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Who Becomes a Target in the Infowar?

1:05 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Last week I ranted about the way many Wikileaks’ supporters were framing their work as Information Warfare, “digital bomb-throwing”, and so on. My point was that by playing into the semantic games of the establishment, we not only jeopardize the efforts of transparency and accountability, but we risk turning what was once an unalienable right (a free press) into something dangerous, something worthy of retaliation – a weapon.

We seem to have perverted “the pen is mightier than the sword” into “the pen is a mighty sword.” Don’t get me wrong, it sounds super badass. Yeah dude, we are totally infowarriors throwing digital bombs and launching news missiles at the imperialist pigs!

But this only works in the favor of the authorities, those who would use it to oppress and violate our rights. My colleague D. Eris over at Polizeros did us the favor of laying out exactly how this works:

Over the last ten years, the Department of Defense has quietly been developing the conceptual and operational framework for what it calls “information operations,” or “info-ops” for short.  An Information Operations Primer published by the Army War College in 2006 (see the relevant document at IWS) delineates five core capabilities that constitute information operations: 1) psychological operations, 2) military deception, 3) operations security, 4) electronic warfare, and 5) computer network operations.  All of these are in play in the Cablegate affair

Go read the whole thing, it’ll scare the hell out of you.  Want another taste?

Among those speculating whether Wikileaks has effectively ignited an information war, the question has been raised as to what or where precisely the battlefield of this conflict is.  If one assumes that we are indeed in the midst of an information war, then the answer to this question is disturbingly simple: there is no space, whether physical, virtual or even mental, that is not a part of the battlefield.

Yikes! They’ll turn every last one of us on earth into combatants – into targets – if we let them.

And yet, some go down this path willingly. James Gundun writes at the Trench:

WikiLeaks represents the full glory of fourth-generation warfare: the blurring of military and non-military. A terrorist or insurgent isn’t limited to killing, but wields an arsenal of political and media tactics to control the flow and perception of information. Nor is warfare limited to terrorists and insurgents. Non-state actors practicing asymmetric warfare – often activists or hackers – is exactly the type of warfare expected in the 21st century.

This is real war.

Not every war aims for, “the complete destruction of society and basic human decency.” Especially fourth-generation warfare, which aims to break an enemy’s political will rather than destroy his territory. Fourth-generation warfare competes for information, for truth, and Wikileaks is locked in such a war with Washington. A war of politics, psychology, and technology.

It sounds like someone’s just read a little too much into the whole John Robb everything-is-kinda-like-a-terrorist-cell-if-you-think-about-it school of policy analysis.

Basically, Wikileaks, and by extension the Guardian, Der Spiegel and anyone else out there who does the same thing (journalism), is something like a terrorist or insurgent, doing something like destroying an enemy’s territory. This is beyond metaphor, he is explicitly saying that it’s warfare. Reporters are militants, news is a bomb.

That’s totally wrong.

Free expression and a free press are the most critical, most powerful agents we have for peace, democracy, and social justice. Warfare, weapons, and violence however, are precisely the opposite. They destroy, they violate, and they kill.

My personal experience is with citizen journalism and independent media. There is always a force working against you, someone or something that wants to shut you down, turn you off, and stop you from expressing what needs to be expressed. Ask any blogger or reporter out there. They know it’s a constant struggle just to be heard.

But it is not winning a battle or defeating an enemy. It is exercising our right. It is for all a human right, and lucky for me, it is also a guaranteed right by the US constitution. We’re not criminals, we’re not doing something wrong, we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as citizens.

To illustrate where I’m getting this from, I’d like to show you some videos from projects I’ve been privileged enough to be a part of the last few years.

I want you to see what these so-called “infowarriors” look like, and I want you to see how much their lives suck. I want you to see all the ways that society, governments, and war itself stifles, harasses, and in some cases takes the lives of these people who only want to tell a few stories and express a little history.

This is from TheUptake, a citizen journalism outfit based in Minnesota:

And this from the Small World News project Alive in Baghdad:

Finally this from Rethink Afghanistan:

These are insurgents? These are combatants on a battlefield? Can’t we see what happens to these people already, without anybody calling them 4th generation terrorists?

We need to understand the difference between real warfare and fake-pretend-sounds-cool warfare, and we need to figure this out quick. Because in case you didn’t notice from the videos, the authorities and powers-that-be don’t retaliate against “Infowarriors” with fake-pretend-sounds-cool violence, they retaliate with real muthafuckin’ violence.

