Syria: The purpose of Nekrassov’s Piece

Nekrassov’s CNN piece, dissected as propaganda, was a considerable expenditure of human capital, since western media would detect a pattern of repetition. By this reasoning, a more specific purpose is required than chatting up cooperation by asserting existence of a nascent U.S./Russia partnership that doesn’t exist. The “written by Nekrassov” writers should listen to Kerry.

Informed speculation gets a boost from the recent disclosure by Assad’s government to monitoring groups of additional chemical weapons sites (Reuters). Past cooperation of the Syrians on this issue has bought them little, and it has been widely suspected that they held some in reserve. The timing of these new disclosures is interesting.

The image of the Syria  in the West in 2011 was of a police state ruled by a very small Alawite minority, in which unspeakable tortures were widely and frequently used as an instrument of political control over the Sunni majority. Western sympathy could have been aroused by the seemingly modest idea that with rule by the majority, the use of coercive methods would at least subside in frequency. But in a partial recapitulation of the neoconservative strategy of the Bush Administration, an attempt was made to find Syria’s heroes of democracy and crown them. Perhaps, if they had been found, the passive policy then in vogue would have been supplanted by something capable of keeping ISIS a mere figment of the imagination.

Today, the Syrian regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad doesn’t look so bad. But Kerry says, “There Is Evidence That Assad Has Played ‘Footsie’ With ISIL.” My personal sentiment is that in a world of bad, bad, bad, bad people, this is worth only two bads.

It is possible that the Russians, sensing the inertia of U.S. policy, would like the U.S.  to decide that Assad is not so bad, and they would like us to think it is our idea. Encapsulating the idea in a propaganda piece would certainly be novel. But this notion is helped along a little by the chemicals disclosure, for which there is a heavy real-world price. Those chemicals could have had a use against ISIS. Assad’s regime, now a homeless waif in the international community, is up for adoption.

Exercise: reading Russian propaganda courtesy of CNN

In contrast to the recent, crude Russian nationalist drumbeat, CNN has a “View from Russia”, “written by” former Putin advisor Alexander Nekrassov,  in the creative style very much in vogue with the western “opinion piece.” Quoting the nut of it,

"Although it may be tempting for Washington to overthrow Assad, such a move could backfire on the White House, giving ISIS a boost instead of a kick and turning those pesky U.S. midterm elections into a total nightmare for the Democrats."

This is pure RT, who are also trying to cultivate a fear of an imminent eruption of Yosemite. Continuing,

"(Incidentally, Russian experts believe that Obama will lose the Senate...So it made sense for Washington to wave the white flag -- albeit a very small one -- at the expense of the Ukrainian regime in Kiev, in order to signal to the Kremlin that it is time to do some business together."

The implication of a sellout would be just the thing to write to demoralize Kiev.

Having lost credibility as a direct communicator, it not impossible that Putin is using Nekrassov’s voice for a fresh start. But the article is either a sophisticated piece of propaganda, or a well-warped world-view that has not been vetted by Occam’s Razor. It may be an attempt at an audience with those who tune out RT and, these days, Putin himself, but in elaboration of the visible realm, it tends toward conspiracy theory. Most propaganda does.

Nekrassov refers to

"...the civil war in Ukraine, which most sensible people tend to classify these days as a direct stand-off between Russia and the U.S."

Is the reader that “sensible person”? Three tactics of manipulation are used by the author(s) of this article. The first two are:

  • Conflate something the reader believes about himself with something you want him to believe.
  • Gaining the reader’s trust, stretch the boundaries.

In this article, the stretch is a defective syllogism based on an additional dose of conflation:

"... it follows that Ukraine is very close to Syria when it comes to international power-play.

It follows? How?

According to Nekrassov, Obama cannot simply pick up the phone, and so,

"The view in Moscow is that the Obama Administration is telling the Kremlin that it needs help in dealing with ISIS. But as it can't just say it publicly, it is using Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to do the honors."

To complete the picture, Nekrassov describes the Russian reaction to the American initiative that never occurred:

"...Initially this was received with caution in Moscow -- especially given what has been going on for the past nine months in Ukraine -- but if that is not a signal from Barack Obama that he is ready to play ball with Russia, then I don't know what is."

The last paragraph embodies the third tactic:

  • Allege that proponent and  adversary agree on the interpretation.

