Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict.

Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict.

Geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict – what will Putin do next?

As the rhetoric after the US, UK and French bombing of sites in Syria associated with their chemical warfare programme continues, what are we seeing happen with the Russian reaction and how is it likely to develop? Philip Ingram MBE a former senior British Intelligence officer gives his thoughts on the geopolitical manoeuvring and continued hybrid conflict we are seeing.

Putin, emboldened by his political successes at home built on nationalistic fervour and fear when his economy is collapsing and in any normal democratic country he would be held to account politically, we have seen him go on the international offensive.

Putin sees the political cracks in institutions around the world as opportunities and he influences them as any old spy would do, by sticking his knife into them and wiggling it. That knife just happens to be propaganda, fake news, data manipulation and information operations, what the Russians have enshrined in their doctrine, маскировка (maskirovka).

That маскировка is being used to good effect to try and throw off any association with the novichok agent attack on Sergi Skripal, the former Russian military intelligence officer, in Salisbury and the Syrian chlorine attack on Douma.

It has to be remembered that the primary audience for the маскировка campaign is domestic, attempting to make him look strong to his own people. His secondary audience is the increasing groups of conspiracy theorists who seem to believe anything that opposes a government or establishment view, no matter how incredible it sounds.

It is this group that acts as Putin’s voice – spreading the маскировка in their home territories and arguing its justification on social media outlets. They act as the маскировка knife in the institutional cracks across the West and turn it into a self-wiggling knife.

However, as his freedom to manoeuvre in the messaging battlespace is coming more constrained as the details around the Salisbury attack and the Douma attack become clearer, we are seeing the hint of a chink in Putin’s маскировка armour. More and more claims from his officials fall into the fanciful bracket and they begin to sound like ‘Comical Ali’, Saddam Hussein’s spokesman before and during the Gulf War. It is a shame many don’t see this and continue to let closed minds fall to continued маскировка.

So what next, or are we already seeing it? The word that springs to my mind is Kompromat, the threat to or deliberate exposure of compromising material. Unfortunately for President Trump, the whole Muller investigation puts him in an immediate position where he could be compromised. All Putin needs to do is say he had detailed discussions with Trump before his election and offered any help he could, and Trump would be sunk.

It is highly likely there is more and the indicator for this was US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s statement to the UN saying there would be increased sanctions against Russia, just to be told that for some unknown reason, President Trump had changed his mind and there would be no sanctions. The question why has to be asked? It is highly possible that Putin’s intelligence machinery will begin the slow drip feed of any Kompromat they have on Western figures over the coming months. The tabloids should be salivating.

The next possibility is to ramp up pressure on the West through increased Cyber-attacks. We have already seen Russia’s capability with the notPetya attack last year after North Korea was formally blamed for the earlier WannaCry attack. However, the relationship between North Korea and Russia is interesting and bears analysis as North Korea gives a plausibly deniable outlet for blame for Russian inspired attacks.

Dan North from the North Korean Monitoring site 38North.org has identified a company called TransTelekom (ТрансТелеКо́m) has put a fast internet connection into North Korea alongside their older and much slower Chinese supplied connection.

TransTelekom is a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables. The company is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation.

WannaCry occurred only a few months before this new connection was confirmed live and over a similar period, North Korean missiles went from failing most of the time to being successfully fired and over increasing ranges almost every time. How was their technology improving so fast? Why would the Russian state want to help Kim Jong Un?

What doesn’t fit with Russia using North Korea to execute cyber-attacks on the West, is the planned Kim Jong Un / Trump meeting, but I suspect this is not all it seems on the surface. However, there is always the potential to use Iran as a plausibly deniable outlet. Time and incidents will tell. With Kim Jong Un and Trump, that is a whole new article, but it is unlikely to be the miracle ‘seeing of the light’ we are all hoping for.

So what? We are likely to see a steady increase in cyber-attacks, using novel and sophisticated methodologies ranging from the carefully targeted to the global releases. The finger of blame from these attacks will likely be pointed at non-Russian actors who I argue, will fall into the plausibly deniable bracket.

Putin’s machinery will take care not to escalate global anti-Russian sentiment too much as they can’t afford retaliation. However, cyberspace is interesting as it is globally unregulated in warfare terms, unlike the Geneva Conventions and Protocols and Outer Space Treaty that regulate warfare in the Land, Maritime, Air and Space environments, cyberspace is a free-for-all environment.

