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Psychology and indirect strategy

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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According to the Greek historian Polybius, Alexander the Great used to say that propaganda “serves to maintain and protect the victories after the cessation of hostilities”.

This quote is still an essential key to understand the mechanisms of contemporary propaganda and psyops.

 The current psychological war, in fact, is aimed above all at radically changing and building from scratch the perceptions of the inhabitants of any target State.

 Whoever wins this war, apparently painless, is spared the costs of the conflict and definitively weakens the opponents, regardless of their military strength-opponents who no longer have the ability to use their conventional or indirect weapons.

 Or they use them against themselves.

 Even in indirect strategies and psyops, however, it is always a matter of stopping and breaking a kill chain.

What counts in these operations is always hitting the enemies where they are weaker.

Hence, always keeping at a safe distance from opponents – also from the cultural viewpoint – to avoid any conventional fight, but using, however, mass psychology like Alexander the Great, so as to “ensure” a victory which is obtained with an economic, financial, cultural and symbolic struggle.

 Or to replace the military victory with that of psyops. Without a fight.

 Contemporary society, however, makes things much easier.

 Today we are in the phase of “attention economy”, of the massive saving of thought – the phase in which all messages, even the “highest” ones, are developed and processed to be consumed very quickly, because of an attention span which is always very short, almost as hypnosis or sleepwalking.

With a view to making the desired content be selected, two mental and material channels need to be used: the “mirror neurons” in the F5 area of the premotor cortex and the maximum use of induced emotions.

It should be recalled that mirror neurons are particular neurons that fires both when an individual acts and when he/she observes the same action (or even an emotion) performed or experienced by another.

 They are the material basis of empathy.

Hence disinformation uses negative emotions and correlates them with messages useful to the sender. A message that is barely abstract, or even completely sensitive and iconic, is related to a fixed emotion of nuisance, discomfort, pain.

 This is the initial core of disinformation.

 The excess of negative emotions, often related to dezinformatsja techniques, always triggers anxiety and stress in the individual subject. It also lowers the serotonin levels and operates on both subjective fears and those already embedded in people’s minds.

 Given this induced state of mind, the information reaching the brain is no longer directed to the prefrontal cortex, which is accustomed to use logical categories, but emotional information is targeted and directly to the motor cortex.

 In this phase the brain is blocked by stress or by those situations that the Palo Alto Psychological School considered to be at the origin of schizophrenia or of “double bind”, which occurs when an individual receives two conflicting messages, a positive and a negative one, sent out by an affective source, with one negating the other and thus being emotionally distressing.

Ultimately there is the almost total material deactivation of the frontal cortex, i.e. the transformation of homo sapiens into an angry robot.

 This is the reason why it is useful for disinformation to always use violent or irregular content in messages – content that increases aggressiveness and hence weakens the cortex.

 The brain area of empathy is then weakened, precisely with the violent content of communication, or even with the mix of noise, rhythm, repetition of sounds, lights and signs that Marshall McLuhan considered typical of our time (and rightly so), as he told us in his book, written with Quentin Fiore, entitled War and Peace in the Global Village.

Hence the geostrategic effect of these operations: when a whole country is gradually flooded with this type of communication, everybody – including the ruling class – will suffer a temporary weakening and inactivation of the frontal cortex.

Hence, when they take decisions, they will anyway operate with pseudo-concepts, automatic reactions, commonplaces, wrong perceptions and old stereotypes.

 Therefore the political link of the future will be the meeting of big data technology with the new neurosciences.

Even without recalling H.G. Wells or George Orwell, the current possibility of manipulating very large sections of the public – in a stable, effective and complete way – is already at its peak.

 Whoever succeeds in manipulating the opponent always stands to wins, while whoever proves to be porous or not to be able to oppose – with an equal and contrary operation – the psychopolitical dezinformacjia of an enemy State always stands to lose.

 And possibly he/she doesnot even realize it.

 We have already reached the time of the IT influence operations.

In this context, however, even in the age of cyberwarfare, the enemy operations use – above all – the old techniques of advertising manipulation typical of the era prior to the Internet.

 Firstly, there is the traditional bandwagon effect, which exploits the natural tendency of human beings to conform to their target group.

 The rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, facts, trends and products. increases the more they have already been adopted by others. In other words, the bandwagon effect is characterized by the probability of individual adoption increasing with respect to the proportion of people who have already done so.

There is nothing better than the “spiral of silence” to reinforce the bandwagon effect. The other side of the coin. Individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society, in general, might isolate, neglect or exclude members due to their opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions..

