear whilst giving access to your location data and all of the data on your facility, with lots of play before revenue streams appear to start asking for money, you are asked to believe it is just a game?
Hell, if as a spook I had thought of it, getting a 9-year-old to take a picture of a top-secret entrance to an intelligence facility without putting a special ops team on the ground, would I do it? Yup, I would.
Does this mean Pokémon Go is an intelligence gathering tool for the US Government, nope, but the T’s&C’s at release mean it could be and it is a great example of what apps on facilities can do and if you don’t know who has developed them what are you losing to the world?
We worry about Huawei hardware, given the proliferation of app technology, we don’t need to worry about the hardware at all as it is not the issue and this blog is merely an illustration of what could be happening; or is it………… A Happy New Year to all.
The Grey Hare Media team can confirm that high level talks have left Gatwick and Heathrow vulnerable to drone incursions as detection and disruption technologies, boosted after last year’s 3 days of disruption at Gatwick airport in the middle of the Christmas getaway, have been switched off. Investigations can also reveal that similar activities have been ordered at all airports across the globe.
A spokesman for Dubai airport, one of the worlds busiest hubs said, “We have our fingers crossed that there won’t be any disruption to normal airport operations as any closure we estimate costs us $100,000 per minute.” The full cost of the Gatwick closure has not been released yet, but EasyJet estimate it cost the airline approximately £15 million.
However, the US/Canada joint air defence establishment NORAD has indicated that it has deployed a global monitoring system, able to ensure that any threat through the lack of local capabilities can be mitigated. It has taken very careful negotiations to convince the Russian, Chinese and other governments that this is for positive not sinister purposes. Every country less North Korea has agreed to the new protocol that is for a short period of 31 hours only.
The reason for this global cooperation is that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have a special SANTA tracking facility that is made ready once a year to ensure that SANTA is kept safe and should there be any mishaps, then the right help can be provided quickly. Not many people realise that according to observations from the International Space Station SANTA has only 31 hours to visit every home across the globe. This seemingly extended Christmas day is thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth. SANTA travels from East to West.
This joint US/ Canadian facility will not be affected by any of President Trump’s tweets nor relations between himself and the Canadian PM. It is a vital global service ensuring the safety of happiness and joy.
What NORAD have confirmed is that Santa makes 822.6 visits per second allowing him 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house….. phew…..
So, the chances of children seeing him are very remote, however, he has specialist stealth technologies that keep him invisible, and they can’t be compromised which is why the new drone detection technologies are being switched off.
Santa’s sleigh moves at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. This makes Rudolf a very special type of reindeer as a conventional reindeer can run at a maximum of about 15 miles per hour. His defining feature is his red nose but at 650 miles per second and with special stealth technologies, only Santa and the other reindeers should be able to see it.
However, the Grey Hare spies’ team have been informed that Santa’s stealth technology was hacked at the same time his naughty list was last year and the hackers still have not been caught. It is believed that the rapidly deployed drone detection technologies sent to Gatwick were used to enable the hackers to get into Santa’s stealth systems and ultimately the naughty list database.
Santa isn’t quiet in the run up to Christmas, whilst his elves and Mrs Clause are getting the present production working at full tilt, Santa does a series of practice runs to let his reindeers stretch their legs and confirm they still remember where to go and practice his emergency plans.
Part of their emergency plans are landing (covertly) for quick repairs so present delivery can continue. He also has spare sleighs covertly deployed in case of catastrophic failure. The Grey Hare spies saw HMS Big Lizzie being used last year as a CSSDP, covert spare sleigh deployment platform, and this year, given the increasing age of the sleighs SANTA asked if HMS Prince of Wales (POW) could host another with an Elf repair team – the code word to listen out for if you are a radio ham should there be any problems is “execute operation LizziePOW.”
Hopefully there will be no disruption and joy can be delivered to all. A very Merry Christmas to one and all from the Grey Hare Media Team.
The key to election success, hacking your serotonin.
By Philip Ingram MBE
As the general election campaigns build, what techniques are the political parties likely to use in order to persuade you, the voter, to back them? In 2017 the Conservative Party took a catch phrase and rammed it down every channel possible and when people became bored with it or laughed at it, they rammed it some more. “Strong and Stable,” can never be used in a political context again.
Labour however, won the young vote, heavily influenced by social media by coming up with catch phrases like “for the many, not the few,” and promises to throw endless amounts of money at everything that would stimulate an emotional response, the NHS, education, the railways and more. These were messages that people wanted to share, they struck a chord with their values; or did they?
