by Rainer Shea
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rainer Shea: Anti-Imperialist Journalist, Nov. 20, 2021
December 2, 2021
This article is Part One in a series I’m doing on American collapse, and on how this has the potential to lead to a civil war within U.S. borders.
The “imperial boomerang” effect—where the types of violence an empire commits abroad inevitably become directed at that empire’s own people—is caused by the fact that actions have consequences. When a country subjugates other peoples, this has repercussions for those within that country. A society built on exploitation and violence can’t last. Whether that society wants to face it or not, its greed comes at a cost.
For the United States, that cost is going to be so great that the woes the country has been experiencing throughout the pandemic will look tiny in comparison. The warming of the climate has opened a Pandora’s Box of destabilizing factors for the coming decades, including the potential for new pandemics that could be deadlier than Covid-19. And U.S. military experts are aware of this. Which is why underneath their recent rhetoric about how Washington’s foreign adversaries supposedly pose the greatest threat to the United States, and the U.S. military’s pivot from fighting insurgencies to cold war military buildup against China, what these imperialist technocrats truly most fear is revolt from the marginalized peoples within the U.S. empire’s borders.
These officials won’t say this outright. But the increasing tenseness of our conditions, and the reactions to those conditions from the military and intelligence leaderships, tell a different story than the current narrative about grave U.S. concern for foreign “threats.” The prevalence of this scaremongering propaganda about Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other countries is a cover for our government’s true sentiments. Sentiments which stem from a sense of dread over the U.S. empire’s intensifying internal collapse, and the revolt which could come from it. This dread is manifesting itself across several dimensions, with currently the most significant one being cyber-based cognitive warfare.
Fear of losing the hearts and minds of the U.S. masses
In addition to its warfare domains of air, land, sea, space, and cyber, NATO recently added a new category: human. The “human domain,” which means the minds of the masses, has only now become outwardly viewed by the imperialists as something equally important as all of its other acknowledged types of combat.
But why have they decided so at this moment? U.S. imperialism has been refining the art of propaganda at least as far back as when it staged a false flag to start the Spanish-American War. They’ve only now grown this concerned about winning in so-called “cognitive warfare” because the empire’s contradictions have only now grown severe enough to prompt such a response. They can sense the unraveling of the society they’ve created, and see control over the minds of the people as the only way to stay in power.
This paranoia is clear from the language of a 2020 NATO-sponsored study, simply titled “Cognitive Warfare.” The study describes the sentiments of average people as if they were a physical battlefield, with the fate of the world to be decided by this battle’s outcome:
“In the 21st century, strategic advantage will come from how to engage with people, understand them, and access political, economic, cultural and social networks to achieve a position of relative advantage that complements the sole military force. These interactions are not reducible to the physical boundaries of land, air, sea, cyber and space, which tend to focus on geography and terrain characteristics. They represent a network of networks that define power and interests in a connected world. The actor that best understands local contexts and builds a network around relationships that harness local capabilities is more likely to win.”
The parts from the report that journalist Ben Norton finds most notable are the ones which expand upon this view that the war of ideas should be treated like a literal military conflict:
“The brain will be the battlefield of the 21st century…. Humans are the contested domain…. future conflicts will likely occur amongst the people digitally first and physically thereafter in proximity to hubs of political and economic power…. The human is very often the main vulnerability and it should be acknowledged in order to protect NATO’s human capital but also to be able to benefit from our adversaries’s vulnerabilities…. the objective of Cognitive Warfare is to harm societies and not only the military…. Cognitive warfare positions the mind as a battle space and contested domain. Its objective is to sow dissonance, instigate conflicting narratives, polarize opinion, and radicalize groups. Cognitive warfare can motivate people to act in ways that can disrupt or fragment an otherwise cohesive society.”
When NATO’s technocrats talk about these threats of radicalization, discord, and polarization, it’s obvious they’re referring to the foreign interference that the U.S. war machine goes on about these days. The CIA’s most recent threat assessment report names Russia, China, and Iran as all posing potential for election interference, expanding on the narrative from several years ago which merely leveled this accusation at Russia. This inconsistent story, where a given country gets abruptly added to the “interference” list after Washington starts increasing its asymmetrical warfare against that country, is an indication that these technocrats don’t believe foreign cognitive warfare to be as big of a threat as they claim. This is also shown by the often unreliable nature of the intelligence behind these meddling charges.
What these technocrats really see as a threat is the growing potential for revolutionary consciousness, which comes not from foreign meddling but from how people are responding to their deteriorating conditions. The only way to stop the development of class education is by engineering cultural roadblocks to it.
Militarized mass paranoia
The goal of putting so much emphasis on “foreign interference,” and on trying to make Washington’s biggest rival powers fit the mold of these conspiratorial claims, is to preemptively wage an internal war against dissenting views inside U.S. borders. To stigmatize journalism which exposes war crimes, governmental dishonesty, corruption, and all other evils within the U.S. political system as foreign propaganda. By smearing Julian Assange as a Russian stooge, and by putting forth faulty intelligence which supposedly showed Russia gave WikiLeaks the 2016 DNC emails, NATO’s cognitive warfare has already accomplished this. Wikileaks, and by extension all journalists who promote its findings, are now considered pawns in Russia’s schemes to manipulate the U.S. public.
The equivalent narratives have been manufactured when it comes to China, Iran, and even far less powerful imperialist target countries like Cuba; everyone who speaks against Washington’s narratives is branded a puppet or apologists for these governments, with an accusation of coordinated psychological warfare always being implied. The ruling class is cultivating a kind of political rhetoric in which paranoia prevails over reason, because everything has been warped into a militarized context where dissenting opinions are enemy weapons. This manipulation extends into academia, and especially into the scientific realm; the NATO report talks about the militarization of brain science, suggesting that our very neurons have become part of the ever-expanding battlefield.
Amid the biggest pandemic during the last century, a supply chain breakdown, the pushing of tens of millions of U.S. citizens into extreme poverty, and climate consequences on the horizon that the Pentagon started seeing as severe years ago, these maneuvers take on a context that’s indeed deeply militarized. U.S. intelligence operatives see their task of preventing the spread of class consciousness as an internally applied warfare mission. So via this revived version of McCarthyism, they’ve sought to instill everyone with this sense that a war needs to be fought for the preservation of our “national interests” and “democratic institutions.”
When the corporate media tells you to reject “foreign disinformation” (which means any information the U.S. empire doesn’t like), it’s instructing you to act as a footsoldier in the cognitive war. This could mean doing everything from acting as an edgy Sinophobic internet troll, to shaming your children for questioning the atrocity propaganda about the targeted countries, to getting paid to be a federal informant on activists. It could even mean joining a militia that terrorizes disfavored ethnic and political groups, or becoming some other type of violent reactionary vigilante. It’s important to note that the NATO-sponsored report describes cognitive warfare’s objective as to “make everyone into a weapon.”
We can be so certain of this propaganda campaign’s intelligence-engineered nature because since Washington reignited the Cold War during the early 2010s, the intelligence community has taken on a more insidious role within U.S. media than ever. In 2013, when the Obama administration had started its “pivot to Asia” of anti-Chinese military buildup, started a jihadist regime change war in Syria to counter Russia, and was preparing a coup in Ukraine which would ignite a second great-power proxy war, the U.S. lifted the ban on covert governmental messaging directed towards the country’s own citizens. This propaganda ban negation was claimed to be necessary for fighting terrorism, but what it became used for in the coming years would reveal its true function.
As Whitney Webb of MintPressnews has written about the consequences of this policy (while quoting the journalist Robbie Martin):
“Martin noted that U.S.-funded media, like Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE), were among the first to use a State Department-influenced narrative aimed at “inflaming hostilities with Russia before it soaked into mainstream reporting.” Of course, now, this narrative — with its origins in the U.S. State Department and U.S. intelligence community — has come to dominate headlines in the corporate media and even some “alternative” media outlets in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. This is no coincidence. As Martin noted, “after the ban was lifted, things changed drastically here in the United States,” resulting in what was tantamount to a “propaganda media coup” where the State Department, and other government agencies that had earlier shaped the narrative at the BBG, used their influence on mainstream media outlets to shape those narratives as well. A key example of this, as Martin pointed out, was the influence of the new think-tank “The Alliance for Securing Democracy,” whose advisory council and staff are loaded with neocons, such as the National Review’s Bill Kristol, and former U.S. intelligence and State Department officials like former CIA Director Michael Morell.”
