22. sept., 2020

The digital means of instrumentalisation of the Arab Spring by the American government

"The 21st Century Statecraft initiative, which Hillary Clinton stormed into the State Department in early 2009 with her announcement, now makes sense. This program, whose ambiguous name translates into both "the art of governance" and "statemaking" in the 21st century, aimed to use new technologies to create a direct link between the American state and the people of foreign countries in order to promote U.S. foreign policy without having to go through local government. The initiative also aimed to facilitate the use of these technologies to promote freedom of expression and accelerate the emergence of democratic regimes. The "disruptive" approach, one would say today.

As the protest movements spread to the Near and Middle East, the British press revealed that the US Pentagon had signed a contract with NTrepid, a Californian technology firm, to develop "an online virtual personality management service" enabling US army soldiers to control up to ten false digital identities. The contract stipulates that each fake digital alias must have a credible profile and history, and that the tool must allow 50 soldiers to operate fake identities "without fear of being spotted or identified by even sophisticated adversaries. The U.S. military plans to use the tool to flood forums and networks with messages in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, and Urdu legitimizing U.S. presence and foreign policy in the Middle East. The military operation for which the tool is intended, called Operation Earnest Voice ("Operation Sincere Speech"!), with a budget of over $200 million, is immediately compared to Chinese attempts to control public opinion.

For Russian leaders, there is no longer any doubt: the American government is instrumentalizing the Arab Spring wave by promoting and facilitating the use of digital means, with the technical and ideological support of Silicon Valley companies. Worse, it would not hesitate to use these technologies to distort public opinion and encourage citizens of foreign countries to follow the political line favored by the United States. In an interview given to the Wall Street Journal in February 2011, Igor Sechin, Vladimir Putin's loyal second in command, castigated "Google executives" for "manipulating the energy of the people" in Egypt. His attacks target in particular Wael Ghonim, at the time managing director of Google in North Africa and the Middle East, who had played a leading role in coordinating citizen mobilizations via social networks (...).

At the same time, Russian analysts, like many others, perceive the risk that instability and the power vacuum will benefit extremist forces, including radical Islamist groups, rather than the establishment of real democracy. In late February 2011, the Russian President warned of the consequences of the "disintegration of large, densely populated states" in the Middle East, which he said could "lead to the rise of power fanatics," resulting in "decades of inflammatory struggle and the spread of extremism. He made these statements during his trip to Vladikavkaz in the Caucasus region, itself plagued by violence by radical Islamists since the fall of the USSR. The choice of location is not insignificant. Russia rightly considers itself considerably more vulnerable than the United States and European countries to the fallout of a destabilization of the Middle East, and particularly to the emergence of an Islamic threat.

(Free translation from French language)
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Cyber. La guerre permanente, Jean-Louis Gergorin, Léo Isaac-Dognin, 2018Cyber. La guerre permanente, p. 48, Jean-Louis Gergorin, Léo Isaac-Dognin, 2018