Friday, July 29, 2016

WHERE IS MEREDITH MCIVER? (An op-ed by guest writer Brian R. Friedman)

Donald Trump has invented employees out of thin air before.

He has pretended to be someone named John Miller or John Barron when speaking to the press, and those instances are documented. So when someone in the Trump Organization named Meredith McIver released a written statement claiming responsibility for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech from 2008, some, including myself, became suspicious that perhaps Trump had duped us again.

Those suspicions have only grown. Bogus social media accounts claiming to be this woman have popped up SINCE McIver’s statement, possibly even of Russian origin as the Twitter account for 'her' today went from defending herself in English to simply stating ‘nothing can stop us’ in Russian.

Obviously photo-shopped pictures have popped up online, and the fact that no one seems to have physically seen this woman outside of the Trump Organization in the past ten years (other than, weirdly, Piers Morgan, which I think only sets off more red flags), and it was enough for me to go digging.

My search for Meredith McIver continues (and there are others out there looking too), as there is still no physical proof of her existence, but the search also provided some sad insights into the current media as a whole.

When I called the Associated Press New York City bureau to ask if they’d interviewed her, their response was ‘oh, yeah, we tried once, but it didn’t work out.’ I was shocked at that lack of effort. Jason Horowitz of the New York Times wrote a story about her – without apparently sitting down or talking with her. I believe he and the Times were duped. Politico blew me off as well. I could go on and on and on.

Only the Washington Post was receptive to listening, but as of right now I don’t know for sure if they will go to press with anything.

I’m not sure why the media hasn’t done any real investigating here. Maybe they can only pay attention to anything within the past 24-hour news cycle. Maybe because someone saw a link to something somewhere, then it must be true. Maybe newsrooms are now so decimated that, whereas there once would have been a team of reporters fleshing out stories, there is now no one.

But I know that personally I won’t stop until I know for sure whether or not Meredith McIver exists. If I am wrong and she does exist, I will go on television to admit I was wrong, and I’ll apologize to Ms. McIver for any trouble I may have caused her. I’ll proclaim that ‘Yes, I was wrong! Donald Trump’s in-house plagiarist really does exist! And I’ll go back to other pursuits.

Hillary Clinton has earned all the scrutiny she’s given through some highly questionable actions in the past, but shouldn’t the press spend half as much time examining Trump as they do on her e-mails?

In my mind, I keep switching Trump’s name for say, Barack Obama, and I think, what if Barack Obama, in his past dealings, had pretended to be someone else while talking to the press. Imagine the field day the media would have talking about that – and I doubt if it had come out during the campaign he’d even be president today. I wonder if Barack Obama simply just said ‘no’ to the accepted practice of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, the media would have just let that slide.

And if we’re right that Meredith McIver is fake, I can just imagine the bedtime stories of the future. Instead of George Washington and the cherry tree, it’ll be ‘and then President Trump invented a woman out of thin air, and let her take the blame for it. And that’s tonight’s lesson in accountability. Now go to sleep.’

Not giving up the search,

Brian R. Friedman
Contributing Writer,

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Russian Active Measures: The Variable That Could Throw the 2016 Elections

The past few months have been rough for the politically-involved.

If you're like me, you're asking yourself very difficult questions about which candidate may or may not be best for America. While none of us can know for sure which candidate that will be, we can make some educated guesses based upon the facts at hand.

But before I present the points to back the thesis of my article, allow me to share some additional details with my readers, for the sake of perspective.

Active Measures, as aptly paraphrased by Wikipedia:

"...[range] 'from media manipulations to special actions involving various degrees of violence'. They were used both abroad and domestically. They included disinformation, propaganda, counterfeiting official documents, assassinations, and political repression, such as penetration into churches, and persecution of political dissidents."

Simplistically speaking, Horseshoe Theory challenges mainstream notions of Left-wing vs. Right-wing, by arguing that the far left and the far right are really much closer together, much like the tips of a horseshoe.

The conventional wisdom...

Horseshoe Theory...

In other words, Russia is weaponizing ideology ITSELF. They are exploiting the far left and far left in an effort to polarize, while simultaneously discrediting political Centrists.

