Friday, February 11, 2022

Miss Dismal Says Unapproved Information Is Dangerous, Read Her Comic Book To Learn More

It was a bright cold day in February and the clocks were striking thirteen when Homeland Security's latest Summary of the Terrorism Threat to the United States popped up on my telescreen.

(Forget I said that. I should cut out the 1984 references for fear that DHS will suspect me of thoughtcrime.)

So the latest threat to America's homeland comes from MDM, or Mis-Dis-and-Mal Information, and it will take trained info-cops from Homeland Security to police the marketplace of ideas for anything that might mislead, harm, or manipulate you and me.

I say, first of all, Mis-Dis-Mal needs an acronym you can pronounce, something like "Miss Dismal." Second, it needs a good judicial review because, hard as it may be to believe, there are some people who would not want federal agents and their contractors policing our public and private media for signs of MDM.

What would Thomas Jefferson say about this initiative? Or about Homeland Security itself, I wonder? But before I get on a watchlist for wondering about that, I'll stay on the safe side and let the trained info-cops of DHS explain:
Misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation make up what CISA [Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency] defines as “information activities”. When this type of content is released by foreign actors, it can be referred to as foreign influence. Definitions for each are below.
  • Misinformation is false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm.
  • Disinformation is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country.
  • Malinformation is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.
What should our corps of trained professional info-cops do about the threat posed by Miss Dismal? Naturally, it should deploy comic books – yes, comic books – to counter the influence spread by any malign 'threat actor.'
Foreign and domestic threat actors use MDM campaigns to cause chaos, confusion, and division. These malign actors are seeking to interfere with and undermine our democratic institutions and national cohesiveness. The resources provided at the bottom of this page provide examples and more information about MDM activities.

First in the series, Real Fake demonstrates how threat actors capitalize on political and social issues (especially around election cycles) to stealthily plant doubt in the minds of targeted audiences and steer their opinion.

Readers follow protagonists Rachel and Andre as they discover that a command center in Russia is using a network of troll farms to spread false narratives about elections to American voters. With the elections coming up, Rachel and Andre follow the trail of synthetic media and stop the cyber assailants from causing chaos, confusion, and division.
They're calling this comic book "Real Fake?” Really? I wonder who it was in DHS who greenlighted that term because it makes me recall the “fake but accurate” excuse that Dan Rather came up with after he was fired from CBS News for using forged documents to – come to think of it – influence an election.

Rathergate was big news once, but that was back in 2004, when most of today’s DHS employees were in grade school. See the CBS News' final word on it here: CBS Ousts Four For Bush Guard Story.

This is where things get funny, because Rathergate had a simply hilarious aspect in that Rather and his producers exposed George W. Bush’s purported misdeeds by producing four old Texas Air National Guard memos. The perfect smoking gun, right?

But, as some TV viewers noticed the very night the story was broadcast, those memos, which were dated in 1972 and ‘73, had been typed in Microsoft Word with default settings. They had proportionally spaced font, and even superscripts (as in Rathergate), things that did not become available to office workers until Steve Jobs invented the MacIntosh computer

Although Rather still keeps on defending himself all these many years later, game over, man. Those documents weren’t fake but accurate, they were just plain fake.

I don’t think DHS intended for Americans to associate their Mis-Dis-and-Mal-fighting comic books with that failed attempt to influence the 2004 election. Although, I would be totally open to a comic book series based on Rathergate.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Another Panel Reports on Anomalous Health Incidents (AHI)

The mysterious matter of anomolous health incidents - AKA Havana Syndrome - threatens to turn into an interagency pissing contest here in the National Capital Area, as shown by the public release of two competing reports by different groups of government-employed experts.

See the State Department's response to the AHI problem here. State and SecState Blinken clearly regard the syndrome as something real, serious, and possibly attributable to a foreign adversary.

Not so at the CIA, which issued a somewhat dismissive interim report whose interim conclusions a senior CIA official summarized for CBS News as "We assess that the majority of reports of [anomalous health incidents] can be reasonably explained by medical conditions or environmental and technical factors, including previously undiagnosed illnesses," meaning that they are not attributable to a foreign adversary.

Two days ago the latest report by a panel of experts was released in a redacted version, and it came down more of the State side of the matter while not contradicting the CIA side. The New York Times, which remains a good newspaper on occasion, covered this battle of the government experts here, Panel Says Some Havana Syndrome Cases May Stem From Radio Energy:
The panel, which included both government scientists and outside experts, did not try to determine who was responsible for the incidents, and officials said the conclusions did not contradict interim findings by the C.I.A. that unexplained incidents were not the result of a sustained global campaign by Russia or another adversary.

But there are tensions between the panel’s work and the C.I.A.’s conclusions. The panel’s findings could bolster the arguments of victims and lawmakers who believe a hostile foreign nation could have caused at least some of the injuries associated with Havana syndrome, perhaps by using a listening device.
You can read that panel's report in a redacted version here.

Here's a recap of the findings:
  • The signs and symptoms of AHIs are genuine and compelling. 
  • A subset of AHIs cannot be easily explained by known environmental or medical conditions and could be due to external stimuli. 
  • Pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radiofrequency range, plausibly explains the core characteristics, although information gaps exist. 
  • Ultrasound also plausibly explains the core characteristics, but only in close-access scenarios and with information gaps. 
  • Psychosocial factors alone cannot account for the core characteristics, although they may cause some other incidents or contribute to long-term symptoms. 
  • Ionizing radiation, chemical and biological agents, infrasound, audible sound, ultrasound propagated over large distances, and bulk heating from electromagnetic energy are all implausible explanations for the core characteristics in the absence of other synergistic stimuli.
The panel concluded with this sympathetic statement:
The panel was moved by the experiences of individuals affected by AHIs. They deserve the best possible care, as well as appreciation for their sacrifices. Panelists were also greatly impressed with the many members of the IC and broader US Government with whom they engaged. The panel feels fortunate to have supported their work.
Much more to come on this matter, sadly.