The future is algorithmic propaganda

raiden off your console

And it’s not going to be a lot of fun.

American factions won’t be the only ones using AI and social media to generate attack content; our adversaries will too. In a haunting 2018 essay titled “The Digital Maginot Line,” DiResta described the state of affairs bluntly. “We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality,” she wrote. The Soviets used to have to send over agents or cultivate Americans willing to do their bidding. But social media made it cheap and easy for Russia’s Internet Research Agency to invent fake events or distort real ones to stoke rage on both the left and the right, often over race.

Jonathan Haidt, WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID

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Kingdom of the Flies

never be game over eli metal gear solid 5

Interesting article at SWJ on child soldiers, specifically in a salafi-jihadi context.

In the terrorist mind, a child is not simply an expendable tool of war but a critical asset exerting an impact on the entire spectrum of 4GW networks, whether political, economic, social, or military.

Cecilia Polizzi, Fourth Generation Warfare: An Analysis of Child Recruitment and use as a Salafi-Jihadi Doctrine of War

It includes a section that explores children as objects of propaganda:

Fundamental social constructions regarding children relate to attributes of innocence, vulnerability, apprenticeship or socialization. It derives not only the significance of the child within society but also the high-symbolic value of child´s imagery as an element of psychological operations in the form of media intervention.

Children depicted as victims of Western-aided violence:

The theme of childhood innocence – most particularly depictions of children as victims of Western-aided violence – was found the most prominent representation in ISIL´s magazine Dabiq.

Child victimization may lead to criticism of policies:

Hereof, the importance of media in shaping policy is highlighted. Since the media are the ´major primary sources of national political information´ and presented issues, events and topics shown in the media are deemed vital to society and public interest, the portrayal of child victimization may lead to criticism for policies or warfare conduct, whereas actual or perceived, create social fragmentation and undermine social or political consensus.

But it’s not just child-victimization, it’s normalizing the child-soldier:

Dissimilarly from Al-Qaeda, ISIL and ISIL-affiliated groups, shifted in recent years from representations of the child as victim to the one of child soldier. The majority of ISIL media broadcasts feature the participation of children being normalized to violence, witnessing violence, training for violence and perpetrating violence with the next most prominent theme being state-building.

Worth checking out.

Unfortunately, now I feel compelled to do a post that takes a look at “Fourth Generation Warfare.”

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I Want Konami for Christmas

konami logo from the nes era

When I was a kid, I thought “Konami” was some kind of video game system, like the original NES. I didn’t realize it was a video game company. I told my parents that “I want Konami for Christmas,” which probably made things very difficult for them when they went to Toys ‘R’ Us and started asking around.

One of my friends in the neighborhood had a Konami game called Rush’N Attack – which I always thought was “Russian Attack.”

I remember seeing the Konami logo – were there commercials for video games back then? – and knowing that I wanted whatever it is that Konami was.

Episode 63 of the Kojima Frequency Podcast (Hideosyncrasies) discusses the preservation of old games, streaming, dying consoles, the stealth similarities between Metal Gear and The Last of Us 2, and more.

Right after I bought a PS4, I went out to the local pawn shops in Killeen, Texas looking for one of the original PS3s that had backwards compatibility. I wanted to make sure I’d be able to play some of my old games (which I never do, by the way). I managed to find one and I still have it – and it still works.

After listening to this episode, I’m starting to get worried I might lose that capability.

I’m still not even sure what the changes to the Playstation Network mean. I am getting the sense that even if I physically own a copy of a game, I might not be able to play it.

Huh?

As I mentioned in the last post on the Kojima Frequency, the Lunar series is one of my favorites – and I have the discs (original PS1) and a PS3 to play it.

Whenever I decide to go back to it, will it work?

I relaunched CTG when I was wrapping up my playthrough of The Last of Us 2, and there is so much more I could have written about it if I was in the groove. I think I just have this one post on Isaac and the burden of leadership.

I know that game took a lot of flack for a lot of dumb reasons – but I loved it. And I think they got it right (in the episode). The stealth mechanics made the game. There is real terror when navigating the terrain and avoiding both zombies and human enemies. And I remember getting into set battles where I had to set traps and think hard about how to win and move forward – often just avoiding battles altogether.

What a great game. Would love to go back to it.

But I probably won’t.

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Solid Snake Oil

stan talking to guybrush threepwood

I’ve tested out a few different podcasts to satisfy my gaming interest, and I’ve finally settled on the Kojima Frequency.

You may remember last year’s Tom Olsen saga – that was my introduction to Nitroid and the internet bubble that is the Metal Gear online universe.

I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes now and it’s become a very comfortable, easy listen for someone who has a deep appreciation for Metal Gear, all things Kojima, and then gaming in general.