Hence the isolation determined by heterodoxy is a further push to regimentation, a typical trait of the bandwagon effect.

Psychopolitics has also another mechanism available,   Astroturfing – a term derived from Astro Turf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word “grassroots”.

It is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information. It entails creating an aura of success and universality that is reinforced by many “testimonials”, often paid, who guarantee the validity of the product or the political idea.

Nowadays, however, we have already reached the era that John Negroponte predicted as early as in the 1990s – the phase in which even the most advanced information technologies would become “customized”, i.e. they would quickly be adapted to every single consumer or voter.

 Obviously the more customization increases, the more information and influence content can be selected for each consumer-voter, with evident effects of invisible manipulation and regimentation.

We also need to study the filter bubble mechanism, i.e. the  effect generated by the algorithms of various social platforms that, with a view to customizing services, create an information trap based on users’ preferences. These algorithms dictate what we find online by creating a unique universe of information for each of us and fundamentally alter the way we encounter ideas and information.

This is matched by the echo chamber effect, which describes an increasingly common situation in which people are only shown content that reinforces their current political or social views, without ever challenging them to think differently. Beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system.

 Therefore, echo chambers and filter bubbles select and divide the online audience, but also the audience outside the Web, thus often polarizing it artificially.

Hence we go back to Ivan Ivanovic Pavlov’s old theory of the  bio-psychological reinforcement of previous beliefs – hence to the construction and confirmation of conditioned reflexes of individuals and groups.

 In fact, nowadays every political message tends to create its own conditioned reflex.

As Pavlov discovered, in people and animals a given stimulus always triggers a response and, when the connection  between a stimulus x and the response y is definitively established, the key stimulus always automatically triggers the same response in both animals and human beings.

 And the stimulus may have nothing to do with the mechanism triggered by the response.

This reminds us of the linguist De Saussure when he said that the relationship existingbetween the signifier and the signified is purely arbitrary and analytical. There is no objective bond between the physical concept of “ox” and the word “ox”, but it is anyway stronger than any natural link.

  In this context, we must also study symbolic actions. They are based on the premise that actions speak louder than words and they are designed to convey a symbolic and powerful value for any fact – an artificial message that is conveyed to a wide audience to prompt a response, in Pavlov’s sense.

 A child shipwrecked in the Mediterranean Sea, a girl killed brutally, a bartender achieving success in London are allexamples of facts isolated from their context, to which an induced symbolic power is attached, which ultimately triggers a mass response to this complex Pavlovian “stimulus”.

Furthermore, each fact is valid only if it is incorporated into a narrative. The human brain is not made to analyse isolated facts at any time, but to organize them into a storytelling, which has a time  dimension and, above all, an end.

 And it always concerns people, even if it speaks about mere facts.

 Personalization is also inherent in the human brain, and every person has a positive or negative value. As in the musical drama typical of Naples, the so-called sceneggiata napoletana,  he/she can only be isso(“he”, the hero), essa (“she”, the heroine) and ‘omalamente (“the villain”).

Therefore our mind reacts only briefly to the stinging action that we call “thought”.

 This was a beautiful idea of the founder of American pragmatism, Charles S. Peirce.

Hence symbolic actions exert their influence when they bring together material actions and symbolic operations.

 All this creates powerful signals, effective on behaviours -including political ones -which are immediately and intuitively manifested in the audience.

 The disinformation narratives are based, above all, on symbolic actions which penetrate, always deeply, into the target public that has been selected for the operation.

Hence disinformation always takes up the following forms: a) the fabrication from nothing of a piece of news and/or a narrative; b) manipulation, i.e. the construction of an “environment” suited to the news useful for disinformation, be it true or false; c)  misappropriation, e.g. the use of others’ data to fabricate  manipulated news which, however, seems to come from the source of the original news; d) the old propaganda, which is used to favour a party, a leader, a “cause”; e) satire, which – as we  Italians know all too well – can influence the  political discourse (suffice to recall Giorgio Forattini’ satirical cartoons of Bettino Craxi dressed as Mussolini or the comic destructuring of Silvio Berlusconi; f) parody, which relates a narrative to an emotional and amusing fact that has little to do with the narrative itself.

The divertissement, the myth of our society, is a very important axis of disinformation.

With a view to better understanding  the manipulation of facts, we should also recall the woozle effect, also known as evidence by citation, which occurs when frequent quotation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence and non-facts become urban myths and factoids.