Policing the flow of information
This unprecedented level of CIA-crafted war propaganda in the U.S. media has also been used to distort Americans’ perceptions of China, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and every other imperialist target country—with Nicaragua currently being the main disinformation target. These internally directed cognitive warfare operations extend not just to the news, but to social media and search algorithms, which have been heavily censored and manipulated by Big Tech in recent years. Anti-imperialist content has been the main target; after the Capitol Hill riot, censorship of Palestinians exploded.
These digital warfare tools are evolving as technology continues to get more influential over our consciousness. Researchers, both from NATO’s officially tied academic entities and from elsewhere, are figuring out how to make the micro-targeting more sophisticated, and how to better counteract the alleged cognitive warfare maneuvers of Washington’s adversaries. Which in practice means censoring legitimate political speech; when cold war demagogues blamed January 6th on foreign interference, they were trying to justify the fact that Palestinians and anti-war voices were bearing the brunt of Big Tech’s content crackdown.
By extension, this is also being used as the rationale for the censorship campaign against Nicaraguan Sandinista supporters, who’ve been falsely branded as bots and kicked off social media platforms in anticipation of Washington’s propaganda campaign surrounding the Nicaraguan election. Actual journalism and truth-based analysis is being purged, while disinformation about “Chinese concentration camps,” a “Wuhan lab leak,” and other such nonsense is free to be proliferated. As are the aggressively ignorant and potentially violent behaviors that result from this reactionary disinformation.
These tactics are now being applied to Cuba, where a massive online right-wing propaganda campaign is getting coordinated so that further counterrevolutionary violence can be incited amid the pandemic embargo the country is being subjected to. The CIA is doing the same to Ethiopia by fabricating anti-government atrocity stories, which fuel the campaign of the U.S.-backed terrorist organization the TPLF to sabotage crops and food distribution. These covert interventions give sinister meaning to the NATO-sponsored report’s assessment about how cognitive warfare can be used to disrupt societies.
If these are the impacts that the empire’s cognitive warfare efforts have abroad, what happens when they’re used on the U.S. population? And what about when these propaganda tools, which are designed to destabilize countries, are used to try to mitigate the impacts of the empire’s own destabilization? You get a cycle of social unraveling that the U.S. ruling class is simultaneously threatened by, and can’t stop making worse.
Rainer uses the written word to deconstruct establishment propaganda and to promote meaningful political action. His articles can also be found at Revolution Dispatch.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here. Follow Rainer on Twitter, and Youtube.
From the archives:
Imperialism is the Source of our Society’s Growing Misery and Death, by Rainer Shea
Justice For Julian Assange Is Justice For All by John Pilger + Nils Melzer: If Julian Assange Dies, He Would Have Been Tortured To Death!
Coups, Censorship and Propaganda: The U.S. New Cold War Playbook, by Rainer Shea
Navigating the Digital Commons on Our Own Terms, by Kenn Orphan
The Ruling Class Wants Us To Accept War As Never-ending, by Rainer Shea
Total Shutdown of Dissent is U.S. Censorship’s Endgame, by Rainer Shea
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I have some hope for our side (your side and mine) in the “cognitive war,” for this reason: I think that the imperialists, in their efforts to control us, must try to understand us. But when they understand peace and love, I think that they may be converted by it. Remember, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden broke ranks from =inside= the establishment; I am hoping that they are just the beginning of a larger trend.
I don’t think the establishment has enough computer power yet to analyze all the emails that they read. In particular, I doubt that they’ve noticed me. But when it first became common knowledge that they read all our emails, for a while I was adding this message at the bottom of each of my messages:
“I hope they WILL read my emails. If they ever truly UNDERSTAND what we are saying, they will JOIN us.”
I stopped writing that only because I got tired of reading it. But I still think it may be true. I certainly hope so.
Check out this post which you may or may not have seen. In the discussion (comment section), I pointed out that the info collected is used for blackmailing politicians and judges.
Ouch, I hadn’t thought about that. Well, I still stand by what I said, but with that added as a qualification.
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The terminology and detailed analyses of “cognitive warfare” may be new, but the most basic concepts are as old as propaganda. It is an asymmetric war: Those of us who are trying to raise class consciousness will find it wise to always tell the truth (at least, as we see it), while our opponents can be creative in inventing a multiplicity of lies.