The funny thing about democratic knowledge

The Chinese government has been angry about the Summit for Democracy since it was first announced. In the lead-up to the December event, China’s state-related accounts and outlets have waged a coordinated effort to redefine democracy’s in a way that normalises the Chinese Communist Party.

This report from Recorded Future, China’s Narrative War on Democracy teases out the cross platform effort by the CCP.

The report states: “This influence operation highlights classic examples of narrative warfare (the fight over the meaning of information and identity) and is being used strategically by the CCP in an attempt to redefine what the world thinks about democracy and sway people towards viewing China not as an autocratic, authoritarian regime, but as a beloved socialist democracy that puts its people first.”

For more on the Summit for Democracy: listen here.

Recorded Future found over 8,470 mentions of “what is #democracy?” online in the first half of December with the content originating from China’s propaganda ecosystem.

That is a lot of information.

But it’s not enough to dislodge the knowledge citizens of democracy have of their own system of government as well as that of China’s. In fact, the democratic knowledge, the knotted and complex clusters of shared information, history, experience, make it hard to accept the fanciful notion that China is a democracy.

Perhaps for that reason, Recorded Future author Charity Wright wrote: “Despite widespread amplification of this influence campaign, the individual posts on mainstream social media platforms have received minimal engagement and strong counterarguments against the idea of China being a democracy.”

When I read forensic reports written on narrative offensives, I wonder why we pay so much attention to the measurable volumes of information and content, and not the meaning that the information supports? Could it be because we mistakenly think of information security and influence campaigns as a subset of cyber security? We discuss them in the technical language of cyber campaigns, while standing back from the central power of these narratives: the competition over meanings which is the nature of the social media interaction.

The Recorded Future report states the CCP’s campaign’s “effectiveness…is difficult to assess.”

Certainly, the power of arguments can be difficult to measure, too.

Yet arguments function at the level of meaning, which can give direction and encouragement to the public. Arguments help people order and shape facts (and information) in their heads. They are the next-level of complexity, over information, and individual facts.

So when the CCP comes along with a campaign, citizens with facts organised to defend their political system become more resistant to the sham arguments of authoritarians. The formulation and promotion and publicising of “strong counterarguments” made in the battlefield of meaning could be more effective than an engineered approach.

An insecure world for open democracies

“There was a time when strong, meaningful borders were a feature of the nation-state. Dissidents and critics in a democracy could generally enjoy protection of living in them, and governments spoke for their citizens in diplomatic disputes.”

“The adoption of new technology in recent decades – including mobile phones and social media – has eroded that arrangement; states of war and peace are now not so clear. While individuals can challenge governments as never before, they can also be targeted by autocratic states in novel ways.”

Tech evolves and the power of borders erodes. From The Age/SMH.

Summit for Democracy, a contest against chaos…

…and information disorder, untruths, trolling, disinformation. The virtual event is an effort to resurrect the global language of democracy after its rough start in the new century.

One of the traits of this era is escalating complexity of systems. No form of government knows that better than liberal democracy — just look at the news and social media feeds in a democratic country on any given day.

So it’s crucial in this time that there is a way to conceive of democracy simply, and as a whole.

To discuss democracy as the summit does reminds the public of the organising power of the political system. Not just institutionally, or politically but morally and mentally in a time of information overload.

This podcast discusses the challenges for democracy in the world as we find it in 2021.

Sources:

REviLives! A ransomware gang’s views on US ‘impunity’


This notice from the newly emergent Conti ransomware group has been posted in response to a US (and allies) operation to to take ransomware gang REvil offline.

Now, all is justified

What strikes me is how it echoes the general themes of the Russia’s propaganda: the US government is hypocritical, so ransomware gang behaviour is legitimate. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was wrong. So today, we hold sensitive medical data from American hospitals for ransom – and that’s ok. It’s whataboutism as a business plan. The best part of the statement is the last line, which discusses Americans being “free.” Who gets to define when America is free? Russian ransomware operators, naturally. Again, like propaganda.