 There are also the new “Potiemkin villages”, i.e. the fake institutional networks of dezinformatsjia, managed by IT  operators expert on strategic influence.

During the 1930, the Potiemkin villages were fake villages built from scratch by the Soviet secret police, in which important visitors, often pro-Soviet ones, were shown that everything went very well, indeed. Nowadays they are built online.

 After the visit, in the old Soviet villages everything returned to the usual daily tragedy.

Moreover, for all these categories, there are BOTs on the Web, i.e. the “ro”-bots.

 It should be recalled that in 2017 BOTs alone generated over 50% of the Internet total global traffic.

The bot is an automated software, which operates on the basis of some algorithms.

Currently 23% of the Internet traffic is attributable to “good” bots, while 29% is produced from grey or black sources.

 A typical technique of bots and trolls, which are Internet subjects operating through provocative, irritating or out-of-theme and meaningless messages, is to reinforce the polarization induced by other media, both on the Internet and in classic channels.

 We have seen, in fact, that a large part of the propaganda on the Web tends to isolate and polarize the content and the audience.

 Here the practice that – in psychology – is called the Overton window comes to mind.

 For the American psycho-sociologist, the degrees of acceptance of public ideas are roughly the following: 1) unthinkable; 2) radical; 3) acceptable; 4) sensible; 5) popular; 6) policy.

According to Overton, every idea, even the most unthinkable, has its own specific window of opportunity.

 The more it is discussed, the more reasonable it appears. Overton maintains that all ideas, even the craziest ones, can shift from the stage of unthinkable to that of public democratic debate and their subsequent acceptance.

Hence the Overton window wants to ensure that ordinary citizens take possession of a crazy idea and make it their own, possibly working on the assumption that even cats and dogs – as we have recently read in an important Italian newspaper–can and hence must vote in political elections.

 The process is at the origin of a large part of contemporary psychopolitics: initially the problem- such as the vote for cats and dogs – is unacceptable or ridiculous.

  Then, at a later stage, the issue reiterated in all kinds of ways becomes “unacceptable, but with reservations”.

 We must never have taboos, “medieval” residues, preconceived ideas. This is the standard justification.

  In this phase, intellectuals – or what they think they are – advocate the vote for cats and dogs.

 Here the entire sequence of psychopolitical techniques that we have analysed above begins.

 And again, imperceptibly, the issue shifts from the stage of “forbidden, but with reservations” to that of “acceptable”.

 Here the above mentioned techniques of conditioning and influence still operate, especially the improper transition from the specific and particular case to the general categorization.

Still today, any manipulation of information is based on the irregular syllogisms defined by Aristotle.

 Do you remember Fido or Bogey? They were so smart and certainly they would have voted with full knowledge of the facts.

 Then Overton’s window shifts from “acceptable” to “sensible” and here usually two major categories operate: the economic necessity of the minority group – in many cases – or the pseudo-Darwinian natural selection.

 Then comes the testimonial phase, as is the case with advertising, particularly that of consumer goods: don’t you remember Rin Tin Tin? What about “Inspector” Rex?

 How dare you exclude dogs from voting? You are not “progressive”, up to date.

As seen above, the risk is exclusion from the group.

Hence everyone talks about it and the issue is amplified by the show business and the media.

The final stage is policy. You can ultimately take Fido to the voting booth.

It should be noted that these artificial conditioned reflexes are also designed to temporarily forget the real situation of the people and the country.

 With 1.8 million poor families, in Italy -equivalent to 5 million individuals – people take their minds off their problems by talking about the vote for cats and dogs, or about other nonsense like that, which they can believe thanks to the above mentioned “Overton window”.

 We have no doubt that shortly the technologies available for mass psychopolitical manipulation will increase.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Intelligence

Lesson to be Learn from Monsanto’s Involvement in the Vietnamese War: The Agent Orange

Petra Mosetti

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Monsanto is an American multinational company founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a thirty-year pharmaceutical veteran married to Olga Mendez Monsanto, for which Monsanto Chemical Works is named. In the 1920s Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals and drugs, becoming the world’s bigger maker of aspirin and acetylsalicylic acid, which was found toxic. During this time period, the company introduced their polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an oil that wouldn’t burn, resistant to degradation and with limited applications. Eventually, its use was banned after fifty years for causing such devastation, but it is still present in almost all animal and human blood and tissue cells across the globe and is considered one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet.