At present, there's still widespread denial about the existence of Active Measures even during the Cold War, let alone the present day. Those who have an awareness of Active Measures would generally agree that they have presently become a greater problem than they *EVER* were, prior to the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

When I became aware of the scale of Russia's active measures in America and in the world, I began an ongoing process of distancing myself from partisan politics, as a whole. Just as Active Measures seek to intentionally blur reality by exploiting partisan biases, I found that my own partisan biases were blurring my ability to correctly interpret world events.

By stepping back from partisan politics, I was able to once again discern between fact and fiction.

I began to understand that the chaos of the past eight years was not *solely* the work of an Obama White House considerably further left of center than I, myself, am comfortable with.

I began to understand the machinations of Russian active measures, which seek to seize upon seemingly inane and inconsequential points and effectively paint realists as racists and idealists as radicals.


While this election may largely focus on personalities, it is really the candidates' underlying ideas, beliefs and objectives that will be pivotal to America's destiny.

Aside from Trump's propensity for the garish, he has struck chords that resonate with many voters. The danger in this is not the message itself, but the big picture--the historical runup that led to the prospect of a Trump presidency. To understand this, we must take an altogether different look at the past eight years, this time considering an additional variable we had not accounted for before...Russian influence.

As I have tried to share with my readers, Trump has surrounded himself with individuals who are closely associated with either the arch criminal, Semion Mogilevich, or his ex-KGB counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The evidence over the past few months rules out coincidence to a mathematical certainty.

But what gets lost is a view inside the mind of the Kremlin, the true heirs to the term "social engineering". Twentieth century history teaches us that the Russians are masters in the art of manufactured crisis, controlled opposition and the construction of dominant social narratives. They do this via influence operations that target the media, government officials and even pop culture icons, via agents of influence.

Some of them might surprise you...

But the Kremlin strategy goes well beyond this. Social engineering, as an element of active measures, includes hours of planning out and analyzing how various segments of a population react to certain events. It means that the Kremlin literally analyzes numerous permutations of an event or narrative in the American media in order to plan out how the population will reflexively respond, all to the benefit of Russia. It is easy to see how well this has worked in Ukraine, for example.

Because I am aware of the extraordinary direct and indirect involvement of foreign state actors in this election, agendas will not be enough. Understanding the means, motives and opportunities of our adversaries must be treated with equal weight.

Trump's perspectives on foreign policy, particularly with regard to NATO, are not only revealing but potentially very dangerous, as retired Admiral James Stavridis pointed out two days ago, in Foreign Policy.

Over the past eight years, we have seen the resurgence of Kremlin front organizations, reminiscent of the Cold War era. We have witnessed the meteoric rise of many telltale narratives, largely originating from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the old Russian intelligence field manual, so to speak, which KGB also distributed in the Arab world.

Russia set out, with great ease, to transform the brashly left-leaning and idealistic Mr. Obama into an aspiring Fidel Castro who wished to declare martial law on America and seize its small arms. Mr. Obama effectively empowered the gun industry by playing to individuals' fears about the erosion of second amendment rights. And, until the Obama administration rightly issued sanctions against Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Tula Arms Plant made a king's ransom here, selling AK-47s and 7.62x39 ammunition, particularly after the Newtown shootings.

So here are a few observations and concerns I have for the elections, based upon my current analysis of Election 2016:

  • The "Hillary vs. Putin" narrative is a powerful narrative but, unfortunately, I don't think either Team Hillary or the State Department will "sign off" on it. The problem, aside from John Podesta, himself, is that the Hillary camp doesn't fully appreciate Russia's toxicity. They change this stance (and their campaign staff) pretty quickly. And no Hillary, you should *NOT* want to keep Mr. Blumenthal on as an advisor. Ask me about Blumenthal's involvement in the Gennifer Flowers affair, Mrs. Clinton, if you need convincing.
  • Jill Stein (Russia), Gary Johnson (Russia) and others will drive the narrative that there's no difference between Clinton and George W. Bush. We will hear the altogether familiar accusations of "McCarthyism", references to mass incarceration and the "police state"...perhaps the resurgence of the "I can't breathe" narrative, only this time in the context of a Hillary Clinton presidency. And beyond any shadow of a doubt, we will hear the narrative, "Team Hillary: Economically beholden to the military-industrial complex".
  • They can get to *ANYBODY*.  Perhaps you heard Newt Gingrich's comment the other day, on CBS This Morning?
"Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg… I’m not sure I would risk nuclear war."
Or, perhaps you may recall that James Cardin was a former Obama staffer, no doubt well aware of the dangers of Russia. Now, Mr. Cardin is consigned to writing pro-Kremlin drivel from the bowels of Moscow's new crown jewel, The Nation.