Russian miscalculation of the Western reaction to the Ukraine incursion implies a surprising misunderstanding of the more hidden aspects of the Western psyche, a kind of ignorance more typical of those Third World countries afflicted by national psychosis, and historically by the Axis powers of World War II. A competing analysis of the CNN piece could attribute the tenor to that misunderstanding.  That it influences the content cannot be excluded. But the careful structuring of the techniques used suggests the intent of manipulation beyond the simple conveyance of opinion.

Elisions are used so as not to stretch the bounds of “fair usage” of the CNN article. Read it. All propaganda, except the crudest, is educational.

 

 

 

 

Gaming Iraq’s future; methodologies

How should we approach this? By sketching personalities, and mapping hierarchies of dominance, or by moving tokens on a board? In “Al Qaeda Hostage Release, & Lantana Weed Control”, it’s asserted that Qatar cannot be tokenized. In other words, Qatar has a complex internal structure that spits out behaviors considerably more complicated than a shocked lab rat.

Some problems become simplified en masse, while others become more complicated. The physics of bodies with gravitational fields provides an example of magnificent clarity:

  • The mechanics of a single body is trivial.

  • The mechanics of two bodies has a simple formula solution.

  • The mechanics of three bodies has no formula solution. All you can do is calculate the evolution of their motions in tiny increments of time, and keep doing it till you get to the time you want. This is called “iteration.”

  • The mechanics of more than three bodies becomes increasingly miserable, until, when you have about 13 or more, provided the bodies are identical, and you don’t care about their individual identities, statistics emerge, and can be solved for. Statistics are numbers that characterize the particles as a bunch.

Inexact analogies to human behavior are obvious: individual, cabal, crowd, tribe, society… The imprecision, and perhaps, lack of practical exploitability of these relationships is as frustrating for intelligence as it is for physics. Could one, for example, predict a revolution by monitoring the behavior of a crowd, as, for instance, with tweets before the 2011 Egyptian revolution?

The U.S. intelligence community observed a large scale social instability prior to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, but was unable to  predict the revolution itself. To predict the fall of Mubarak would have required analytic tools that work from the large to the small.  One group (citation missing)  published claims of a model-with-software that predicted the fall of Mohamed Morsi, supposedly by analyzing the claims, grievances, and resources of the “actors” of Egypt’s political scene.  But as the claim was made after the fact, it and a couple of bucks will buy you a latte.

While informatics is still largely preoccupied with models and statistical quantities thereof, it has also moved past that, with the new understanding that some important information may be uncovered, if we are only willing to cede the need to know the reasoning. The neural network is one such device.  The details of how a complex neural network actually functions cannot be known, because the states are too complex to interpret individually. But if it says yes, or it says no, and it has a track record, what the hey?

This was one of the inspirations behind crowdsourcing intelligence; put lots of warm & wet neural networks on the case, and feed their outputs into some kind of algorithm that would cleanse the data of their bizarre individual opinions, exposing hidden gems. Suppose, for example, you had assembled a  collection of opinionated heads who always, without exception, gave the wrong answer. You pose the question: Will Bashar Hafez al-Assad be among the living after June 16, 2015, the end of the month of Ramadan? The group reply is “without a doubt, absolutely, bet your life on it”…and the group is always wrong. Would you ignore the prediction?

If this seems farfetched, the financial markets use methods like this, called contrarian sentiment indicators, and they are valued by many for market timing.  The simulated market is  a crowdsourcing methodology for intelligence work, perhaps the most widely used. There was an operating “terror market”, devoted to predicting terror events, which was terminated by ethical considerations, such as the possibility of encouraging the act.

You should not underestimate the possibility that your own warm & wet and conveniently available neural network can tackle prediction problems with results better, at least, than the “opinion pieces”. It does require a high level of self-awareness to create the required  virtual “detached little man.” Do some meta-analysis about your own thinking. When you think about Iraq, ISIS, Iran, and Syria, do you gravitate to:

  • Individual players?
  • Cabals?
  • Tribes?
  • “Peace of Westphalia constructs”, with political maps populated by men wearing western business suits?

Without tipping my hand before the next post, this is a big problem. Each presents a different way of abstracting and simplifying the situation. Each is very incomplete, yet there is no combinatorial principle that provides completeness.

