McChrystal Group's 2011 DARPA-funded entry to elect Joe Biden and destroy Donald Trump was outdated within a few years of its inception by commercial software as early as 2014.
That particular commercial software’s outrageous by comparison capabilities are legal to use on US citizens. But, it had to be checked for International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) approval requirements for export use in Ukraine. ITAR governs the export of military munitions.
Let’s take the magic out of McChrystal.
Whenever someone mentions DARPA I get this immediate picture of a giant robot dog shooting lasers and breaking down doors. While it may have a small basis in reality and action movies, a DARPA-funded project isn’t always that exciting, which describes McChrystal’s software without the hype.
By the end of this article, you’ll know the difference between a DARPA-funded project that’s rumored to work and a DARPA-certified project that delivers as advertised.
What the DARPA-funding part means is the DoD (Department of Defense) is looking for a tool or method to tackle a problem or add an advantage that didn’t exist before for the DoD. DARPA provides the research grants. In 2007, the DoD made its first foray into the social media world with a project called Interactive Internet Activities or IIA. The goal of the project was to allow U.S. Army public affairs personnel to go online and have the ability to write comments etc. This first step proved to be a square wheel in the 'win the hearts and minds' campaign. The following is from the DoD policy for IIA.
As you can see, there is nothing remotely threatening because the policy was restricted to real news from established organizations, and PR commenting, as a means of communicating with the public. It wasn’t meant to be particularly invasive and is quite limited in scope. It was a square wheel approach and didn’t work as well as they hoped. Except for a limited use basis revolving around PR, IIA is a non-performer.
This resulted in the 2011 DARPA-funded SMISC BAA or Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) Broad Agency Announcement (DARPA‐BAA‐11‐64) for development of the software Curtis Hoagland developed for the McChrystal Group. His was one of many projects funded.
None of the research was classified.
According to Rand Waltzman, who wrote the DARPA project announcement and managed the project, the SMISC project scope and limits are:
Technology areas particularly relevant to SMISC are shown here grouped to correspond to the four basic goals of the program as described above:
1. Linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;
2. Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;
3. Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;
4. Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.
What makes the SMISC iteration an entirely different animal from IIA is how the program is geared. IIA is a strictly public relations effort inside an environment using factual information. SMISC is designed around Strategic Communications messaging and is considered a social media influence engine.
SMISC gave what IIA didn’t -- the real-time ability to influence sentiment on social media. Because it measures, monitors, and interacts with groups, the military could see problems or opportunities developing with the use of bots or personnel diffuse or influence outcomes. The Waltzman link gives a real example of use.
The real question is how effective is McChyrystal’s DARPA magic?
The biggest strength of the McChrystal entry is also its greatest weakness. It relies on infiltrating social media influencer communities and specific social media pages to influence in a shotgun spread fashion into a community. In the US, even online, the communities are very diverse.
According to ZDNet- User behavior is inherently different on social networks and search engines, Mortensen argued. He pointed out that on social networks, it is "more a question of an individual being made aware of a piece of information" he did not know before, by those in his online social circle. In this case, "[the referral traffic] makes you aware of something you didn't know, and the referral comes from someone you trust, he explained.'
By using a social media community effort, targeting messages are limited in the sense you are;
∙ Preaching to the choir and just reinforcing political messaging which can take advantage of using strong language. This is happening a lot through the use of negative memes.
∙ Reaching out to undecided people and influencing them with a one fact message and emotional cues. An example could be “Donald Trump is sending federal police to Wisconsin” as the fact. The emotional cues could range from “police violence needs to stop,” #BlackLivesMatter, “police attack peaceful protesters.”
∙ Seeding strong messaging through memes about the opposition that are factless. The only point is to drive emotions and break the community on political lines.
The downfall of SMISC was and is it doesn’t go much farther than the community level. This over-generalizes the demographic to a degree that mutes the message.
The largest part of the failure is SMISC type software was developed for Strategic Communicators by software and network engineers and not the other way around. There are too many variables to account for within an operational environment.
In Afghanistan, a McChrystal type program’s success rate is a lot higher because the community is homogenous in social, religious, and political beliefs and norms. Finding the groups to influence is easy and message composition is fairly straightforward.
In the US, social media communities reflect a lot of diversity including religion and political beliefs across the entire spectrum. Social norms and customs within a single online community are a big variable. Social communities carry too much variegation for large decisive groups to be McChrystalized and turned into a voting bloc for Joe Biden.
If all this is true and he’s hot for Biden, why would the McChrystal Group offer such an impotent service?
Stanley McChrystal worked with the developers of the only DARPA-certified regime change IO in existence. Of course, you won’t learn that reading through the McChrystal Group’s webpage.
SCL-IOTA’s program wasn’t designed by software and network engineers. It was designed by “the world's most recognized military IO and Influence professionals, backed by proven social and behavioural scientists, who provide capability transfer to military clients, globally. Our members have commanded IO and PsyOps units on operations; they have written NATO and national doctrine; they lecture in the world’s Defence Academies. Teamed with some of the leading behavioural scientists in the field, there is no other organization with the same experience and knowledge.”SCL-IOTA programming described here doesn’t rely on social communities. As you can see from this dashboard, this emotional programming has the ability to target groups at infinitely precise levels which mean each small subgroup within a community can be targeted through Information Operations.
Each parameter adjustment opens new groups and opportunities across multiple communities in the network. Media insertion can be active and aggressive because it’s geared to create strong emotional responses with sections of the community.
The strength of doing this is being able to channel multiple subgroups simultaneously with different and even opposing fears and hopes into one single whole based on emotional values. By flooding each subgroup with custom messaging creating a single common enemy to their security, welfare, or sense of patriotism, it’s not difficult to funnel masses of people into the streets using memes and narratives without ever presenting a single shred of evidence to back it up.
Stanley McChrystal captured America’s attention with a legal moderately performing social media tool. Is it to take American eyes off the real information operation? You decide.
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