Should escalation occur then the Russian machinery has the ability to refocus western countries into a domestic protection stance. That protection will be from a sustained series of extremist Islamist and increasing number of right-wing inspired terror attacks.

If we look at how many of the attackers in the UK over the past 2 years have been inspired, ranging from the Finsbury Park Mosque attack to the Palace of Westminster attack the internet has played a critical role in inspiring their terror.

The Russians have a clear history in Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere of enabling terrorists and “freedom fighters” by whatever means to rise up against authority. Given the power of the internet and what is available in the Deep and Dark web but the power of how social media influences, it would be relatively straightforward for Russian inspired terror, prosecuted by plausibly deniable agents, to hit the streets of the UK and elsewhere. They have done it before elsewhere.

One thing is clear when dealing with Russia is that they plan long, use non-standard tactics, work in the area of subtleties and fight dirty. They love it for other people to take the blame and love the ability to manipulate our politically naïve and will see it like ‘shooting fish in a barrel.’ We are in interesting times but given Putin’s political longevity and domestic political unity compared to any western country, we are in very dangerous times and are currently on the back foot. Now is the time for a firm, coordinated and robust defence based on subtle offence. I suspect our democratic systems will not allow this; we are losing.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Sun Tzu and the Art of Fake News

Sun Tzu and the Art of Fake News

by Philip Ingram MBE

“That is #FakeNews” is one phrase that has rocketed to fame last year. President Trump’s legacy has already been left in Twitter land but why has it come to the fore, is it new and more importantly is it something that individuals or enterprise should be concerned about?  Philip Ingram MBE  takes a look at fake news, but with a 6th century twist.

There are elements of the press who seem to suggest that fake news is something new, it isn’t, and it has its roots back to the 6th century, but before I delve that far back I want to take a quick look to only 74 years ago. The Second World War shows just how important “fake news” was to the war effort; fake news, when targeted for an effect is also known as Propaganda. William Brooke Joyce, nicknamed Lord Haw-Haw, an American-born, Anglo-Irish Fascist who became the Nazi propaganda broadcaster to the United Kingdom during World War II was probably the most famous mouth of fake news, but the Japanese had English speaking female broadcasters who were nicknamed Tokyo Rose.

The use of fake news or propaganda was not limited to the Germans or Japanese and arguably the greatest military success of the Second World War, D Day, was enabled by fake news through an operation called Operation Fortitude.  With this being linked to a military operation this is where I want to bring in 6th century teachings.

Sun Tzu the 6th century Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, arguably the greatest military tactician and strategic thinker ever, said in his book the Art of War, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” His teachings have stood the test of time!

Operation Fortitude was a massive deception operation conducted by the Allied Forces to lead the Germans to believe that they would be landing in Pas-de-Calais and Norway, masking the true invasion through Normandy.

The aim was also to make them believe that the Normandy landings in May 1944 and in the south of France in June 1944 were mere diversions, so that the German army would concentrate its troops in the wrong place. The German authorities clung to their belief that the landing would occur in Pas-de-Calais right until September 1944.  Operation Fortitude held onto the principals set out so eloquently by Sun Tzu. The bluff worked but highlights how a country with extensive national intelligence assets looking at a situation unfolding, can be deceived.

The Russian term маскировка (maskirovka) literally masking, was defined in the International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 as the Russian military intelligence (GRU) term for deception. Vladimir Putin would have “grown up” in an organisation where maskirovka was a normal part of everyday thinking.  At every level of my military training we studied maskirovka, so imagine my surprise when Robert Hannigan, the ex-director of the UK spy agency CGHQ, said of the Russian threat in an interview this year, ‘We didn’t see Russian use of disinformation coming‘.  It clearly demonstrates a naivety with the UK’s senior intelligence officials, charged with keeping our politicians abreast of the threat to that which underpins our way of life, democracy.

This failure highlights that those self-same senior intelligence officials have forgotten one of Sun Tzu’s most famous quotes. “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; … if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”

Should we be worried? Well in my professional opinion, I think we should be extremely worried.  This is not just something targeted country on country, it is being exploited by terrorists and so-called ISIS are masters at it, it is being exploited to gain commercial advantage especially when rumours can be generated in the money markets, huge sums can be gained, or lost.