The Vietnam War (1961-1975) is most known for the extensive bombings of North Vietnam. More dangerous, however, yet less well-known to the general public, was the chemical war carried out from 1961 to 1971 against South Vietnam. The involvement of the U.S. government escalated over a period of twenty years, peaking in 1968 and ending with a complete withdrawal of troops in 1973. During this period, it engaged with the companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which were assigned the task of designing herbicides that would contaminate the jungles where the North Vietnamese forces operated. The project, known as ‘’Rainbow Herbicides’’ included Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Blue, Agent White, and Agent Orange. As a result, a total of 20 million gallons of herbicide have been sprayed across Vietnam for ten years, that is until scientific research studies had proven that the dioxin present in Rainbow Herbicides, caused cancers in laboratory rats.                                                           

American air forces, the navy as well as tanker trucks, and men with backpack sprayers, diffused 72 million liters of the chemical Agent Orange to spoil the coverage of communistic North Vietnam, as well as destroy the rice fields. Their goal was to pursue from the jungle the combatants taking shelter there, to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail by which supplies, weapons, and medication arrived down from the North, to facilitate surveillance of roads, coastlines, and waterways and to destroy the rice fields, depriving the guerrillas of food and aid.

The contained dioxin TCDD in Agent Orange was classified as “super poison” and as a consequence 3 million people got sick, and 150,000 children were born with disabilities. Even today there are still 3,500 children a year who are born disabled according to the aid group Green Cross. Lavallard claims that to the millions of Vietnamese victims, must be added the American veterans and their Canadian, South Korean, New Zealand and Australian allies who used defoliants without knowing they were dangerous. Herbicides were delivered separately, and mixtures were made on the scene before being loaded into tanks, without provision and without protection. Military bases and they’re encircling were regularly sprayed with defoliants to remove the bush growth. Furthermore, soldiers saved rainwater for drinking or washing in empty drums and prepared barbecues in them. Indeed, veterans have experienced same pathologies as the Vietnamese, and their children have also been affected.

An immense environmental disaster and a human catastrophe taking different forms, including health, economic as well as socio-cultural, which had dramatic consequences that are still felt today. For years, a conspiracy of silence has ulterior the toxicity of the defoliants used. Agent Orange was one of them, a chemical containing two herbicides, one of which turned out to be contaminated with a highly toxic strain of dioxin.

According to official and unofficial documents about the history of the dangerous defoliants, the U.S. chemical companies that made the Rainbow Herbicides as well as the government and military authorities who ordered its spraying on Vietnam, knew the human health cost it could take. Indeed, a review of the documents related to the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-laden herbicide, including public papers from the companies that manufactured it and the government that used it, provides compelling evidence that those in charge also covered information about the devastating effects it could have on people.

Nowadays, Monsanto is a known agricultural company, claiming to help farmers grow food more sustainably. From seed to software, to fiber and fuel, they are developing tools to assist growers in protecting natural resources while providing sustenance to the world. With it headquarter in St. Louis, 69 subsidiaries across the world, including over 20.000 employees, Monsanto believes that in the face of a changing climate and other environmental challenges, it is helping to ensure that the agricultural system continues to suit the needs of everyone.

In regard to legal and non-legal responses, the international community has done a lot to hold the company liable, however without results. In fact, many lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, and various activists and organizations worldwide had and are still fighting against the atrocities committed. The greatest accomplishment was, therefore, the establishment of the ad hoc International Monsanto Tribunal, which aimed to include the crime of ecocide in the Rome Statute that would allow the prosecution of individuals and legal entities suspected of having committed this crime. Yet, without positive outcomes.

Monsanto, being one of the largest and most powerful companies in the United States, is an ambitious target for non-profit organizations and protests groups. Moreover, their direct cooperation with the government makes it even more difficult to prosecute. As Derricks points out for the last 50 years, the company has gotten away with this crime. However, I believe justice can and must be done with the right resources and support of the international community. Indeed, with the support of different governments worldwide programs such as Agent Orange Education can be set up to share awareness about the wrongdoing.

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Psychological programming and political organization

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Contemporary politics and the ensuing organization of consensus currently employ techniques and methods never used before.

 We are going through an era in which completely new mechanisms operate within the traditional Parliamentary political representation, inherited from the liberal and democratic thought of the eighteenth century and of the following century. These mechanisms are much more powerful than those that – in the modern imitation of the Athenian agora -formed the will of the people and the guidelines and directions of the government.

 Democracy of Ancients and Democracy of Moderns – just to use the simile of Benjamin Constant – were basically similar, but different in their functioning.