There is a fascinating paper, written in 2014 by Victor Danciu at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, with the title, ‘Manipulative marketing: persuasion and manipulation of the consumer through advertising.’ What has this got to do with serotonin or election campaigns I hear you ask?
It is that behavioural response that is triggered by the release of chemicals in the brain, with serotonin being one of them alongside dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. These are the “feel good quartet” of compounds responsible for our happiness. Political campaigns, like any marketing activities are designed to stimulate these compounds.
Serotonin is released when you feel significant or important. Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships and endorphins are released but the body when stimulated in the right way such as laughing, and they help to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Victor Danciu talks of non-manipulative advertising and manipulative advertising. He says, “non-manipulative persuasion through advertising consists in simply presenting the product or service, in the best possible light. This type of advertising is truthful, that is the facts presented are real, the information is giving in a clear, logical manner, in order to convince by informing.” Just think, how many political campaigns have you seen that would fit into this bracket?
He describes manipulative advertising as, “deceitful advertising which uses facts, but deceptive facts. It uses confusing, misleading or blatantly untrue statements when promoting a product.” Remember the product in an election is a perception, a belief, a political party or an individual. In 2017 the independent newspaper reported that, “ Nigel Farage was forced to admit the Westminster terror attack was unrelated to immigration, following comments he made on Fox News that appeared to link the two.” Remember in politics, every public comment by every politician is designed to send a message, it is marketing and advertising, and this was manipulative advertising.
Manipulative advertising uses facts, arguments in a way designed to have an effect on consumers emotions in a misleading and deceptive manner. Photographs are photoshopped to make the subject look more appealing, the right music is added to stimulate an emotion and humour is used in some adverts to make people laugh. All of these are stimulating the “feel good quartet” and when that happens it is natural to think positively about what is being offered.
In a similar way emotions can be stimulated when negative arguments are pushed out like cuts in police numbers, austerity, hospital waiting times. The key here is not that these are being highlighted, but how they are highlighted.
A full tool set of linguistic, visual, auditory techniques are used in order to influence the thinking of the person receiving the messages. These are not always obvious, Danciu says, “the most important and effective linguistic manipulation is that of subliminal advertising which aims at the subliminal seduction of the customer.”
Dr Michael Kosinski who gained his PhD from Cambridge University, specialised in Big Data. He has shown that analysing a big data profiles on individuals can give insights as to how people think, what they like, what they don’t like and even potentially how they probably vote. This technique is called psychodemographic profiling and he explains how this can be used to develop targeted marketing or messaging, designed to drive a behavioural response in an individual.
Now, combine Danciu’s research with Artificial Intelligence or AI, to ensure the messaging is delivered in the way you want it with the messages you want to hear using language that has had an impact on you before and that is what Dr Kosinski describes.
It is no accident that health professionals or recent hospital patients will see more political messaging about the state of the health service or new investment coming. It is no accident that police officers and people in high crime areas will see more political messaging about police cuts, or reinvestment to recruit more police.
In the United States, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, the Trump campaign has already swung into action to prepare to get President Trump e-elected for a second term. His team is building “a digital operation unrivalled by Democrats in its use of data-mining techniques and algorithms,” the Los Angeles Times reported in June.
The Spectator magazine said of the upcoming general election, “the most pivotal campaigning will take place, increasingly the answer is online. Digital campaigning has risen in importance with each election.” “Personal data is now as important a commodity as oil,” Dean Armstrong a leading QC told The Telegraph this year.
Michael Kosinski found in his research, that a basic profile just based on social media likes can predict your behaviours. An advanced profile, based on what websites you visit, what news you read, your job, your politics, your purchases, and more, would mean such a company knows you better than you know yourself. Combine that with the data of your friends and families and an extremely comprehensive understanding of what makes you and your loved ones ‘tick,’ can be known. This type of profiling has already been abused as the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted.
With the right data, people can be targeted at an individual level in a way they know it will have the biggest psychological effect, utilising the “feel good quartet” again. Most people will say “I haven’t been influenced by anything; I know my own mind.” I just go back to Danciu comment, “the most important and effective linguistic manipulation is that of subliminal advertising which aims at the subliminal seduction of the customer.”
The potential for undue influence is summed up by a caveat the UK’s secret intelligence agency, MI6, put on many of their human intelligence reports, referred to as CX reports. The caveat says, “this individual may be trying to influence as much as inform.” Influence operations are centuries old, what makes them personal is the ability for computers to develop such detailed profiles and thereby predict behavioural reactions to certain stimuli. Be mindful for your serotonin being hacked!