In May last year many respected media outlets reported concerns by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over false reporting.  The FT outlined that the regulators were concerned that fake news was affecting investment decisions and reported evidence that seemingly independent outlets were being paid to promote stories.  They reported the SEC as saying, “keep in mind that fraudsters may generate articles promoting a company’s stock to drive up the stock price and to profit at your expense.

Supporters of so called ISIS are very quick to post across their networks details and pictures from any attack, thereby taking de facto responsibility in the eyes of their supporters even before any official statements are released.  This has the effect of stimulating potential copycat or other attacks as well as giving “oxygen” to their terror message, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher. The manipulation of media messaging is extensively used by todays terror organisations.

The one factor that enables fake news to have such a rapid impact today is control, or lack of it.  Operation Fortitude was a carefully orchestrated national plan controlled at the highest levels, so all messaging was coherent and worked to a common aim. Today, fake news can be delivered to millions of people at the click of a button via social media and the average person in the street can send a message that the President of the US may read personally, without it going through his normal staffing and advisory chain.  The power of social media is phenomenal.

The Russians continue to use maskirovka as part of their global engagement techniques. We are already seeing proof of their involvement in the US elections and likely in the UK Brexit referendum and more.  Sun Tzu highlighted how this works when he said, “Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”  Remember, Robert Hannigan said he didn’t see it coming and those unexpected routes were Facebook, Twitter, big data manipulation, main stream press and good old fashioned human influence, powered by the internet.

Arguably Kim Jong Un from North Korea knows how to play President Trump using Sun Tzu.  As the 6thcentury tactician said, “If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” It is this last line that is keeping the world’s breath held.  Kim Jong Un’s understanding of President Trump’s temperament is clearly excellent when he applies Sun Tzu’s principal, “If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him.” Trump gets irritated easily by ‘Rocket Man.’

With the ease of spread of fake news and its ability to influence, it is something that enterprise should be concerned about.  The instability caused by state on state activity is one thing but there is clear evidence of state on enterprise actions in cyberspace with the theft of IP. Fake news is another cyber enabled activity and the potential for enterprise on enterprise use of fake news is growing.

As an intelligence officer looking at a threat you ask 2 questions.  The first, does the capability exist and the answer is yes.  The second, is there intent to use it, and again the proof is that the answer is yes. Now is the time for risk managers in companies to ensure the impact of Fake News is something they plan for, remember it is a cyber enabled threat.

In one of Sun Tzu’s opening statements he said, “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.” The time has come for preparedness as you cannot evade this threat.

Note: If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Alternative War by J.J. Patrick – Review

Alternative War by J.J. Patrick – Review

Alternative War by J.J. Patrick

I connected with JJ Patrick on Twitter after seeing some of his online activity and the thrust of what he was saying had more than a ring of truth. In a previous existence I had analysed Russian intentions regarding Putin from a long-term perspective.

I am an ex intelligence officer who has been following developments in geopolitics for years, I have also been briefing on and analysing multifaceted, non-combative tactics used in “influence” operations both as someone involved in influencing and someone being targeted by influence.  The term Hybrid Warfare had been used in many discussions around this but not articulated as clearly as JJ Patrick has done in Alternative War.

I am not a conspiracy theory advocate and tend to shy away from articles and books that purport to bring out facts to support a conspiracy theory as most of them are poorly put together bo***cks.  There was something about JJ Patrick’s discussions on Twitter that made me think this was different so I took the plunge and bought the book.

All I can say is I have not come across such a well-researched piece of what I would be very happy to call intelligence, where the facts are presented, assumptions, where made, are outlined and the thinking behind them justified and the analysis he presents is clear and logical.

Starting with the Trump quote about Sweden and weaving a path through the Trump and Brexit campaigns, JJ Patrick exposes some very real concerns about meddling.  He shows the power of Big Data and when used to manipulate an outcome, the very real effect a targeted psychological campaign can have.

It has been clear as Putin has consolidated his power over the years and he is a leader to be admired.  Admired because his job is to look after Russian interests and like the spymaster he was he is doing just that.  It is an old spy trick when passing information to where possible “influence as much as you inform.”  Influence is what he has done and the scary thing is we have watched him do it and members of our political ruling class have been the weapon systems he has fired.

This book is a must read for politicians, journalists, academics and CEO’s and directors of international companies.  It is a must read for voters as it exposes just how much of a mug many are if they believe the hype that comes out of political campaigns.

I feel this is just the start of something huge, well done JJ Patrick.

Click below to buy it from Amazon:

Alternative War