  • The Trump campaign has momentum. The Clinton campaign needs to ramp it up and improve their game if they want to win. How many Trump bumper stickers have you seen today? How about Hillary Clinton bumper stickers?
  • The Hillary campaign's lack of concern over OPSEC is the very tool Russia is using to sabotage them. Aside from the troubling ethical questions of the affair, sloppy OPSEC led to the leaked Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting. The first media outlet to report on it was Newzsentinel.  You can see what they are very quickly, with a simple Google search.

Speaking from the heart, I cannot easily imagine an America wherein the seat of executive power is filled by modern-day Chekists.  And, setting my personal feelings about Mrs. Clinton aside, I have serious doubts about Hillary's ability to take the necessary steps to isolate herself from Russian influence.

But who knows? Maybe she will read this article and hire some skilled subject matter experts.

It's not too late...YET.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Interacting with Russian Trolls Employing активные мероприятия (Active Measures) - Lessons Learned, by @kittenninja42

Vasily Mitrokhin wrote, "the new is no more than a reinvention of the old which has been forgotten." The new, he felt, "flows out of the old and you must know the old to understand the new." Russians use the same techniques over and over across every spectrum. We call it recursion.

Active Measures as applied by Russian trolls from The Agency and various other troll factories in Russia mimic the old state sponsored programs the Soviets used to subvert and undermine western governments, but just using a different medium – social media, particularly Twitter. We see trolls employing disinformation and propaganda, presenting counterfeit documents, maligning character, ridiculing and attempting to twist and co-opt authentic communication. Russian trolls have feigned friendship for the sole purpose of driving wedges between groups, in particular, the community which discusses and shares information about Russia, but in reality, any community can be targeted. Sowing chaos is the name of the game because chaos helps the Kremlin.

Trolls deceive in order to mask their identities, known in Russian tradecraft as maskirovka. They create accounts that are as varied as possible and identify as gamers, grandmothers, patriots, current and former military, highly educated people such as doctors or lawyers, even strangely enough, as Russian agents. If they add a location to their header, it’s generally false. Many have multiple accounts and, amusingly, may hold conversations and fake arguments with themselves, using sock accounts.

Some of the most notorious Russian trolls pose as members of the Alt-right or Neo-Nazis. Yes, there are some white supremacists in the US, but many of these Tweeps are Russian. These can be identified rather easily by their use of “Fash”,“HH”, “88”, “14” (which refers to the “14 words”) “1488”, or any combination of these letters and numbers in their profiles. They may also use Nazi symbols in their headers such as the SS or thunderbolt symbol.

As far as the content of their posts, spelling and grammar may be an issue with the low-level trolls because, frankly, English is generally their second language, or because they use Google Translate. Some use all caps, some all lower case, some frequently use texting shortcuts. Many have trouble with English and tend to mix metaphors. Many plagiarize because they have been directed to use Kremlin talking points and are they're too lazy to rephrase the content. Some of the low-level trolls are actually algorithms; Twitter-bots that tweet out the same message over and over, and a real person will engage only if someone on the receiving end takes the bait.

Coming up against the low-level trolls is almost a game. We can recognize them easily and identify their techniques. They’re paid to do a job, do it with little enthusiasm and often once unmasked, tend to move on.

But then there are the higher level trolls, some of whom are actually highly educated, and English does seem to be their first language. They’ve been trained in psychological warfare techniques and they're quite skilled. The higher level trolls have been more of a challenge, but as Ben Nimmo says, “Never forget, when the trolls use the 4 Ds on you, it shows you're doing a good job.”

