Previous posts in this discussion:
PostThe Infamous Catalonian WhatsApp Message and Russia; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA, 11/19/17 7:34 am)
Gary Moore writes:
The Catalan Letter put up for scrutiny by José Manuel de Prada (October 29) is beginning to sound like a mystery from Poe--and it seems appropriate that WAIS has given it this attention.
Its non-sequiturs fairly shout about some deeper enigma--but what? After first thinking, with Boris Volodarsky, that Russia would have no reason to fabricate such a red herring, I looked harder at that key phrase, warning people not to say anything about tanks in the streets--though thus far it seems there aren't any tanks in the streets. The phrasing would seem to profit neither side in the Catalonian dispute, but could profit a party merely wanting to sow general discord and anxiety. Such a party would have no downside if the letter can't be traced, and an agit-prop boilerroom might do a little practicing on neutral ground, to keep the skills sharp.
So I'm with JE on this. Strange as it may sound, I don't think Russia can be ruled out.
JE comments: Gotta hone those computer skills. And yes--what can the Russian skunkworks be up to, now that they won the US presidential election?
Here's the original message:
Revisiting the Catalonia WhatsApp Message; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
02/28/18 10:14 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
A lingering riddle in WAIS has led at last to a panorama.
Back on October 29-November 1 2017, a particularly puzzling letter was discussed by José Manuel de Prada, Jordi Molins, and Boris Volodarsky. The letter, via WhatsApp, was sent to the Barcelona area in the excitement over last fall's Catalonian independence referendum.
All of us in the WAIS discussion of it (JE and I also expressed brief puzzlement) were at sea as to what this letter might mean. It was a general call for concern--or panic--but seemed to benefit neither side in the referendum questions. Who would send such a thing? It seemed bent on elevating tensions in everyone--as seen especially in the letter's "tanks in the streets" line, when there were no tanks in the streets.
Boy, were we naïve. It now develops, as a cautionary note on missing the obvious in a fast-changing world, that detailed press discussion of what was really going on was all around us--though it was lost in the shouting until one last straw on the camel's back. This past Feb. 16, when 13 individuals in Russia were indicted in the US for what is being called "information war," many searchable threads were brought into focus, casting stark light on the panorama.
"Tanks in the streets," as it turns out, was a social-media reinforcement of the previous day's (Oct. 28) blatant propaganda story in Russia Today (the global cable channel now known as RT). It was part of a one-two punch with RT's Spanish version, in a process of fake news and coy false impressions.
By now, revelations about the technique are all over the media. It has demonstrably been used by Russia in various countries and elections, as propaganda with a broad aim. A process of "deliberate ambiguity" aims to deepen social divisions in open societies, amplify heated or paranoid debate, and discredit democratic processes generally, thus leaving Russia as the supposedly less hypocritical strong-arm alternative. Saying this might have sounded like an embalmed Cold War rant two or three years ago. Now it is one more reminder of how a fast-changing world can outflank public knowledge.
"BOTS SWARM TO SOCIAL DIVIDES," headlined the New York Times only days ago, on Feb. 20, using words no longer arcane.
Robotized social-media accounts ("bots." in this case traceable to Russia) pretend in massive numbers to be real people online, and then may be unknowingly forwarded to us by real people we trust, as apparently happened when José Manuel de Prada received the "tanks" letter. The goal is evidently to flood and overwhelm--or primarily to confuse--public debate. "Tanks in the streets" brought the pattern to Catalonia in a way already being pointed out on Sept. 25 by Reuters, then was recapped by others, all unseen by even many informed observers (as WAIS has seemed to unwittingly prove).
The answer was spelled out in The Daily Beast on Nov. 28: "The manipulative drift of RT ["Russia Today"] led to the truly hysterical headline on Oct. 28: ‘Tanks in the streets of Barcelona: Spain and Catalonia on the verge of a violent outcome.' "
Bloomberg News said on Nov. 8:"Russian Hackers Fueled Catalan Separatism. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-08/russian-hackers-fueled-catalan-separatism-madrid-institute-says
On Nov. 9, European Union officials denounced the Catalonia pattern as "another case of perverse interference" by Russia.
CNN was similarly blunt: "'Misinformation' on Catalonia referendum came from Russia."
The slick RT outlet, only one of Russia's info-tools, often camouflages itself in innocuous or straight-news articles, so the blatancy of ploys like "tanks in the streets" can be pooh-poohed as supposedly nervous-Nellie imagining by the targets. The Russian government and allied spokesmen repeatedly use a "no evidence" argument, when in fact the evidence is often abundant. The ploy is like confidently saying night is day on the bet that a confused audience won't be able to get to the window to look.
Participants in WAIS are self-evidently well-informed and formidably erudite, yet last fall none of us seemed to have the information pointing out profuse grounds for discussing the "tanks" letter. JE did muse intuitively that Russia might be a candidate for vague suspicions, but he wondered what Russia might conceivably get out of such a pointless-seeming exercise, so far afield in tiny Catalonia. The forum as a whole expressed no awareness of the fact--like a Cold-War mummy come to life--that, on a global scale, the Russian campaign is not just about isolated election outcomes, but about attacking open society generally.
The hard evidence, which Russian denials tend to simply ignore, points to other cases in the Netherlands, France, Germany, the Scandinavian nations, the Baltics, the Balkans, and on and on. But the big poster child for Russian attacks is of course the United States, and its eerie oblivion leading up to the attack on the 2016 presidential election. Such Russian tactics certainly don't create the divides and tensions within a target country, but instead seek them out and seek to amplify them. To this day, many US partisans remain so focused on their ideological preferences of right or left that they seem almost less interested in the massiveness of what the Russian "information war" implies, and the confusing challenges it presents to public discussion. Confusion, indeed, is Russia's ally in this, and evidently a deliberate instrument. The challenge is how to see and conceptualize the fast-changing landscape in ways that discern the most central truths we need to defend.
JE comments: Russia positioning itself as the "less hypocritical, strong-arm alternative"--Gary Moore may have hit the nail on the head. The irony is, Russia's alternative to hypocrisy is the old-fashioned lie.
The original RT "tanks in the streets" piece cited above quotes from a political analyst, John Wight, who urged both sides in the Catalonia crisis to take a step back, in order to avoid tanks appearing the streets. Note the ratcheting-up in the fake news cycle. From advice on how to prevent tanks, to a WhatsApp plea not to photograph said tanks, to bald headlines about "tanks in the streets."
Wight appears to be a frequent commentator on RT. See below: