I append below a longish piece which is a thread by Carol Cadwalladr on Twitter. It was not given the thread treatment there so I have copied and pasted the individual entries and made them into a connected whole. I don’t think I’ve made any mistakes or left sections out, I doubt my paragraphing is the same as hers would have been, and I haven’t sneaked in any ideas of my own.
Ok. Deep breath.
I think we may look back on this as the first Great Information War. Except we’re already 8 years in. The first Great Information War began in 2014. The invasion of Ukraine is the latest front. And the idea it doesn’t already involve us is fiction, a lie. It was Putin’s fury at the removal of President Yankovych in Feb 2014 that kicked everything off. Information operations were first crucial step in invasion of Crimea & Donbass. A deliberate attempt to warp reality to confuse both Ukrainians & the world. This was not new. The Soviets had practiced “dezinformatsiya” for years. But what was new in 2014 was technology. Social media. It was a transformative moment. “Hybrid warfare” on steroids: a golden Willy Wonka ticket to manipulate hearts & minds. Almost completely invisibly.
But it wasn’t just Ukraine. We now know Russia began another offensive in Feb 2014. Against the West. Specifically, but not exclusively, America. How do we know this? Because the FBI conducted a forensic, multi-year investigation. That almost no-one paid any attention to. The Mueller Report. You’ve heard of it. But probably as a headline about how it didn’t “prove” collusion between the Kremlin & Trump campaign. We can come back to that. What it did prove – BEYOND ANY DOUBT – was that Russia attacked 2016 US election through multiple routes. And just one of the ways Russia attacked 2016 US election was via the tech platforms. Especially: Facebook. This was a military technique, it pioneered in Ukraine in 2014. By 2016, it refined, iterated & supersized these. Most brilliantly of all, they were entirely invisible.
And it wasn’t just Russia. Companies such as Cambridge Analytica. Political operatives such as Manafort. Amoral opportunists such as Cummings. They learned how to exploit a platform that was totally open – anyone could do so. And totally closed – no-one could see how. But also it was Russia. That’s what the Mueller Report proves. And, again, Ukraine is at centre of it all. In 2016, we knew none of this. Russia & other bad actors acted with impunity &, in some cases alignment. But now, through the sheer bloody hard work of academics, journalists & FBI, we do know.
But it was complex, messy, difficult. So. We brushed it all under the carpet. We failed to acknowledge Russia had staged a military attack on the West. We called it “meddling”. We used words like “interference”. It wasn’t. It was warfare. We’ve been under military attack for eight years now. This failure is at the heart of what is happening now in Ukraine. Because the first offensive in the Great Information War was from 2014-2022. And Putin won. And he won by convincing us it wasn’t even a war.
We fell for it. We said it was “just ads” that “don’t work anyhow”. And “a bot didn’t tell me to vote”. Facebook is still an open threat surface. Exploited by authoritarians from Philippines to India to Brazil to Hungary. It’s maybe not a world war. But the world is at war.
Meanwhile, in Britain, we’re a captured state. In America, the institutions of govt worked. Even in spite of Trump. The authorities investigated. Individuals were indicted, charged, jailed. The hostile actions of a foreign state examined & unpicked. (Not that it mattered.) The US media & therefore public failed to understand the real lessons of Mueller Report. And in the UK? We didn’t even bother trying. We allowed Johnson’s govt to sweep 2016 under the carpet. Nigel Farage. Arron Banks. Facebook. Russia. The lot. But it wasn’t ‘just ads’. It was war. And it’s absolutely crucial that we now understand that Putin’s attack on Ukraine & the West was a JOINT attack on both. That began at the exact same time. Across the exact same platforms.
And this new front, the invasion of Ukraine, is not just about Ukraine. We are part of the plan. We have always been part of the plan. And Ukraine is not just fighting for Ukraine but for the rest of us too. And maybe that could be why we’ve failed to understand Putin’s strategy in Ukraine? Because it’s not just a strategy in Ukraine. It’s directed at us too. And that’s what makes this such a uniquely perilous moment. Not least, because we still don’t understand we’re at war. If it helps, the penny dropped for me with Skripal. Planned by the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence. As was the weaponised hack-&-leak of Hillary’s emails. Military doctrine carried out by military officials in military operations. Just like the one now in Ukraine.
I have wondered since 2016 just what went on at the time of the EU Referendum and after. I have queried on Twitter as to who was behind it all as it seemed to me to be such an illogical decision with leading politicians constantly saying or repeating things that were demonstrably untrue. Carol Cadwalladr’s work gives us some idea of the machinations behind the scenes, and what we can expect in the future as “normal”.