Digital influence warfare | By Farrukh Saleem


Digital influence warfare

There’s a new theater of war. The ‘attacker’ in this new theater has at least twelve goals: to weaken Pakistan’s war-waging capacity; to de-legitimize Pakistani institutions; to deepen our existing fault lines; to create uncertainty; to disorient Pakistanis; to shape perception; to change our behavior; to sow division within us; to increase political polarization; to create confusion within Pakistan; to create disorder and to make Pakistani society dysfunctional as a society.

Pakistanis are in a state of war-a 24-hour war. Pakistanis are under attack-and we don’t even know that we are being attacked. The ‘attacker’ has a strategic plan and the ‘attacker’ has ‘weaponized information’.

The ‘attacker’ goes through identity deception, adopts persuasive techniques and uses the Internet as his platform to ‘attack’ his ‘victim’. The ‘attacker’ leverages both facts and fakes, both audios and videos-and preferably a combination of both.

To be certain, “for disinformation to be successful it must at least partially respond to reality.” Imagine, the victim is unaware that he is under attack. First generation warfare was about three things: uniformed soldiers fighting wars with ‘massed manpower using line and column tactics’. Second generation warfare used rifled muskets and breech-loaders.

Third generation warfare is about three things: ‘speed, stealth and surprise’. The weapons of the third generation war are: fighter aircrafts, tanks and artillery.

We are now into ‘new generation warfare’, ‘grey zone warfare’, ‘non-linear war’ or ‘full spectrum warfare’. In ‘new generation warfare’ there are no physical security threats to Pakistan-and there’s no real blood on Pakistani streets.

The ‘attacker’ has moved from physical security threats to compound security threats. The ‘attacker’ has moved from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to ‘weapons of mass disruption’.

The ‘attacker’ has moved from ‘destructive technology’ to ‘disruptive technology’. The ‘new generation war’ goes on 24/7 and the battlefield is the human mind.

Minds are at war and battles have gone online. In ‘new generation warfare’ there are “coordinated campaigns by one state to impact one or more specific aspects of politics in another state.”

The “primary objective is to demoralize both military personnel and civilian population, and thus, over time, to diminish their will to act.”

Pakistan is in the midst of an audio-video warfare. Political polarisation within Pakistan is at its highest ever. Our ability to defend is low.

The ‘attacker’ definitely has an influence warfare strategy: divide and conquer. Digital mercenares are hard at work with two goals-downgrade public morale and downgrade troop morale.

There’s a state-sponsored assault against Pakistan. This attack has seven weapons: fake audios, fake video, fake media, fake addresses, fake letterheads, fake names and fake telephone numbers.

Facts and fiction are being mixed up like never before. The ‘attacker’ is using a whole array of non-lethal weapons as force multipliers-and this assault is deadlier than assaults of the past.

There’s no doubt that our adversary has deployed non-kinetic weapons against us. We may not be aware of this deployment but that’s our weakness.

One way to detect a digital influence attack is to uncover deliberate efforts towards de-legitimization of institutions that provide ‘societal stability and continuity’-institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary and the armed forces. We must first recognize that we are under attack-and then arm ourselves to repeal these disinformation assaults.

Pakistan’s politics has degenerated into toxicity, meaninglesness and irrelevancy. Elite political polarisation must be de-escalated.

Defence measures against digital influence warfare fall into two broad categories: “measures to degrade, disrupt or expose an adversary’s arsenal of weapons as they are being used against a target population” and “measures to help people resist the operation of weapons targeted at them” including “educational efforts to improve the ability of a populace to think critically about their consumption of media.” Divided we fall. We must unite to mitigate digital warfare’s consequences.

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