 

Russian Casualties estimate; a technique note

In “Russia is short of soldiers…”, the estimate of 400-650 Russian deaths is provided. It may eventually join the pile of  published wrong guesses. But it is an example of how disparate bits of apparently unrelated information can come together to provide an intelligence estimate. Some of these bits are “general knowledge”, while others would be noted by the amateur military historian while reading the news.

The Vietnam war was caught between old military paradigms and those in the process of invention.  Unlike the wars that followed, there were situations in which American units were actually slaughtered. This created pressure from the top to show great damage to the enemy, with inflated “body counts”. Subsequent wars, even Afghanistan, have had been more favorably asymmetric. And as the value of the body count as raw material for the intelligence estimate became appreciated, the culture moved in the direction of precision and lack of bias.

The Ukrainian Army inherited  the old Soviet military doctrine. Particularly since the flat terrain of Ukraine is “good tank country”, whatever changes in doctrine have occurred are the results of small forces operating in vast territories and the occasional appearance of modern weapons. It seems likely that, in some cases, battlefield radar has been used, allowing the Ukrainian forces to locate Russian mobile columns and attack them with some success.

But although the Ukrainian forces have sometimes demonstrated good local awareness, they lack situational awareness on the scale of the entire “front.” This is has been shown by frequent encirclements of Ukrainian units. In World War II, similar gaps in situational awareness were exploited by talented generals on both sides to create “pockets”, sometimes entrapping hundreds of thousands of enemy troops.  Encirclements have not been a prominent feature of warfare since, because when one occurs, the echelons of an advanced army quickly acquire complete situational awareness, and concentrate forces to break the encirclement, or even use the situation against a less advanced enemy to provoke their forces to concentrate.

The observation that the Ukrainians have poor situational awareness bears on their casualty estimates. The inability to clearly see the hostile forces means that casualty estimates rely on subsequent inspection of the battlefield and rude estimates of retreating convoys and the capacity of the constituent vehicles, provided by discretely hiding spotters. As with Vietnam, there is a need to generate optimistic estimates, because optimism keeps them going.

Suppose, having lived on Mars since the beginning of the year, and knowing nothing of this conflict, you are presented with a white sheet of paper on which are printed, in bold letters:

  • Russian casualties: 15 – 2000

  • Ukrainian situational awareness: poor

  • Demand: Generate number now.

What would you do? If your inclination were to roll it up into a ball and try to hit the trash basket, you’d probably be right. Based upon the white sheet of paper, the knowledgeable estimate is, “somewhere between 15-2000. ” Those boundaries, serving as “almost facts”, are the factual fence of the problem.

But you’ve absorbed something from the news. Intuition, fueled by both conscious and unconscious impressions of their behavior,  is  used to posit that the Ukrainians have generated the maximum possible number, by summing nonlethal and lethal casualties.

This biases the estimate downwards from the neutral, no-knowledge number of 1007.5.  In counter-bias, quoting Reuters, “The battle, the soldiers said, killed more than 100 Russian soldiers serving in the 18th motorized rifle brigade of military unit 27777, which is based outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.

Now there is a choice. It is tempting to guess that 3 to 5 times this number have been successfully hidden by the Russians. But it would be just a guess, masquerading as insight. The efficiency of the media at ferreting is unknown.

Resorting to “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics”, for a ratio of lethal to nonlethal, has both intuitive and factual elements. The factual part is that the document is available. The intuitive is to select the basis for the ratio, but the range of ratios that can be generated from the report is not large.

The intuition used here is formally  expressible as a few “dumb rules.” As an argument requirement, the “dumb rule” is a form of Occam’s Razor, a beneficial distinction from thought processes that are not sharable in any form. That vague kind of intuition should be avoided.

Russia is short of soldiers for Ukraine; military incapacity seems evident

See Reuters.

Conscripts are being deployed, contrary to Russian law. Quoting, “Vitaly says officers tried to force his son – serving mandatory military service – to change his status to a contract soldier, which would legally allow him to serve abroad. Conscripts in Russia are exempt from foreign service.

Hospitals in Rostov, Moscow, and St. Petersburg have filled to capacity.

