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What is Cognitive Warfare?
Changing the way we think is now military terrain
You are in the midst of a barrage of psychological operations (“psyops”) and are probably unaware of it. Whether you like it or not, your inner movements are being mapped to learn how to make you do or not do anything that’s wanted of you. The goal is to permanently shape your mind to ensure your behavior is predictable and you do what you are told. This is a form of bondage, arguably the most extreme form of bondage.
What follows is a brief snapshot into this world.
Psychological Operations are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.
Psychological operations have increasingly become a household term in our era. Having started as isolated campaigns within a particular location targeting a particular group or individual and having a beginning and an end, psyops have more recently developed into a woven tapestry of concurrent, ever-present, mind-control campaigns, newly dubbed, “cognitive warfare.” The differences between psyops and cognitive warfare are nuanced, but essential to understand.
In October 2021, The Grayzone covered a 2020 NATO report that was the culminating fruit of a months-long exploration of cognitive warfare. The report outlined the five previously established operational domains of military warfare: air, land, sea, space, and cyber. The sixth domain being considered as an addition to this list is the “human domain.” This new domain was described in the report as “a battle for the brain,” “weaponization of brain sciences,” and “hacking the individual.”
The report described the need to incorporate into social sciences the fields of NBIC: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. According to François du Cluzel, manager of NATO’s Innovation Hub, when the fields of NBIC are weaponized in concert “it makes a kind of very dangerous cocktail that can further manipulate the brain.”
According to the NATO report:
Leveraging social sciences will be central to the development of the Human Domain Plan of Operations. It will support the combat operations by providing potential courses of action for the whole surrounding Human Environment including enemy forces, but also determining key human elements such as the Cognitive center of gravity, the desired behavior as the end state.
The different between psychological operations and cognitive warfare
According to The Grayzone: “Du Cluzel went on to explain that the exotic new method of attack ‘goes well beyond’ information warfare or psychological operations (psyops).”
De Cluzel further clarifies:
Cognitive warfare is not only a fight against what we think, but it’s rather a fight against the way we think, if we can change the way people think. It’s much more powerful and it goes way beyond the information [warfare] and psyops.
It’s crucial to understand that it’s a game on our cognition, on the way our brain processes information and turns it into knowledge, rather than solely a game on information or on psychological aspects of our brains. It’s not only an action against what we think, but also an action against the way we think, the way we process information and turn it into knowledge.
With a specific interest in how we make decisions and what compels us to action, this new form of warfare involves manipulation through many means. We are prominently targeted through various forms of propaganda that utilize personal devices and human weakness for viral distribution. The aim of this propaganda is to consistently shape and reshape our relationship to identity, place, and purpose.
Additionally, cognitive warfare involves unfathomable amounts of AI-consumed and collated personal data, directives produced as a result of this data, a multiplicity of in-real-life actors (e.g., fake influencers, leaders, whistle blowers), strategically released “leaked” information to the public, and much more.
We do not know the complexity and breadth of these coercive activities, or the extent to which we all interface with them, but most of us continually have first-hand experience of the consequence of this activity, if generally and even if we personally are not aware of it.
For example, most of us would agree that we find ourselves in an extremely volatile, divisive, fractured world; radicalization is high, trust in selective institutions low. More and more we point the finger at our neighbor as the cause of our distress, or even a close loved one. We are increasingly easily moved by fear.
Cognitive warfare is explained by the NATO Review in part like this:
In the last century, the innovative integration of mobile infantry, armor, and air resulted in a new and initially irresistible kind of maneuver warfare. Today, cognitive warfare integrates cyber, information, psychological, and social engineering capabilities to achieve its ends. It takes advantage of the internet and social media to target influential individuals, specific groups, and large numbers of citizens selectively and serially in a society.
It seeks to sow doubt, to introduce conflicting narratives, to polarize opinion, to radicalize groups, and to motivate them to acts that can disrupt or fragment an otherwise cohesive society. [emphasis mine]
That’s a shockingly accurate description of the current state of our society. It can’t possibly be a coincidence, can it?
Aside from divisiveness which leads to endless amounts of unfortunate symptomatic consequences, the radicalizing element of these campaigns is most concerning because it goes almost entirely unnoticed. I’m increasingly of the belief that if we can’t learn to identify these behaviors and tactics, especially online, we will have a hard time moving forward.
The two elements of these “coercion” campaigns illustrate why: one is to radicalize you, the other is to nurture your belief you are not being radicalized. The motto of the U.S. military’s Psychological Operations Groups (POGs) is to “persuade, change, influence” you. In other words, keeping you in a state of mind where you do not think you are being persuaded, changed or influenced.
Without realizing it, we have unconsciously allowed for a departure from “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to “Do unto others what they have done to you.”
Increasingly, citizens are targeted for the purpose of further entrenching them into their socio-political biases. The more volatile the issue at hand, it seems, the more resources are poured into amplifying the anger produced by the entrenched position, pushing people further into extremes. This isn’t simply an organic social evolution due to the “threat of extremism we face from the other side.” I will show you how there is a concerted effort to push us all deeper into our biases, thereby radicalizing us further against each other.
A population made vulnerable in this manner is much easier to corral into subservience when a state-powered agenda is rolled out. Pandemic measures and the Ukraine war come to mind.
The NATO report described the Pentagon as a leader in cognitive warfare innovation:
Although a number of nations have pursued, and are currently pursuing neuroscientific research and development for military purposes, perhaps the most proactive efforts in this regard have been conducted by the United States Department of Defense; with most notable and rapidly maturing research and development conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).
A borderless new terrain
The NATO report goes on to suggest anyone can be a target of these campaigns:
Today’s progresses in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC), boosted by the seemingly unstoppable march of a triumphant troika made of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and civilizational ‘digital addiction’ have created a much more ominous prospect: an embedded fifth column, where everyone, unbeknownst to him or her, is behaving according to the plans of one of our competitors.
This means you could unknowingly be a threat to your own government and society, possibly becoming a target of your own military’s cognitive warfare tactics.
For example according to a report from The Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian military used Covid as an opportunity to launch propaganda campaigns on its own civilians during the pandemic.
Alongside the disturbing prospect of our government targeting its own population with these tactics comes the admittance from the military’s POGs that their activity now takes place everywhere.
For example, eight months ago, the U.S. military’s 4th PSYOP Group released a video called Ghosts in the Machine. The video is a healthy mix of various propaganda techniques with the overall message delivered through the visual content, accompanied by written and spoken words.
I’ve extracted some of the text:
Who is pulling the strings? You’ll find us in the shadows. At the tip of the spear. Warfare is evolving, and all the world’s a stage. Anything we touch is a weapon. We can deceive, persuade, change, influence, inspire. We come in many forms. We are everywhere. A feeling in the dark; a message in the stars.
Everywhere, all the world’s a stage? Indeed.
Beyond the Maze aims to shed light who is behind these campaigns by offering tools and practices for how we can maintain personal agency over our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
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