 The number of citizens did not constitute a substantial difference, except that, according to Constant, modern democratic citizens delegated to the ruling class what did not fall within their being “private individuals, with private interests”.

Again according to Constant, the reason lay precisely in the new category of “private individuals” who, with a view to maintaining their wealth or work, deemed it right to delegate to someone else their power to make and break laws. Nowadays the private sphere does no longer exist. But not in the sense of the society of “one thousand eyes” and of continuous supervision and surveillance, but because the very category of “private” is over even in the political discourse.

Hence a mass totalitarian society, with a repressive apparatus that applies to everything would previously have been the subject of the strictly personal sphere of life.

 Everything has currently changed, but everything still appears to be similar to the criteria and principles we have studied in the manuals of history of political doctrines. This is not the case.

 Meanwhile, since the beginning of the 20th century, Eduard Bernays, Freud’s nephew and the father and pioneer of public relations, had established some connections between Sigmund Freud’s psychology (and with Gustave Le Bon’s Psychology of the Crowds, Mussolini’s favourite book) and political practice.

 That was the beginning of what we now call “corporate communication”.

 The suffragettes smoked and that was an operation funded by Bernays through the US tobacco producers.

  The exaltation of sex – following the publication of the Kinsey Report and the mass spread of the contraceptive pill-changed and upset the consumption styles and habits of vast masses of young people who, in the 1960s, were to shape the consumption habits of what Galbraith called the “affluent society”.

 That was the objective, not sex.

Hence, based on what discovered by Sigmund Freud, with a view to selling or prompting and inducing political behaviours, there was the need to “work” above all on the unconscious.

Currently, whatever is implanted from outside into the unconscious – if repeated constantly – always becomes real in the future.

 The real for itself always becomes in itself, because what individuals think -in crowds, but solitarily (Riesman’s “lonely crowd”) -becomes either consumption or political behaviour, which is basically the same.

 The subconscious has a huge power, i.e. controlling all subjective experiences. It is the autopilot of life, also from a practical viewpoint.

Nowadays no one speaks to the “reason”, the myth of the eighteenth century, but to instincts, to the subconscious, even to the unconscious.

The whole mechanism of the subconscious is already well in place and ready at 7-8 years of age and continues all lifelong.

With a view to reprogramming it, we need at first to limit the external and environmental negativities.

Indeed, we need to look for fully “positive” people, things and environments, as well as information.

 Needless to say, this rule is carefully followed by all political propagandists and, above all, by advertisers.

Currently politics always follows the rules of consumer goods advertising. The leader is a testimonial. The script is the program and the government an oligopoly.

 With a view to de-programming the “negative” mind, we need instead to visualize – as in a daydream – positive situations which we have already experienced.

We also need to reprocess the feelings of joy, which reach the subconscious immediately, well before the other ones.

 The subconscious mind always and only knows the present.

 Past and future are conceptual notions and processing – hence they are conscious. The subconscious interprets the negative of a negative proposition only as negative.

Creating positive propositions that counteract the negative ones processed and produced by the subconscious and then continuously repeat these actions. This is the basic technique.

 This is, in short, the subjective mechanism that is currently used in political and commercial communication.

What are, however, the current technologies used to program and reprogram people’s minds?

 We can mention the theory of social warfare, the virtual but all-out clashtaking place in the minds of citizens of a target country, using current technologies.

 The aim of any reprogramming campaign is, in fact, to make the enemy (the enemy people, indeed) think like us.

 It is a new kind of manipulation, much wider than the one carried out with the old disinformation or with the intelligence intoxication that was the non-violent part of the Cold War.

 The most used information technologies are now Precision Targeting – which sends messages and behavioural inductions to a specific group – as well as the wide range of Artificial Intelligence mechanisms that are used to simulate online the behaviour and thought in relation to the primary information we wants to convey. There is also the algorithmic decision-making, which processes information through specific algorithms in view of formulating recommendations or taking fully automated decisions.

 This holds true both for decision-makers and for the vast mass of users, citizens and voters of the aforementioned decision-makers.

We can also mention the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies, which create partially or completely artificial environments for both the programmers of the public opinion and the public itself.

  But also the Internet of Things (IoT) is used in this field, by correlating machines and sensors for the construction of a Complete Reality, which becomes facts and data to be spread as such.

 In this context of complete manipulation of information, which becomes the Complete Reality, also voice interfaces are useful. They allow to exchange information between the Source and the User or between Users, thus allowing the psychological reinforcement of news.