Estimates of Russian deaths range from a Ukrainian high of 2000 to a low of 15, by unspecified human rights workers (Reuters). A Congressional Research Service report, “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics”, provides figures for American conflicts of possible comparative value. An average ratio over recent wars with some similarity of character is roughly  3.5 non mortal wounds per conflict death. With the assumption that every Russian soldier observed to be evacuated from the battlefield is optimistically counted by the Ukrainians as a mortality, an estimate of 600 Russian deaths results. If the Ukrainians observe removal of corpses with equal efficiency and without distinction, the estimate becomes about 450 deaths.

This is an example of open-source analysis that anyone can do with only slight digging. It contradicts the popular notion that Russia has a competent, though small, professional volunteer army, capable of fielding even a small Ukraine incursion with the sophistication of recent U.S. battle doctrine. With the glimpse of medical logistics, it offers the picture of a sclerotically weak Russia. Perhaps this is why Putin keeps up the nuke talk.

But it is hardly a scoop.  An active, international, cooperative framework of open source diggers, with some kind of clearing hub, could have provided the raw material for analysis some time ago.

Start digging and posting.

 

 

ISIS & Calls for U.S. leadership & Growing the Ideal Lawn

There have been calls for the U.S. to exercise “leadership”, originating on partisan political lines.  A bias towards passivity , described in part by the phrase “leading from behind”, went badly wrong in Syria, seeding the ground for ISIS. A misdirection of priority for  the political integrity of Iraq further compounded the problem.

It would be a shame if  the idea of leading from behind, which, according to the New Yorker, originated with Nelson Mandela, were a casualty of these recent events. Foreign policy tends to be described by single buzzwords, and here we have a whole phrase of three words, a welcome addition to the sparse palette of buzz-choices.

In Making Plans; Getting Ready; Iraq Mosque Massacre, the argument is made that the problem of ISIS defies the conventional notion of a plan, which tends to have an algorithmic expectation for attainment of the goal.

So ingrained is this in the human psyche that we habitually call our politicians liars when they put forth plans that call for military pacification of millions of people followed by reconstruction of the local civilization (or lack) and erection of a democratic polity — and the plan fails to come off as expected.

If, thinking the better of the above,  politicians propose a plan without the algorithmic element, meaning that no promise of a specific, endpoint-goal is made, the politicians are called indecisive.

Military plans once had a rigidity caused by the difficulties of communication and awareness (the fog of war), and the process of “mobilization.” Driven by the rigid scheduling of railways, this reached a peak with World War I. Each country had an intricate plan to move  military assets to the border in minimum time. Once started, the plan could not be interrupted or modified, because trains run on tracks, and the rest of the transportation was by horses or foot. Perhaps diplomats unconsciously copied this pattern in the rigid framework of interlocking alliances that made the assassination of an obscure archduke a compulsion to war.

In certain fields, humans have been forced, by compelling need, to abandon the legacy of a mental framework. In the Fifth Solvay Conference, in 1927, the physicists received the first intimation that the concepts of truth, as examined by philosophy, are widely invalid in the real world. In physics, compelling need has caused the concept of truth to evolve, diversify, and, in some cases, become non sequitur. And although Ludwig Wittgenstein provides a kind of a gap-filler for anxious liberal arts students, physics continues to outpace. At best, we can claim Wittgenstein is relevant to us, and we are limited.

With those eminently respectable examples in front of us, consider the evolution of warfare, which has been info-centric for a long time. The colorful costumes of Napoleonic and earlier were required to know where the troops were. Orders were originally shouted, then written,  then sent by telegraph key, then typed, then teletyped, then sent by encrypted burst radio; now by micro-cellular radio with heads-up display. This is reflected in the evolution of U.S. battle doctrines. The first evolved doctrine, the product of Vietnam’s junior officers, was AirLand Battle, superseded by Full Spectrum Operations” (army.mil:  American Army Doctrine for the Post-Cold War). And it keeps going. While political debate tends to have a cyclic, repetitive character, the U.S. Army learns from their mistakes. Experiencing the death of soldiers under one’s command seems to provide collective inspiration, which is why, some have said, war brings out the best in men, though making the kind of history that should have been avoided.

The thinking implied by the dod.live article, “Post 9/11 Stability Operations; How U.S. Army Doctrine is Shaping National Security Operations”, could help avoid the painful mistakes of past counter-insurgencies. But part of the avoidance is not getting in the situation in the first place. And a risk of not getting involved is the kind of global malignancy not seen in past Cold-War situations. There is no doctrinal replacement for fluid intellect in calling the shots.

