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The Future is Here: Preparing for 2020

While researching for an upcoming workshop on counter-measures for misinformation attacks, I came across an article published in 1995 by Col. Richard Szafranski (USAF) with the ominous subtitle Preparing for 2020.1 Even more ominously, it ends with this passage, predating social media:

The United States should expect that its information systems are vulnerable to attack. It should further expect that attacks, when they come, may come in advance of any formal declaration of hostile intent by an adversary state. When they come, the attacks will be prosecuted against both knowledge systems and belief systems, aimed at influencing leadership choices. The knowledge and belief of leaders will be attacked both directly and indirectly. Noncombatants, those upon whom leaders depend for support and action, will be targets. That is what we have to look forward to in 2020 or sooner.

At first, it is striking how much this gets right about the current information landscape.  China has since recast its strategy in terms of “informatized war.”2  Putin and his allies have leveraged a long history of Russian expertise in psychological operations both to maintain his power and disrupt the affairs of neighbors and adversaries alike.3  Indeed, state actors have adopted these techniques the world over. 4  Equally striking is what Col Szafranski missed: noncombatants, far from being mere targets in this new world, have inserted themselves as attackers in their own right.5

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  1. Szafranski, Richard. “A Theory of Information Warfare: Preparing for 2020.” Airpower Journal. Spring 1995.
  2. Fravel, M. Taylor. Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy since 1949. 2019. Princeton.
  3. Pomerantsev, Peter. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. 2014. Public Affairs. New York.
  4. Pomerantsev, Peter. This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War against Reality. 2019. Public Affairs. New York.
  5. Woolley, Samuel C. and Philip N. Howard (eds). Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media. 2019. Oxford.

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