 Again in the field of information manipulation, blockchains are also important. They allow to control and process information only through the users enabled to use the “chain”.

We should also recall the computerized programs that generate completely false videos and images – fakes which, however, are absolutely plausible.

Precision Targeting is used above all to reprogram groups of pre-selected individuals, who provide the Web with a continuous flow of information, from mobile phones, from the Web and from the other channels, to those who can selectively access the Web. All this is currently used, above all, through social media.

 In this case, we have already reached the phase of neuromarketing, which changes the desires and habits of specific population groups, by combining the mental effects with the emotional ones.

 As if it were a sign which, according to De Saussure, is the indestructible connection between signified and signifier. But the product of neuromarketing is not at all a language sign.

In this case, the above mentioned technology could be used for indirect facial recognition, manoeuvred by Artificial Intelligence systems.

 Facial recognition will enable those who manoeuvre -also temporarily – the Web to quickly check the emotions of millions of people, and we all know how important emotions are now to tamper with the psyche and communicate concepts that often have very little relevance at conceptual and even at emotional or mental levels.

 By 2035 these technologies are expected to be spreading like wildfire, since they are very important both for commercial operations and for political marketing.

 Artificial Intelligence is the primary axis of development of all the other technologies we are talking about.  AI will be used above all in verbal and textual recognition, as well as in the collection and analysis of very broad spectrum data, and for the processing of raw initial data, again in a very large population.

AI, however, will above all be used for defining an automated decision-making that can support the human decision-makers when they do not know, remember or understand all facts and, above all, the underlying determinants of facts.

 We will get to imitate, without realizing it, Elsa Morante’s book “The World Saved by Kids” and certainly what is happening in global communication already guarantees this future to us. They are more manipulable. They have no memory and they are perfect for the Brave New World that stands before us.

We can easily imagine what all this means for advertising, for the selection of markets, for business decisions but, above all, for the development of political platforms, both in terms of the electoral process and for the more specific decision-making process.

 The next level will be content, which will often be produced directly by AI systems.

 But let us better analyse what algorithmic decision-making is.

 It is often currently applied in medicine.

 Disease analysis, therapy forecasting, statistical analysis of diseases and their effects, both at subjective and population levels. In the near future, however, other sectors will be ever more like the banking system. Human Resources, even political decision itself, will be the subject of these applications, which will often become so complex as not to be understood – in the future – by the computers using them.

 If you collect a lot of data, it is increasingly likely that a sequence of decisions or simple new data is not recognized by the program operating in the computer.

 Also for AI networks we will have a process of learning by doing.

 There are two dangers. Firstly, that the private ownership of the most important databases makes competition between systems impossible; secondly that the algorithms are hackable or manipulable by third parties unknown to the system.

 There are also Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

If we proceed with the increasingly analytical and obsessive adaptation of the devices to the Ego of the User, or to his/her tastes- considered, for some reason,  immutable – we risk an ideological drift of new technologies, i.e. that of hyper-subjectivism and, as happens in current educational practice, that of the permanence of the mass Ego in an eternal childhood.

 The “Minor Ego” advocated by some people is a very real risk and it is not even clear how a super-massified production can be adapted to the increasingly self-referential psychologies of the Consumer Ego.

 Not to mention the natural limit – currently often evanescent – that the Augmented Reality keeps between the imaginary and reality – a limit that, in the propaganda and political implementation of the Virtual Reality, could become very dangerous to cross.

 Immanuel Kant spoke of the 100 gold Thalers that can be in your pocket or just in your imagination, but that cannot certainly be mistaken one for the other.

Hence beyond any technological processing, Reality is never the Imaginary.

 Although the imaginary can induce behaviours very similar to those that the subject would have if subjected to reality, the one that – as Voltaire said – has “hard head”.

By Internet of Things (IoT) we generally mean an environment full of machines that interact with one another through the Web.

As can be easily guessed, the IoT information potential is huge.

 Human consumption habits, but also communication, ways of life, lifestyles, exchanges between subjects, positions and information exchanged between individuals will be part of huge databases.

Probably, in the future, it will be difficult to find exactly what is needed in those databases, considering that the bias of the IT and data storage systems tends to increase with the quantity and complexity of data.

 It is estimated that, by 2030, there will be over one and a half trillion sensors connected to IoT networks, which will be worth half of the entire Internet traffic of “simple” users.

 According to Deloitte, the entire IoT market is expected to be worth a trillion, in addition to further 750 billion for IoT network connection modules.