CONTI Team (Conti ransomware group) statement on REvil: 

Title: Announcement. ReviLives.

Subject: Own opinion.

As a team, we always look at the work of our colleagues in the art of pen-testing, corporate data security, information systems, and network security. We rejoice at their successes and support them in their hardships.

Therefore, we would like to comment on yesterday’s important announcement by the US law enforcement about the attack on the REvil group.

We want to remark the following:

First, an attack against some servers, which the US security attributes to REvil, is another reminder of what we all know: the unilateral, extraterritorial, and bandit-mugging behavior of the United States in world affairs.

However, the fact that it became a norm does not presume that it should be treated like one. Unlike our dearest journalist friends from the Twitter brothel, who will sell their own mother for a bone from bankers or politicians, we have the guts to name things as they are. We have a conscience, as well as anonymity, while our skills allow us to say something that many “allied” governments are afraid of saying:

With all the endless talks in your media about “ransomware-is-bad,” we would like to point out the biggest ransomware group of all time: your Federal Government. There is no glory in this REvil attack. First, because REvil has been dead in any case, but secondly, because the United States government acted as a simple street mugger while kicking a dead body.

Let’s break it down point by point. There was an extraterritorial attack against some infrastructure in some countries.

  1. Is there a law, even an American one, even a local one in any county of any of the 50 states, that legitimize such indiscriminate offensive action? Is server hacking suddenly legal in the United States or in any of the US jurisdictions? If yes, please provide us with a link.
  2. Suppose there is such an outrageous law that allows you to hack servers in a foreign country. How legal is this from the point of view of the country whose servers were attacked? Infrastructure is not flying there in space or floating in neutral waters. It is a part of someone’s sovereignty.
  3. The statement mentions a multinational operation but does not name specific countries that participated in the cyber strike. We seem to know why; see next point.
  4. Most countries, the US included, perceive critical cyber strikes against their territory as a casus belli. You think anybody will be fine if Taliban conducts a misfile strike against a place in Texas to “disrupt an operation” of what Afghanistan considered a “criminal” group?
  5. When the special forces arrive at a hostage scene, they at least make sure that there are hostages there (at least, this is how it used to be). How did you know who you were attacking? It could just be a reverse proxy on an unsuspecting host. How did you know who ELSE these servers are serving? How was the safety of other people’s businesses, possibly people’s lives, ensured?

Just to be clear: these are all rhetorical questions. Of course.

What happened with this attack is way more than REvil or information security. This attack is just an another drop in the ocean of blood, which started because of NSA, CIA, FBI, and another two hundred three-letter security institutions (because, you know, true democracy and liberty requires millions of people in uniform) never had to answer these questions.

WMD in Iraq, which was “certainly there.”

Drone strikes on weddings because “these were terrorists.”

Airstrikes on hospitals and Red Cross convoys because “we thought these are hostile.”

Military raids within the foreign borders ended up with massacring allied soldiers.

The list is endless because those who are now enjoying the media fame from the REvil attack are vampires drunken and intoxicated by impunity and blood.

And this is not the story about REvil, Afghanistan, or any other subject in the world because impunity does not know borders.

No wonder, each day, we read in the news that the American police once again shot some unarmed African American, or a housewife, or a disabled person, or somebody brave enough to dared to protect their home and their family. This is your state, and it will treat you the way it drones unfortunate child-shepherd in the sands of the Maghreb or Arabia to ensure “the national security of America,” so far from its shores.

And we will be reminding you of this constantly. And yes, despites the popular opinion of the social media hobos, we can and WILL talk ethically as any other people. (Somebody, please put an Obama meme here).

We wish the people of America to resume control over your country as soon as possible and expel these fat, degraded bankers and become again the great FREE nation that we remember and love. We wish our retired colleagues from REvil have a lot of fun with their honestly earned money.

Sincerely yours,

Conti’s team