I bought this book with a degree of scepticism. There are an increasing number of accounts of “The Troubles” and an increasing number of people claiming links to the intelligence war in “The Troubles.” Why? Well their claims are virtually impossible to verify and with the continuing bigoted, historically focused political sectarianism that has paralysed progression in Northern Ireland combined with the over inflated influence the DUP had with the minority Conservative Government and the continuing clamour for and claims about what really happened in public enquiries, anniversary TV programmes and more, it is a marketing dream for publishers.
Using that as a baseline, combined with my own inside knowledge, I found this book difficult to put down. I grew up with much of what went on so do have a knowledge from that perspective. I have also talked to a huge number of people who have served in Northern Ireland in an Intelligence role but not about this book specifically.
The book is well written, an easy read, accurately describes many incidents from a perspective that can only be from someone who was there and has a logic thread to many of the things he described that made me realise that there was a lot more to this book than my scepticism wanted to admit. I really enjoyed it and found it thought provoking and informative.
He starts as a good Catholic boy from Derry joining an Irish Regiment in the British Army, something that the average casual observer of Northern Irish politics would initially scoff at , but the reality was the Irish regiments recruited from North and South of the border, Catholic and Protestant alike, it made for the regimental St Patricks Day parties to become interesting events, where sectarianism was defined by song but trumped by loyalty to the Regiment.
Carlin was ‘placed’ by MI5 and then had a career of being handled by them and then an organisation in the British Army with an infamy in Northern Irish history, the Force Research Unit or FRU. His description of their modus operandi broadly fits with the reality of how they worked and his description of some of their basic errors in drills fits perfectly with the arrogance many who served in that type of unit had. They often believed themselves to be ‘an elite’ amongst intelligencers and invincible.
Early in the text he introduces one of his dilemmas when he describes seeing Martin McGuinness coming out of an MI5 safe house and whilst he goes on later to say he didn’t believe McGuinness was working for MI5, he more than subtly explains a London derived plan to protect McGuinness, his move to politics and move away from the ‘armed struggle’ and to enable his election. On more than one occasion he introduces senior British officials who favoured a move to a united Ireland.
His text will likely worry unionists and perpetuates the question ‘What was McGuinness’s relationship with British Intelligence?’ as there clearly was one. This is never answered.
He also explains how he came to find out about, or uncover, a number of other agents in Sinn Fein and the IRA who were working for British Intelligence. His knowledge was in Derry and that wasn’t the number one priority for British Intelligence at any time.
Extrapolating his Derry exposures province wide would suggest the IRA and Sinn Fein were leaking like a sieve, and a good percentage of those with access to information were on the payroll of the state either working for the police, the army or MI5. That was at a time when Intelligence operations were immature; from the late 1990’s on, operations became significantly more mature and probably remain that way even today.
Carlin confirms McGuinness and Adams as IRA commanders and their links to ‘the Armalite and the Ballot Box’ campaign and talks about how Sinn Fein planned and executed election fraud by ‘personating’ votes. What he suggests is that the political path for McGuinness was watched over by MI5 who took opportunities to craft his progression away from the armed struggle when they could and when they couldn’t, they took action to reduce any obstacles that could have been in his way.
The role the British State played in the move of the republican movement from one of an armed struggle to a political movement is unlikely to be fully revealed in our lifetimes if ever. Is it now time that Gerry Adams come clean publicly about his role in the IRA?
Through the book Carlin talks of the “fuck-up squad” who were IRA volunteers not quite under control, the battle between the IRA and INLA, the tensions caused by republican funding being switched from the armed struggle to the political wing. He details how much it cost Sinn Fein to maintain its political presence across Northern Ireland, but his focus remains firmly in his home territory of Derry city with a couple of forays to Tyrone and Fermanagh.
He doesn’t bang an ideological drum and is matter of fact about his lack of respect for the RUC and, after he was extracted and resettled, how he nearly deliberately shot another informer! His personal tragedies come through having lost a child to cot death whilst he was still in the British Army and then later in life his daughter in a car accident and son to sepsis but tragedies aside there is a flicker of pride throughout the book in what he did.
He has a pride in the relationship he had with McGuinness, his fly-fishing analogy and that he got him to say the IRA had no weapons in Derry on Bloody Sunday. He has a pride in how he managed to personate votes in elections, he has a pride in his interactions with MI5 and the FRU and he has a pride in the achievements that were put down to his intelligence and he has pride that Margaret Thatcher sent her ministerial jet to whisk him away from Northern Ireland and that she at a later date came to shake his hand.
In all this is a thought-provoking book from a man in his 70’s who was there. Do I believe it? I do, will there be mistakes? Of course there will, as no one has complete recall over such a period of time and through such dramatic events but in all I highly recommend this account of a very troubled period.