Stratagem – The Chinese View


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Written by Rand Waltzman


Operations in cyber space can have many goals. The goal of a cyber operation could be, for example, theft of information or disruption/destruction of a critical infrastructure or financial system. These are operations against “things” and only indirectly against people. However, while operations using social media and the internet can be used in support of influence, information and deception (I2D) campaigns, such campaigns of manipulation directly target the cognitive security (COGSEC) of human beings and are not limited to operations in cyber space – even if they have a cyber based component. Cyber technologies are one type of enabling or support technology for I2D, but certainly not the only type. It seems to be a common failing of public discussions in the US to confuse I2D campaigns with cyber attacks. This is an incorrect and dangerous characterization. I2D campaigns have a meaning quite independent of the delivery vector (cyber, for example) of the effect. The focus must be on the effect and not the means of implementing it since they are distinct and there are many ways to implement an effect that threatens our COGSEC.

I2D exploits cyber as well as non-cyber based vectors. After all, “cyber” doesn’t even begin to cover, for example, transmedia campaigns that are coordinated over multiple types of media including radio, tv, movies, print, the internet, and social media. An excellent example of this is the Lisa Case in Germany. Here is a summary of the facts:

• A 13-year-old Russian-German girl had gone missing for 30 hours in January 2016
• This was first reported by First Russian TV to have been a rape by 3 men “of Middle Eastern appearance.” The story was intensively reported in Russian domestic and foreign media
• The story turned out to be fake. The German police established that she had been with a friend that night
• The story dominated headlines and impacted on German public discussion for two weeks
• There was clear evidence of several of the different current Russian elements of influence in Germany working in a coordinated way

Here is a time-line of the campaign:

• A journalist from the First Russian TV channel picked up the case of the Russian-German girl and brought it to the main news in Russia
• Russian foreign media like RT, Sputnik and RT Deutsch reported on the case
• Social media as well as rightwing groups distributed the information on the internet
• Demonstrations were organized via Facebook involving representatives of the German-Russian minority (Deutschlandrussen) as well as neo-Nazi groups
• Russian foreign media in Germany reported from these demonstrations, which brought it to the German mainstream media
• Finally, at the top political level, Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov made two public statements about his concerns about the inability of the German police and legal system to take such cases seriously because of political correctness

I think the Chinese concept of Stratagem is helpful in bringing some clarity to the discussion. Here is a very brief summary of the idea:

• Strategic deception is an ongoing process and covers “all types of measures and activities” designed to confuse an opponent in peacetime or wartime, emphasizing the latter.

• Confusing the opponent then leads him to make “major errors in judgment and decision-making,”
• Strategic deception aims at foreign intelligence institutions
• Influences the “highest military authorities responsible for formulating strategic decisions.”

• Stratagems are innovative schemes, or manipulative strategies that often (but not always or necessarily) employ deception to lead the target to do as the originator of the stratagem desires.

• “Doubtlessly, victory or defeat in a war is determined by the conditions of both sides in the areas of military forces, the political situation, the economic conditions and the natural surroundings. But more than that, it is also determined by the capacity of subjective direction.” Mao
• The phrase “capacity for subjective direction” or guidance refers to stratagem use.

• Strategic deception and stratagem are not constrained to the military realm.

• Strategic deception, perception management and stratagem represent a continuum of activities that seamlessly spans peacetime and wartime
• Strategic deception interweaves diplomacy and politics, information media and networks (including the Internet), military applications and other traditional means, such as spies
• All contribute to the struggle over influencing the mind

I think a fair characterization of the Chinese view is that “information media and networks” can be used as a part of a highly effective implementation strategy for a Stratagem. In the Lisa Case, the Stratagem could have been to create chaos and confusion and put doubt into the minds of the German voters about the competence of their government, police and judicial system as German elections approach this year. To implement this Stratagem, they artfully used a wide array of channels in a highly coordinated way. But it is the Stratagem that is the real point.