Subversion of social movements: What the ‘Intelligence Community’ is reading – Part II

100701-TorontoG20PoliceBrutalityDemo-18cr“Subversion of Social Movements by Adversarial Agents” was published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence in March 2013. Written by former counterintelligence agent, Eric L. Nelson, it outlines thirteen “lawful or sometimes unlawful acts of subversion.” This is the second of two installments summarizing the covert and overt operations. For the first installment see here.

4. Develop Attractive Alternatives

In outlining further “recruitment subversion” methods, Nelson targets this technique for “individuals who are primed for activation.” He suggests the infiltration of  a “lawful group” by an agent who volunteers to create or update webpages. “That would create the access needed for the agent to place invisible text on the main page of each site, perhaps using 2-point font of the same color as the Webpage background.” This would create hidden hyperlinks covertly directing individuals to groups not considered harmful by the organization carrying out the subversion.

5. Tempt Members to Leave

Similar to the last tactic, this approach is targeted towards active individuals. Using a “radical animal rescue group” as his example,  Nelson suggests tempting a recruit away with distractions, such as being “asked to help another (legal) animal rescue group care for a half-dozen orphaned puppies,” or “helping out at animal adoption fairs.”

6. Reverse Recruiting Using Demoralizing Information

Nelson suggests “commitment ambiguity” can be created by “exposing social movement members and potential recruits to contradictory evidence and beliefs, or through the use of believable disinformation, causing them to lose faith, momentum, or interest. This is a reverse recruiting effort in which subversive information is deployed with the intention of destabilizing the movement’s recruiting efforts, and causing its members to leave the group.”

7. Operationalize Secure/Faux Concessions

Nelson illustrates this method with the case of  a 1987 Cornell University protest by a “large and vocal animal rights group” against the use of cats for drug addiction experiments. The university administration met with a protest leader and then issued a letter announcing that experiments would be dropped, even though they weren’t. Nelson reports that this tactic only resulted in a “petit failure.”  He advises: “(W)hen a faux concession is employed, it should be located within a nest of convincing false data, such as the rigging of inspections.” “ Also,” he adds, “the truth of things must remain a carefully guarded secret.”

8. Expertly Directed, Incessant Proactive Manipulation of Media

In 1988, the same Cornell protesters organized at New York University’s medical school to stop macaques being exposed to toluene. Nelson writes: “This time the university did not meet with the protesters, but instead waged a media blitz to reform its image from animal torture center to that of savior of sick little children. (… ) This time, the school had nine people on its public relations team, specifically tasked with media warfare against the picketers.”

Nelson explains the key to success in media manipulation: “control of the media must be taken away from the social movement pre-emptively, and it must be directed by experts; the media must be manipulated in order to cast disparaging light upon the movement, so that its constructed public image becomes damaged and is replaced with something harmful. Concurrently, the organization must be portrayed as wholesome and worthwhile.”

9. Resource Depletion

Nelson explains that “an overt effort at grand subversion could include asset or property seizure, or the filing of civil litigation which incurs the need for an expensive and thus resource draining defense.” Covert subversion, he writes “could include introduction of computer viruses, or even simple acts such as ‘accidentally’ blocking a car so that it cannot be used to transport activists to a planned event, thus inducing a petit failure.”

10. Stigmatization

“Stigma can be employed in demoralization operations,” Nelson states. He provides examples from the business world, albeit self-imposed in this case: “(T)he company formerly called Blackwater, which had created a private, special forces army to supplement U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, became encumbered by stigma and had to change its name. In 2004, Blackwater operators killed fourteen Iraqi civilians, and wounded twenty more. As the Washington Post noted, ‘The incident, which badly strained U.S.–Iraqi relations . . . so badly stigmatized Blackwater that the company renamed itself Xe Services.’”

11. Divisive Disruption

Nelson illustrates this method with agents infiltrating two black civil rights movements in the 1960s to foment violent actions by the groups so as to harm their reputation and diminish public support. “Subversion” he writes, “could also involve an attack upon the trust among a group’s leaders, perhaps through rumor, a planted letter (or e-mail), or even a photoshopped picture placing one or more in compromising circumstances.”

12. Intimidation

100630-WindsorG20PoliceBrutalityDemo-05Nelson explains that intimidation can involve “overt actions such as battling protesters with water cannon, chemical agents, and billy clubs, or less overt acts such as threats to sue, arrest, and evict.” “Less robust” forms of intimidation, such as overt surveillance, are also possible and “can strike fear into the heart of a target.” Nelson writes: “Analytically, many similarities are evident between lawful surveillance and unlawful stalking. Numerous studies document the psychological harm brought on by stalking. To generalize those findings upon the presumed psychological experience of an individual targeted for sustained overt surveillance is probably reasonable.”

13. Intrapsychic Wounding

Nelson writes that there is data to demonstrate “the subversive potential present in the intrapsychic wounding of the collective consciousness of a social movement.”  Such wounding, writes Nelson, “may result from single events, such as witnessing an execution, being injured in a fight or in combat, or perhaps seeing a friend taken away by police.”

“The possibility that intrapsychic wounding, sufficiently debilitating, may cause the momentum and morale of a social movement to collapse seems reasonable,” he writes, providing the example of the ‘Arab spring.’ “The killing, beating, and tear gassing of demonstrators could be deemed efforts to instill and increase a fear of death, fear of harm, and fear of punishment in the minds of demonstrators and rebels; in other words, to inculcate intrapsychic wounds.”

Nelson states that “public butcheries are risky” and “may energize resistance, and even convert participants into hard core activists.” He explains: “Though movement members may, in fact, be psychologically traumatized, they may also adopt a ‘‘fight to the death’’ attitude in response to overt and brutal subversion efforts by a government. Another form of intrapsychic subversion may be less risky.”

He says that Middle East social movements, before the ‘Arab spring,’ were adequately controlled through “small scale, individualized actions. People were frequently arrested, beaten, falsely convicted, penalized and punished, fired from jobs, prohibited from attending school, or raped.” He concludes: “Analytically, aggregate induced wounding, rather than large scale-single massive event wounding, is probably the more efficient and less risky form of intrapsychic subversion.”

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One response to “Subversion of social movements: What the ‘Intelligence Community’ is reading – Part II

  1. Pingback: Subversion of social movements: What the ‘Intelligence Community’ is reading | Tony Seed's Weblog

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