 It can be easily imagined to what extent this makes it possible to hack data not only from IoT networks, but also from all other networks connected to the Internet and ending up in an IoT structure.

By 2030 blockchains will be the basis of financial, control, check and analysis networks.

 It will be the beginning of virtual monetization, which is, in itself, the opening of the financial gates of Hell.

 The miserable level of the current economic thinking allows it.

Nevertheless, all this technological development – between imagination and reality – will lead us towards a society of the unverifiable and probable, with no possibility of responding to a   government financial or information fake and with an increasing penetrability of information networks, to which the whole social fabric and not only its control will be delegated.

However, the society of the imaginary 100 Thalers – believing that the imagined ones are already in the pocket – will not be able to pay anything.

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Baghdadi Dead : What it means for Terrorism in West and South Asia?

Gen. Shashi Asthana

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President Trump’s announcement  that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State(IS) commander, died during a US military operation in Syria, later confirmed by ISIS itself, was a welcome news for all fighting terrorism or suffering from it in any part of the world.  This was followed by death of their spokesperson and arrest of his sister and wife by Turkey. After the decimation of IS caliphate, IS continues to exist in small modules in many parts of the world, mainly in West Asia, but the loss of its undisputed leader who inspired many youth globally towards radicalisation as never before, during his peak performance days will not be easy to fulfil. He revolutionised the art of extending terror network through internet, made IS the richest terror group in the world, with a caliphate to govern through sharia laws and revived sex slavery. It’s a major setback to IS & affiliated terror groups but long overdue good news for those suffered its brutality like Yezidi women. The idea of IS does not end with leader, who stands replaced by Ibrahim al Hashemi al Qurayshi from Prophet Mohammad lineage (qualified to become caliph) with a vow to avenge Baghdadi’s death. There being no change in the overall aim and ideology of IS, it will manage to regroup with lesser fund flow and area of influence and wait for opportunity to re-emerge; hence the global fight against IS has to continue.

What does it mean for Regional Terror Groups?

The US has given a strong message to terrorists but its declared withdrawal from Syria is untimely; hence the Middle-East needs a fresh look from strategic perspective. Turkey cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, whose fighters made up the bulk of the SDF controlling IS is a game spoiler in fight against IS. Turkeys double game with terrorists is marred with helping IS and treating Kurds as terrorists as they demand a homeland. Its desire to invade Syria and destroy Assad’s supporters made it an ally of US, but US is not keen on decimation of Kurds, who will be left with no choice but to commence terrorist activities against Turkey. The temporary five days truce, sanctions against Turkey could buy some time, but is unlikely to change Erdogan’s intent who seems to have decided to go Wahhabi way. It does give some extra lifeline to IS, which is going to get dispersed to other areas, in addition to some existing ones like Afghanistan. US withdrawal also cedes this strategic space in Syria to the forces loyal to Assad and Russia, something which US was not very keen to concede till short while ago as it was not in the best interest of Israel. This strategic equation does not change the terror potential of Hamas appreciably.

The internal political disturbance Lebanon puts Hezbollah in tight spot. The current internal political turbulence in Iraq is helpful for reorganisation of IS as it dampens the Shia spirit which indirectly helps Sunni terror groups. The recent strategic clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia triggered by a drone attack on Saudi’s oil establishment followed by attack on Iran oil tanker is also a recipe for refuelling of Shia – Sunni terror competition in West Asia. After US walked out of JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) renewed and clamped additional sanctions on Iran which European Union could not prevent, Iran has also climbed the escalation ladder by announcing to fill gas in over 1000 centrifuges to enrich uranium further, which it was holding out due to the deal. This is another dangerous spiral in the region to increase the insecurity of Saudi Arabia and may result in further push to Sunni cause.  These developments have blurred the definition of victim and oppressor. The internal turbulence of West Asia therefore is creating an environment for breeding terrorists.

After IS suffered these reverses it has opened opportunities and ignited some competition for other terror groups like Taliban and al Qaeda, to strive to gain the influence they lost to ISIS earlier. This has increased their quest to grab more power and money, a bulk of which comes from coercion globally, prove their terror potential to the target population and governments to get more attention, followers, logistics and other resources. It is however noteworthy a number of terror organizations having allegiance to IS have still not changed their allegiance, indicating that demise of IS may not be on the card so soon and the group is still not out of competition.

What does it mean for Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) Region?