Episode 61 sealed the deal.

There were two things that jumped out and which ultimately led me to write this post (and declare the Kojima Frequency as the unofficial gaming companion podcast to Carrying the Gun).

  1. On internet provacatuers, clickbait, and the way audiences react: “…say dumb shit thing, get smart people angry, get dumb people excited, questions marks(), profit.” The first 10 minutes or so features a great discussion on the way internet “clout” works, the gravitational pull towards using clickbait-y techniques to drive viewership, and the value (and challenge) in resisting that.
  2. Working Designs / Lunar: There’s a conversation deep in the podcast on localization (the process, mostly in translation, of preparing a game for a foreign market). Nitroid brought up the (now defunct) studio Working Designs and their work in localizing the Lunar series. The Lunar series is one of my favorites, and the fact that it got brought up is what got me more excited about the podcast. It’s not *just* Metal Gear/Kojima stuff all the time. The Metal Gear/Kojima stuff is a the entry way, but there’s a whole lot there. This is a gaming podcast and the knowledge is deep, but accessible.

As an aside, I’d point out that the wacky, 4th wall-breaking localization done by Working Designs was widely considered part of the charm for most of the audience, myself included. Working Designs also did some incredible story-retelling when they remade Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Playstation. It’s a move that Square-Enix seems to be taking with the FFVII Remake, and I’m glad for it. Fan service is fun, but it’s better to tell a compelling story, even if it stings.

I like to believe there is a tiny segment of the CTG audience that enjoys my odd gaming references. If you’re a part of that audience, it’s worth checking out the podcast.

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Voyevoda

colonel volgin holding missile with boss in the background

I recently finished Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a game I began in 2004 and never finished.

It fills in much of the story I’ve been missing in the saga. I’m not done yet though. I still need to finish MGS 4 / Portable Ops / Peace Walker.

Then, I really owe myself another playthrough of MGSV – so much more will make sense (hopefully – I know that’s a stretch).

Whenever I’m engrossed in a game, I tend to write about it. MGS3 inspired a few posts on the blog.

The “Mother of Special Forces” – There’s a fascinating cut-scene early in MGS3 where we learn a little bit about Snake’s mentor – the Boss. She is referred to as a the ‘Mother of Special Forces.’ The codename the Russian’s give her is Voyevoda – warlord. This was an opportunity to write about the actual “Father of Special Forces” – Colonel Aaron Bank.

“Toxic Mentorship” through Boss and Snake – Mentorship is such an important aspect of military life, but it is rare that we talk about “toxic” mentorship. The Boss’ defection to the Soviet Union and the way she tries to leverage her relationship with Snake as a mentor is a form of this type of toxic mentorship.

Some thoughts on Colonel Volgin – Colonel Volgin terrified me. The combination of ambition, impulsiveness, and brute physical power is frightening.

The saga of Tom Olsen – This is not necessarily tied to MGS3, but it took place while I was playing it so I was very Metal Gear-primed. It was fascinating to watch the Metal Gear fandom go bonkers for a small-scale deception operation.

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“Toxic mentorship” through Boss and Snake

boss and snake from metal gear solid 3 pachinko

“The Boss” is Snake’s mentor, for those who know their Metal Gear lore. She is a legenedary soldier and the “Mother of Special Forces.

In a few of the early scenes in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, this mentorship relationship takes center stage. It becomes the proximate drama that drives the story: a mentor who betrays her country versus her disciple sent to stop her.

What became clear to me, though, during these scenes, is just how “toxic” this mentorship has become.

Toxic leadership is a well-known phenomenon, especially in the military. Army doctrine (AR 600-100) defines toxic leadership as “a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.

Usually, we’re talking about toxic leadership in regards to a leader who has direct influence over subordinates in an organization. His or her toxic behaviors can be destructive to the organization. Effects can include lowered morale, decreased productivity, lower retention and more.

If you have served with a toxic leader, which I am willing to bet most people would attest, you know how difficult these periods can be.

But what if it is your mentor who is toxic? And worse, what if your mentor “wasn’t always that way” but has changed over time?

Our mentors are supposed to be the ones we go to for advice. Usually, our mentor is not our direct supervisor or even in the chain of command. It’s someone we can return to over time to check-in with, making sure we’re on the right path. The ones who can be honest with us and give us unvarnished feedback.

What does toxic mentorship look like? It’s hard to say. Conversations with mentors can seem different than conversations with your boss.

Many of us have experienced this. The advice given might seem a little more raw or cut-throat. Sometimes, this feels like you are being let in on a secret, or maybe as a mentee, you’ve reached a point where you can “handle” this level of advice.

Have you ever left a mentorship session or hung up the phone thinking, “Hm, that was not what I expected.”

