As a matter of fact, wars happen in social media, too. I don’t mean flame wars. I don’t refer to Arab dictators who, closely following the #ArabTyrantManual, during uprisings shut down Facebook, Twitter, or even the whole friggin Interwebs. I admit, those scumbags are somewhat creative. For example Syria’s junior dictator Bashar al-Assad, wo launched a huge amount of hashtag spambots diluting every piece of information leaking out from cyber activists, while reforming his people with T-72 shellings and mashine gun live rounds. With a little help from a fellow assclown based in Iran, he even managed to jam sat phones, cutting off the opposition’s lifeline to YouTube.
So when even –alleged– ‘third world’ autocrats utilize high sophisticated techniques gaming social media in their war on their own people, we can safely assume that there’s way more interesting stuff to know about the role of social media in today’s wars. You’ve read the headlines announcing cyber squads and such. Of course that info was outdated for decades before it hit the mainstream press. Also, the average (that equals IT-wise clueless) journalist blathers about DoS attacks and such, usually ignoring the more subtle aspects of cyber war. I’m not exactly a fan of rehashed news, so I refuse to discuss the obvious.
Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a pretty sneaky cyber war tactic. Well thought out, although I can’t tell how effective it actually is. The setup is kinda minimalistic: one Facebook account, and a few hundred (Ok, as of today that’s 1.6k) blog comments written by PsyWarriors:
In North Africa, where peaceful Libyans turned freedom fighters are struggling in a bloody conflict with a ruthless regime that performs atrocities on a daily basis, NATO somewhat acts as the ‘Free Libyan Air Force’, officially just enforcing the UNSC resolution #1973. Nothing wrong with that, since –despite some Gaddafi troops defected to the opposition– the so-called ‘rebels’ are civilians defending themselves, their families, neighbors, and even countless foreigners who weren’t able to flee before Gaddafi’s henchmen crawled all over the country in their brutal war on Libya’s population.
Herein lies the problem. We’ve epic amateurs barely able to handle an AK 47 on the ground, and professionals in the air. Both fighting the mad dog’s professional forces without direct lines of communication to each other. The rag-tag freedom fighters lacked structure, command, communication, experience, strategy and everything with regard to warfare. After the initial strikes by American, British and French armed forces, NATO joined the battlefield with a plan. Its step by step execution wasn’t exactly compatible with the high expectations of the then still amateurish freedom fighters, who even suffered from occasional friendly fire after carelessly celebrating with AA tracer fire, and cruising through the desert in seized tanks, towards liberated towns.
Of course the tourists carrying high sophisticated gadgets in their huge olive green bags, brought in via tour operator helicopters from their shiny gray yachts sailing near the Libyan coastlines, sorted out some of those misunderstandings. But since the Libyan freedom fighters totally lacked a chain of command, it didn’t help much that the few savvy leaders who actually talked to these tourists got enlightened, because the rag-tag troops consisting of untrained citizens chaotically advancing and retreating in the desert were out of their reach. Qatari military advisers on the ground, helping Libyan citizens carrying seized weapons get into shape, as well as very few consultants and military advisers from UK, France, and Italy, who arrived later on, had just started to train freedom fighters.
Also, the message had to be carried out to the Libyan people, and to Libyans in the diaspora as well, without revealing too much sensitive info that Gaddafi’s loyalists could find interesting. All that with most of the recepients on the ground cutted off from all their information channels besides Libya State TV and few other satellite channels, because cell phones and ISPs were jammed by the government, land lines were insecure … a dilemma. The Transitional National Council (NTC) in Benghazi was the sole institution that was able to reach out to the people inside Libya.
Al Jazeera’s Libya Live Blog (URI changes often, so please click through from the index page) was heavily trafficked since the uprising began (on 17 February, 2011), attracting gazillions of page views and receiving thousands of comments daily. And here we introduce Gerhard Heinz, perhaps a former NVA pilot or not, who frequently updates the audience with strategical as well as tactical information, written in very plain English with a heavy east-german accent. Like: ‘a good tip for tank comanders in tripoli stay away from your tanks ,conkret in the air’ (refers to smart, that is GPS and laser guided, 660-pound concrete bombs used by coalition fighter jets to destroy tanks in residential areas without much collateral damage).
He delivers spot on reports of NATO sorties as well as clashes on the ground as they happen, alledgedly based on timely sat images, SIGINT, HUMINT and whatnot, long before they appear in the (western) press after NATO announcements. Most of his stuff gets confirmed by other sources later on. He even makes predictions that come true, and not all of those are easily guessable and likely to happen. He explains NATO tactics in layman terms, tells why NATO requested the freedom fighters must not advance towards Brega for weeks (to create a sneaky trap for an elite brigade and lots of reinforcements from Sirte), and so on. When NATO is dead sure that particular pro-gaddafi troops can’t communicate after air strikes on CCC infrastructure, so no warning can reach them in time, Gerhard Heinz addresses those, advising them to defect, or at least to run and hide quickly before ‘fast flying silver birds lose some eggs’ above their positions.
Obviously all that is insider knowledge, scraped from NATO and NTC/FF sources. Since NATO doesn’t act on this ‘leak’ they must be aware of, I’m jumping to the conclusion that Gerhard Heinz is a weapon of mass disinformation, and mass education as well. It’s not him alone, by the way, but he’s the most prominent case (Gerhard Heinz has a large fan club) I’ve spotted until now. He informs and educates Libyans hungry for every tiny bit of reliable info with regard to the conflict, scanning Al Jazeera’s website for updates 24/7, then spreading the word through all channels available, including social media.
I may be wrong in details, because I’m by no means an expert when it comes to all the military stuff. But I know that an organization like NATO has the capability to deal with sensitive information leaking out to the public domain for weeks. If it’s not happening on purpose, they just lost my respect.
I do think that this dude mixes in personal information that might be true, for example his military background. Also, his strong opinions (for example about a weak German government and its cowardly FM who cares more for his personal political affairs than for the Libyan people, and the widespread opposition to the official politics within the German armed forces) are believable. At least it sounds authentic and consistent throughout more than 1,600 blog comments. And that’s doable even by a PsyOps team, considering that Gerhard Heinz posts at times when he should sleep. He openly admits that he’s backed by staff gathering and processing the facts from various sources, but denies all ties to NATO.
So, maybe, I should leave it to that with the words of a blog commenter on Al Jazeera’s website, who said:
You have earned a lot of rep. back for Germany, they really owe you some thanks for your work and dedication in this.
It would be interesting to have an article in german newspapers about what you did, when all this is over, and more of it can be told.
For now its kind of a mystery (at least to me), what a german is doing in the middle of all this, and how he can be so well informed. I am very curious to hear how you did it.
Lots of respect from me.
Just make sure, dear reader, that you keep your natural scepticism when you read –regardless where, and that includes the mainstream press as well as social media– about a war. There might be an aganda behind every sentence.