Reject the information war, reject the authorities’ framing of journalism as combat. Speech is a right, not a weapon.

Journalism is not an Attack, Wikileaks is not Warfare

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Wikileaks is under attack!

Journalists and politicians are calling for the criminalization of Wikileaks, or worse, the assassination of its members. The US government is coercing companies into blocking access to Wikileaks, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is normally very strong on internet freedom, has been forced to “evolve” her positions.

If you’re a supporter of Wikileaks, or even a relatively dispassionate observer, you likely find these actions to be offensive, or even downright criminal. How dare the US move so arrogantly, so aggressively, against Wikileaks for what seems to be nothing more than the second coming of the Pentagon Papers? We believe in free speech, in transparency and accountability for our government. It’s outrageous that Washington would move so decisively to crush a project like Wikileaks.

But are Wikileaks’ supporters actually feeding this response from the government? In our rush to rationalize and defend Wikileaks and their actions, have we inadvertently opened the door to attacks by the US government?

The answer can be found in how we’ve chosen to frame the debate so far. Read the rest of this entry →

Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds and Blood and Anger

1:42 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Our troops have some questions about the strategy in Afghanistan. Spencer Ackerman reports:

Some considered the war a distraction from broader national security challenges like Iran or China. Others thought that its costs — nearly ten years, $321 billion, 1243 U.S. deaths and counting — are too high, playing into Osama bin Laden’s “Bleed To Bankruptcy” strategy. Still others thought that it doesn’t make sense for President Obama simultaneously triple U.S. troop levels and announce that they’re going to start coming down, however slowly, in July 2011. At least one person was convinced, despite the evidence, that firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal meant the strategy was due for an overhaul, something I chalked up to the will to believe.

But if there was a common denominator to their critiques, it’s this: None understood how their day-to-day jobs actually contributed to a successful outcome. One person actually asked me if I could explain how it’s all supposed to knit together.

I’m wondering the same thing. It’s never been clear to me exactly how a massive foreign military occupation translates to a stable, secure and democratic society in Afghanistan. How does one lead to the other, how do we get from A to B? Read the rest of this entry →

Pakistan: Diplomacy vs. Giving It All Away

3:01 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

How are we going to deal with Pakistan when they’re openly flaunting their proxy war against the United States? How should we respond when they say stuff like "we know where the [Taliban] shadow government is"? Or this:

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.

Again, "we protect the Taliban." Pakistan protects the Taliban. That’s in addition to them training and equipping various Taliban militias and even funding suicide attacks and IEDs against American troops. We, as in you the American tax payer, give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, including directly reimbursing them for their army operations (down to paying for the bullets fired). And yet they’re killing our troops and protecting insurgents/terrorists.

Our relationship with Pakistan is deeply, deeply flawed. How do we fix this?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Forget the Generals, Americans Are Committed to Ending War

5:30 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

General Petraeus began his rogue propaganda tour earlier this week, and it’s caused quite a stir among policy wonks about the crisis in civilian-military relations. Bernard Finel and Jason Fritz, in particular, have had a fascinating discussion on the origins of the civ-mil crisis. I admit the crisis is deeply troubling, certainly for a President struggling against a reputation for weakness. But I took a slightly more stubborn line to the renegade Petraeus:

We’ve heard this propaganda from Petraeus before, it’s nothing new. They’ve been shoveling this garbage on us for years. Now the majority of Americans are pushing for an exit, and no matter what any rogue general says, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan.

In other words, bring it on. Well, Petraeus did bring it, and now we have our first public poll conducted (partially) after his campaigning began. As expected, he’s failing.

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan – a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same.

Even a heavy media push by Petraeus can’t deter the movement to end the war. When they sell us war, we push back. We’re done listening to this nonsense about "oil spots" or progress or breaking Taliban momentum or whatever it is they’re hocking this week. We’re ending the war, period.

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Can’t Control His Generals – Time for Congress to Step in

5:12 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of the best parts of learning about foreign countries and their cultures is the sudden realization that these places aren’t actually foreign at all. You’re not studying an opaque alien world, you’re only looking in the mirror. As Americans, it fills us with hope to look across at, say, our progressive allies in Pakistan and note that they’re working hard, just like us, to correct and reform their country’s policies. But are we also capable of seeing the negative parallels? It’s all well and good to lecture the Pakistanis about total military subservience to a strong civilian government, but what about our own weak President and our own anti-democratic generals?