DoD is at the service of public policy, not the originator. DoD doctrines are shaped by the need to connect the dots, in detail, all the way to training the soldier. The need to be absolutely nuts-and-bolts practical and implementable results in great detail at the bottom, and less at the top. There is no DoD manual on when to engage. That’s left to the politicians. The cited document provides methods, but the judgment to apply is left to Wise Men, who are often not that wise.

The nature of partisan politics tends to promote one-word solutions. Phrases of three words are better, though, as recently seen, three might not be enough. Homeowners in the suburbs who are trying to grow nice lawns are acquainted with reading little articles on the side of grass seed bags. You start with red fescue, just to get something down, mulch, aerate, weed, mow, and fertilize, and seed with Kentucky Bluegrass to replace the coarse fescue. Then, after some years, you’re supposed to have a nice lawn. Although I hate yard work, and I have never actually seen this happen, millions of homeowners seem to obtain life  fulfillment in their quests.

That was about 50 words. You don’t exercise leadership to grow a lawn, and you don’t follow it. Sometimes you let it sit, and sometimes you mow and weed like crazy, according to the weather, not some grand plan. Single words and simple phrases don’t suffice. Perhaps we should grow a vocabulary.

ISIS Beheadings

In ISIS Executions & Emotional Reactions, I remarked that it is important not to be captured by emotion. It is natural to be more affected when the victim is culturally one of our own. It is not necessary to offer the opinion that all lives are of equal value. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t; that is your private affair. But let us not be distracted from the game in which the opponent is ISIS. There is data to be extracted.

Some have suggested that, in the personal address of threat to President Obama, the perpetrators believe that this may deter a U.S. policy of confrontation with ISIS. This is one possible interpretation. Another  interpretation, exclusive of the first, is that the intended audience is internal, to spur other ISIS combatants to competitive acts of savagery. To an audience  of sympathizers, it could be a recruitment pitch.

A third possibility is that the executions stem from nothing complicated;  they are merely physical venting of extreme hostility, or taunts, as appear in the Scandinavian  “blood sagas.”

Which is more correct? The inexperienced analyst may fall into the trap of projecting a made-up mental image, a kind of false empathy, into the problem. Perhaps, having just seen an emotionally charged movie, a complete work of fiction, you have had an animated discussion on the motives of a character. Whatever you think, it is a projection, because the character never existed, not even in the mind of the script writer, who, from personal experience, goes for overall-impression-and-damn-the-details.

There are perhaps four intelligence agencies with the depth of resources for an answer that is more than a guess. One test of relevance of a strategy to counter ISIS is that the answer matters.

 

Ukraine & Politics of Appeasement

Many younger readers may not be familiar with the phrase “politics of appeasement“, which is best associated with British P.M. Neville Chamberlain’s misguided attempt to avoid World War II by forcing Czechoslovakia to cede territory.

Chamberlain was not the only practitioner. The period over which the Western democracies attempted to appease the Fascist states spanned 1931-1939. It even includes the refusal of the U.S. to recognize Japan’s annexation of Manchuria, which did not avert the subsequent atrocities or the war itself.

Although Merkel is not a Chamberlain, and Putin is not a Hitler, there are certain similarities. Merkel is rumored to push Poroshenko to make concessions, which, presumably, would lead to “peace for our time.” And Putin, who does not have Hitler’s histrionic speaking style, repeatedly makes reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

It is disconcerting that Putin thinks the EU is susceptible to psychological manipulation, and also, that he might be right. Two sources of Putin’s inspiration come to mind.

The small mustelid predator called the “weasel” overcomes the speed of the rabbit  by performing what is called the “weasel dance”, rapid lateral leaps and bounds, which apparently overload the rabbit’s nervous system so that the flight instinct is paralyzed.

Among the underclass of thieves and murderers, and perhaps among KGB veterans, there is the lore that to kill a familiar person, it helps to habituate the intended victim to the presence of the murder weapon. Familiarity by the victim of the knife or the gun provides the killer a few more seconds, before the victim is aroused, to accomplish the deed.

The interpretation of Putin’s behavioral subtleties is not a science. But there is more power to the technique than referring to the Dnieper river, which bisects Ukraine, as a strategic goal. As a student of Napoleon, Putin knows that being a prisoner of circumstances, and being an opportunist, are not contradictions.

Intel9's world view

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!