And in truth, maybe the advice just is a little more raw. Maybe you are being let in on a secret.

Sometimes, though, people just change.

A toxic mentor – especially in a military context – might be someone who implores you to demonstrate loyalty to an individual as opposed to a unit or a specific mission. Or to engage in potentially destructive behaviors or practices that would otherwise be off-limits.

In the below three scenes, we witness Boss’ mentorship to Snake degrade from one of sage advisor, discussing the intricacies, contradictions, and challenges that professional soldiers face, to demanding individual loyalty from one of her “disciples.”

The Boss’ mentorship begins at 4:30.

Scene 1: In this CODEC call, the Boss is reintroduced to Snake. It is clear that they have a long-standing mentorship/mentee relationship and then offers some sage advice on patriotism, loyalty, and what it means to be a career soldier. To this point, it seems standard fare.

Toxic mentorship begins at 1:14

Scene 2: In this scene, the Boss states that she is defecting to the Soviet Union. She is also bringing two “Davy Crockett” nuclear warheads as a gift. Snake feels betrayed by his mentor, and to add injury to insult, she breaks his arm and tosses him over the bridge.

“What is it going to be? Loyalty to your country, or loyalty to me?”

Scene 3: Soon after arriving on the mission to eliminate Boss, Snake gets ambushed – by the Boss. For some context to the below, Snake is wearing the Boss’ bandana, which fell with him when she tossed him off the bridge. They exchange some words, and as Boss is leaving, Snake demands answers:

Snake: Why’d you defect?

Boss: I didn’t. I’m loyal… to the “end.” To my purpose. What about you, Jack? What’s it going to be? Loyalty to your country, or loyalty to me? Your country, or your mentor? Your mission, or your beliefs? Your duty to your unit, or your personal feelings?

You don’t know the truth yet. But sooner or later, you’ll have to choose. I don’t expect you to forgive me. But you can’t defeat me either. You know me too well. Just look at that bandana. If you can’t put the past behind you, you won’t survive long. If we meet again, I’ll kill you.

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Some recent articles on Chinese political warfare

a soldier is a political tool, nothing more

I’ve been digging into the “Ministry of Truth” series from War on the Rocks discussing Chinese political warfare.

It’s a three part series, and to date, the first two have been released.

Each is packed with links and sources. You can go deep down the rabbit hole if you’re interested in building a better understanding of Chinese political warfare.

A couple of choice excerpts below.

Part I Contrasting China’s and Russia’s Influence Operations.

On the fact that political warfare is “standard operating procedure” for Russia and China:

The operational differences, for all their practical implications, may be less important than the simple recognition that Beijing and Moscow both approach influence operations and active measures as a normal way of doing business. 

On the different approaches Russia/China take in regards to political warfare:

Undoubtedly, more can be said about how to understand the distinctions between Chinese and Russian influence operations and political warfare. Perhaps the best way to describe the differences between the two approaches is that the Chinese are human- or relationship-centric while the Russians are operation- or effects-centric. 

Part II China’s ‘three warfares’ in perspective.

Looking at the PLA in strictly military terms lacks a true understanding of their purpose:

When analysts look at the PLA, they are looking at it as a military — at its warfighting capabilities and the resulting security implications. It is a purely military view that lacks a clear concept for appreciating political warfare.

Influence operations are directly connected to political power:

The party leads, the PLA follows. The purpose of influence operations is political power.

Lessons learned from watching the US in the Persian Gulf war (emphasis in bold mine). I’d love to see more on this, by the way:

The Persian Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait taught the PLA the value and power of information in the modern context. Most obviously, precision-guided bombs blowing out buildings on CNN cameras demonstrated the value of targeting intelligence and guided munitions. However, the PLA also drew lessons from the George H.W. Bush administration’s diplomatic effort to paint Iraq as the aggressor and to rally an international coalition, including Iraq’s Arab neighbors. They also admired the psychological warfare efforts to induce Iraqi commanders to surrender or retreat without fighting.

Related, a short (and kind of choppy) article in Small Wars Journal that couches China’s approach as war, not competition. The author seems to be inferring that we should not be using the “great power competition” construct because our adversaries aren’t.

Image at the top: “The Boss” mentoring “Naked Snake” (MGS3).

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Metal Gear Deep Dive: COLD WAR, PROXIES, and PHANTOM PAIN

I’ve been on a Metal Gear kick for the past 6 months so when this video popped up in my feed I was excited to watch it. It’s a deep dive into the historical lore that courses through the Metal Gear series and does a good job of tying the game to history, and the genius of Hideo Kojima.

If you’re fan of Metal Gear, or think that video games can’t be intelligent and informative, the video is worth your time.

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