American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

When something like this happens in Pakistan, we completely lose our s**t and call them a failed state, a tyrannical dictatorship, a collapsing nuclear-armed time bomb full of apocalyptic religious fanatics and corrupt, out-of-touch plutocrats. When it happens here, it’s called a "media blitz." Oh you know, General Petraeus is just out there to "counter the growing pressure" by the American people, and hopefully force the Commander-in-Chief’s hand on war making policy. The young officer corps is simply pressuring your elected politicians to give them more time to occupy foreign lands and engage in aggressive wars. Totally normal, everything is fine.

It’s time for Congress to wake up. Petraeus needs to be reminded of exactly who he works for. The generals don’t tell us what to do, we tell them what to do. This is not Pakistan, this is the United States, and if President Obama is too weak to preserve our civilian-military order, then Congress is obligated to enforce its constitutional authority over the power – and the purse – of war. Read the rest of this entry →

When war becomes a background issue, it’s time to reasses: An interview with Matt Campbell (IA-5)

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

Matt Campbell is a Democrat running in the fifth district in Iowa against odious Republican Steve King.

Campbell is for jobs, against raising the retirement age, and for raising the cap on Social Security. He’s also for drawing down our involvement in Afghanistan. From his issues page:

The missions in Afghanistan and Iraq should be funded so that they are successful but we must draw our involvement in both countries to more limited roles so that our brave men and women in uniform there can return to their families and to be available for any other future crisis that could develop.

Jason Rosenbaum and I spoke with Campbell late last week about Afghanistan. What follows is a lightly edited transcript. More analysis coming up here in the near future.

Read the rest of this entry →

Fresh Talking Point: Poor Afghanistan, They’re Rich!

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

By now everyone has just about lost their damn minds about this New York Times article detailing Afghanistan’s "discovery" of vast amounts of mineral wealth. Yes, it’s way crazy old information (like the 70′s old). Yes, it’s Pentagon propaganda. If you’ve been reading us here, you already know ISAF’s counter-insurgency strategy is a flaming wreck, and you already know what they’re going to do about that. Propaganda and misinformation are all part of it.

But if your reaction has been typical, that of only sneering derision and snide condescension (guilty!), you’ve missed the point. Part of understanding propaganda is knowing its intended audience. We do this automatically when, say, Iranian President Ahmadinejad blames evil CIA spies for whatever it is that’s bothering him that day; unemployment, tummy ache, whatever. We understand right away that this is not about us, about Americans. Rather, it’s aimed at a domestic Iranian audience with very real fears about foreign interference. Only in the case of Afghanistan’s minerals, we’re personalizing it, assuming it’s aimed at us. It’s not for you, though. This propaganda has a very specific audience, and so far it’s working perfectly. Read the rest of this entry →

The Fundamentals of Radical, Transnational Counterinsurgency

12:35 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess.  We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s "COIN is like Soviet Communism?," wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is "protecting the population." It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends. Read the rest of this entry →

Rethink Afghanistan: Broken Government’s Body Count

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of my biggest pet peeves about war coverage is the constant flow of quasi-racist stereotypes about Afghans. You know, Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires," they’re all xenophobic murderers, they’re "tribal" and backwards and illiterate and can’t handle modernity and on and on it goes. These slurs can work for either side. It’s the Graveyard of Empires, so we should pull out. Or they’re tribal, so we need to kill the bad ones and arm the good ones (great idea!). Obviously, the stereotypes are not true. After all, why is Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires and not, y’know, the United States? Lots of great imperial powers have gotten their butts kicked there by kooky, backward white people and their slave-holding, witch-burning tribal law. They even have a violent global jihad against anyone who doesn’t willfully submit to their 18th century system of governance. But that’s a hateful and insulting perspective, perverted to the point of dangerous inaccuracy, so we reserve it exclusively for the Afghans (even Iraqis held on to the "Cradle of Civilization"). Here’s a piece, though, that I think might help cut through that, and show us just how much we have in common with Afghans.

However, more personal matters also contributed to [Hezb-e Islami MP Ataullah Ludin's] decision to step down from parliament. “People do not fully realize what our responsibilities as members of parliament are. They are actually three: the legislative function, the monitoring and opposition to government decrees that we do not accept, and the representation of our electorate, so that people’s desires and opinions can be assessed in parliament. [emphasis added]

Sound familiar? You’ve heard it before:

Bayh cited the lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as his main reason for leaving, adding to skepticism that the fractiousness in Washington can be repaired and undermining President Obama’s efforts to build bridges.

"There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving," Bayh said in a statement. "Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done." [emphasis added]

Read the rest of this entry →