The 4 D’s: Dismiss, Distort, Distract, Dismay

Dismiss – otherwise known as “ridicule is a potent weapon”, or “the political abuse of psychiatry in 140 characters or less”, is classic Russia. Accusations of McCarthyism are so common that it’s one of the first signs of a troll. “What a nutcase – this guy sees Russian agents everywhere! You’re off your meds. All I see is someone obsessed with Russia and not looking at the big picture. You’re completely deranged.” It may even be done in a nice way, such as concern over the target’s mental health. For example, we came across a rather despicable troll posing as a veteran with PTSD, who played that he was reaching out to us to give the help we so desperately needed, all the while implying that we were mentally unstable. We let our guard down on this one – but he later revealed himself. Dismissal, comes in other forms too, such as implications that one’s opinions are invalid if one has never lived in Russia.

Distort – twisting words or phrases purposefully to malign the message that you’ve sent. A great example is a recent message sent out by Max Blumenthal about Elie Weisel, where Max distorted Weisel’s life work. And yes, Max is a Russian troll/Agent of Influence. Observing Max’s account is an education in distortion. Like some of our other trolls, you’ll see both racist remarks by him and accusations of racism that don’t fly.

Distract – taking the conversation off topic .Conversations that are sensitive to Russian interests are co-opted, sometimes for hours or days on end. It serves to deflect from authentic communication, especially when the topic is right on target. And it usually ends in the recycling of the conspiracy theories of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Dismay – these can be personal attacks on the target, the target’s family or friends, or attacks on experts who study and understand Russia. Remember that Russia “projects”. Projection is an infantile psychological defense mechanism, but, once understood, can reveal a lot about the troll. Classically, accusations are actually the troll’s own “projections” of themselves and their own personal faults onto the target. Recently I’ve seen false accusations (such as allegations of domestic violence) that were exclusively intended to divide and conquer. Furthermore, any attempt at character assassination of well-known subject matter experts is an immediate red flag. Unabashedly using profanity or aggression in the form of threatening messages or pictures are all intended to incite and manipulate the target through fear. Unsolicited vile sexual comments are too, where the key word is unsolicited, and “vile” is somewhat like porn; “you know it when you see it.” Trolls also create forgeries and present them as authentic pieces of evidence. Most are obvious, laughable fakes, but if the target is unsuspecting, or doesn’t pay attention to detail, he may be thrown off by them - dismayed, if you will.

These are the basics in dealing with trolls, although we’ve recently come across trolls who seem to be far more invested in their tasks. The newer trolls who fear exposure smack of desperation and have revealed some of their capabilities to us. As they are losing their grip (feeling cornered, fearful, or exposed), they turn to more aggressive means. The default setting for these types of trolls is the old adage, “deny, deny, deny, and make counter-accusations”.

First off, Russian trolls can and do read private, direct messages. They will use any information that they obtain in those messages against their target in order to control and manipulate through intimidation, especially things of a personal nature. This includes threatening harm to underage children.

Trolls can and will dox, meaning they will seek out any and all information about their target in order to expose the private information of a person who may prefer to remain anonymous on Twitter. This includes posting personal photos, places of employment, addresses, phone numbers, names of family members, pets, etc. We’ve seen them create fake accounts using the personal information and pictures of family and friends who were not even involved in a twitter exchange.

Russia wants control. “Silent decomposition” ensures that Russia maintains control over friendships and conversations between people. If they can interfere with friendships, they will. They can and do try to isolate one person from a group conversation, by removing names of other members of the conversation in a twitter exchange. This makes it easier for them to divide and conquer. Meanwhile, they stick together as a united community, liking one another's posts, and sticking to a predetermined group narrative regardless of any evidence to the contrary. The only positive to this is that they can be easily baited and observed because they come out of the woodwork to protect their own.

Possibly most dangerous – they will infiltrate a community posing as a friend and then turn people against one another. This is classic provokatsiya, but when people let their guard down and don’t understand Russia’s end goal, it can destroy a group’s cohesiveness.

Sun Tsu said that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting him”. Russia’s troll campaign is a small but integral part of their hybrid warfare against the west. Knowing that they actually are out there attempting to demoralize us is a first step in understanding how to defend against it. The second step is to understand their techniques. Knowledge is power and simply knowing can give us the armor we need. Stay safe out there.