Afghanistan continues to face aggressive and coordinated attacks by ISIS’s branch in the region, the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and the Afghan Taliban, including the affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN). Afghan Taliban seems to have grown much stronger for the fact that it controls more territory in Afghanistan than what it controlled when US forces marched in 19 years back. The fact that all world powers talked to them for peace (to fulfil their respective interests) indicate the blackmailing potential of Taliban.  Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and remaining US forces have not been able to control their terror strikes despite their best efforts, which are likely to increase if US choses to withdraw completely. I do visualise some more efforts of global powers for talks to Taliban in near future.  Although al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan was degraded earlier by multinational forces, remnants of al-Qa’ida’s global leadership, as well as its regional affiliate – al Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continue to operate from remote locations in the region have a reason to cheer Baghdadi’s death.

Pakistan continues to be the epicenter of global terrorism playing host to maximum UN designated terrorist organisations and terrorists in the world, a large No of them have indicated allegiance to IS. Pakistani military counter-terrorism operations are more of ethnic cleansing acts against Pashtuns and Baluchis directed against groups which conducted attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Pakistan Army and ISI supports externally focused groups such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which continue to train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan with a narrative of pseudo Islamic Jihad. The Pakistani Army does not restrict the Afghan Taliban and HQN from operating in Pakistan and threatening US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, despite being placed on the “grey list” continuously till date, since June, 2018.The support of Pakistan to Sunni terror groups is well known and IS is no exception. The increasing radicalisation of establishments in Pakistan, conglomeration of terrorist groups in Af-Pak Region is a dangerous sign as it indicates a caliphate in making, far more dangerous than ISIS caliphate.

What does it mean for South Asia?

After the declaration of the caliphate, the newly named Caliph, Baghdadi while addressing the jihadists the world over explicitly mentioned China and India as one of the prime targets of the ISIS amongst many others and there are no signs of change in that narrative. ISIS and other militant groups are attempting to spread their ideology to countries that have Muslim population, and where there is a chance to reach out to dis-satisfied youth. al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS have together claimed responsibility for over 40 attacks in Bangladesh since 2015. The Government in Bangladesh continues to battle terrorism with strict Anti- terrorism Act in place, however terrorists do manage to operate there with backing from ISI, Pakistan. Terrorist organizations are using internet, social media to spread their ideologies and solicit followers globally including South Asia and many terrorists have been featured in multiple publications, videos, and websites associated with ISIS and AQIS. Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and rapid radicalisation in Maldives are some more examples of IS mastered methodologies to spread terror, which is likely to continue. 

India having the second largest Muslim population in the world is an obvious target for IS. India is a tolerant and pluralist society with a mix of Shias and Sunnis, which has absorbed all religious faiths, hence the rate of penetration of radicalisation has been extremely low, although some individuals have been attracted to it. Many Lone Wolf Attacks in Europe, like the suicidal car crash attack in Westminster in London on 22 March 2017, are a possibility in India as well, in future, for which it needs to be prepared. The Incidents like the train explosion in Bhopal-Ujjain express by a terror suspect, Mohammad Saifurullah alias Ali, allegedly a member of the ISIS(K) module, on 07 March 07, 2017 injuring 10 passengers, occasional display of IS flags in Kashmir Valley, bursting of few IS modules in South India by National Investigative Agency, announce the arrival of IS in India. These incidents need to be viewed in consonance with the global scene, wherein Daesh is looking for new hosts after decimation of their caliphate.

Recent Trends in Terrorism

The peaceful coexistence of IS, Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and so many terror groups in Pakistan indicates that they are also collaborating and economising on certain activities and efforts like intelligence sharing, training camps, arms transfers, irregular trade and related activities on mutual benefit basis, hence it is increasingly difficult to use one against the other, despite intense competition amongst some of them. They are generally keen to expand their terror industry under pseudo religious cause of avenging perceived atrocities to muslims and continue to fight security forces trying to disturb their design. Their fight against each other is rarely seen in recent times. The other interesting trend especially in Pakistan is that whenever a terrorist organisation is banned globally, it changes its name, registers as social welfare organisation, and continues terrorist activities as usual.

A very well organized media and cyber campaign by the IS by incorporating technologically savvy cadres from western countries affecting some Indian youth is still on. Some media news that it had gained access to fissile material and suspected access to chemical weapons like Sarin gas, indicates that its potential for global nuisance is far from being over. The same is being tried by other terror groups as well. To fight the global war on terror the world community will have to shun double gaming, individual country interest over global safety, the concept of good and bad terrorist and strict sanctions on terror sponsoring countries because terrorism cannot flourish without financial and logistics support.

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