Thursday 13 September 2012

More on cyberwarfare in Afghanistan - and elsewhere

I hadn't seen this before, and even though it was published last year I think it is worth a good look. Compiled by the National Intelligence Open Source Center in the United States and made public by the public intelligence organisation , the Open Source Center Master Narratives Country Report for Afghanistan makes interesting reading.
According to the document itself "Master narratives are the historically grounded stories that reflect a community’s identity and experiences, or explain its hopes, aspirations, and concerns. These narratives help groups understand who they are and where they come from, and how to make sense of unfolding developments around them."
The point here is that if you want to understand how and why Taliban propaganda is so successful, then you need to understand the narratives that lie behind it. The authors say they have unearthed six master narratives that are articulated by supporters of the Taliban, and others in Afghanistan.
For example, the idea that the Taliban are the liberators of Afghanistan is articulated thus: "In the face of foreign crusaders seeking to conquer Afghanistan, Afghan freedom fighters have always protected the people and liberated the country. Today the Taliban has inherited this jihad, leading the people against the most powerful army in the world. As their grandfathers and fathers did before them, Afghans must fight against the foreigners and their puppet government in order to restore the Islamic Emirate and Afghan independence".

Nor are the narratives limited to the Taliban. A more nationalist narrative, held by supporters of the central government, would go as follows: "Afghanistan’s progress as a modern democratic nation was destroyed by the Soviet invasion and the subsequent civil war and Taliban rule. With the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghans finally have an opportunity to restore the modernization and progress first established by Zahir Shah, peacefully uniting the country behind a central government representing all Afghans. Afghans must support the central government if they hope to restore this glorious period and avoid civil war."
None of this is very complex or very new, but it makes sense as the US military continue to come to grips with how to defeat its adversaries online as well as on the battlefield.
In response to these issues, last autumn the US State Department set up the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), which by the end of 2011 had 45 staff, including 20 native speakers of Arabic, Urdu and Somali, with other languages to follow. Its aim is to "identify, confront and undermine the communications of al-Qaeda and its affiliates". 

According to hearings in August in the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, "Arabic, Urdu and Somali speakers 'contest' the online space, media websites and forums where al-Qaeda and its affiliates operate." Chairman Ed Royce gave an example of the kind of work the CSCC does: "After the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen posted photos of coffins draped in American flags, the Center produced a counter-ad that replaced the flags with Yemeni ones, conveying that most victims of terrorist attacks are locals. These videos have been applauded by analysts for their use of 'out of the box' thinking and ridicule."
Lots more here if you are interested in the modern face of cyberwarfare. Fascinating stuff.

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