We Are The Useful Idiots: How Our Nation Divided Is Playing Straight Into The Hands Of Our Greatest Enemies

We Are The Useful Idiots: How Our Nation Divided is Playing Straight Into The Hands of Our Greatest Enemies • The Havok Journal

havokjournal.com · by Alice Atalanta · June 2, 2020

We Are The Useful Idiots: How Our Nation Divided is Playing Straight Into the Hands of our Greatest Enemies

By Dr. Alice Atalanta, Ph.D. for Havok Journal

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COVID. Lockdowns. Racism. Rioting. Insurgency.

Our country is descending into chaos right now. What is next? Civil war? Revolution? Or could positive change still yet arise from the ashes of the damage that has already been done?

Like walking into a disaster area or a mass casualty incident, we have to pause and survey the scene. Identify the forces that are at play. Pick out what is still salvageable, and keep it somewhere safe. Perhaps most importantly, we need to immediately identify the still-active threats and disruptive forces at play and weed them out before they can do any further damage.

This week, before the killing of George Floyd, I was working on what was supposed to be a different story from the one I am writing now. I had interviewed Chris Costa, a former intelligence officer of 34 years, former Special Assistant to the President, current Executive Director of the International Spy Museum, and former Department of the Navy Civilian at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). The objective of that interview was for me to learn more from Mr. Costa about the efforts of foreign intelligence agencies to manipulate the American political landscape by way of the internet, an issue of critical importance in light of the upcoming 2020 election. As a military writer who spends the bulk of her time attempting to tackle issues such as this one—well known and understood by the military community, but somewhat underestimated in the civilian world—I felt that it was important to share Costa’s warning with my fellow Americans. The objective of this piece was to have constituted such a warning: here is how our foreign adversaries operate online, here is how they target and manipulate us, and here is how we can steel ourselves against it.

In a hauntingly predictive statement, which could never have known that George Floyd would be killed, or that riots and an insurgency would follow, Costa warned me:

Our greatest vulnerability is that we have a polarized nation right now. There are basically two camps, and that’s a vulnerability. And our adversaries who really want to do harm to our democratic way of life now take advantage of this polarization with a new tool that they didn’t have during the Cold War: social media and internet. That’s what makes the situation so dire right now.

Then, as peaceful protests turned violent, notifications blowing up my phone with friends’ live feeds from the chaos unfolding on the streets of my very own city. Police cars on fire. Smoke bombs and tear gas fired away on streets I know well. Emotional commentary over the videos from gym friends; people with whom I’ve traded both smiles and punches over the years. It drove home in a hard way how different my experience of growing up in this city has been from theirs; how separate and segregated our paths and experiences have been. It made me wonder why we all live in the same city, but if it weren’t for our shared sport of boxing, our life paths as white Clevelanders and black Clevelanders would never have even crossed. At least not as friends. Not at church, not at school, not even at the same neighborhood Target.

Still, I watched the battles on the streets unfold with a lingering sense that what I was seeing wasn’t just about racism. The people I know personally, of many different races, who went downtown to protest were all peaceful. They are good people. Law-abiding citizens. They didn’t take part in the violence and destruction.

Something else was at play, something far more disturbing, more urgent, and more dangerous—and I could see it unfolding right before my eyes.

I returned to my notes from the Costa interview.

Dealing with disinformation is essential for the survival of our Democracy as we know it. Our adversaries are really chipping away at us with this pandemic, sowing discord in African-American communities, and at the same time taking advantage of the far-right chat rooms to exploit predispositions towards racist ideologies. All of that is being done by state actors like Russia, China, and Iran.

It’s a big deal for someone in his position, with his resume and reputation, to go on the record and tell me that. Former civilian employees at DEVGRU (that’s SEAL Team 6, which I’m allowed to say even if Costa doesn’t) aren’t tinfoil-hat-wearing lunatics spreading conspiracy theories. This is a highly trained, well-regarded professional who was former Special Assistant to the President, going on the record to talk to me about matters of national security. It is the reason why we all need to sit up and pay attention.

To our nation’s enemies, these riots are an opportunity.

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To our nation’s enemies,

these riots are an opportunity.

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Remember the Russian troll farms that were insidiously able to interfere in the Trump election? Remember learning about the riots and protests in our country that were arranged—sometimes on BOTH sides of the ideological coin—by foreign intelligence personnel posing as Americans online? What about the foreign intelligence agencies like the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), churning out polarizing memes daily, to greatly divisive interest and dissemination? Have you heard about the efforts by Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter to identify and eliminate fake profiles created by foreign state entities and used to perpetuate divisive ideology among American citizens? Did you ever read the parts of the Mueller Report that discuss the IRA’s work, on behalf of the Kremlin, to actively wage Cold-War type propaganda wars in the hearts and minds of the American people via social media channels?

Most of us who have no ties to the military or intelligence communities may skim over these headlines as if they are of little meaning to us. I am guilty of having done it, before I grasped how critically important any of this was. I am also guilty of, in the past, having shared a meme by Being Patriotic, which I learned in the course of this research was one of these Russian-backed groups spreading divisive propaganda. Don’t feel bad if you’ve done the same; numerous celebrities, public figures, and even the President have proven that they are not immune to unknowingly sharing Russian propaganda.

When I unwittingly shared that propaganda post, I was severely admonished by a friend in the military community who is a highly decorated combat veteran, well-respected and active in the public sphere. He called it “clickbait” and said that I should have been above passing on such divisive content, but he didn’t tell me where it came from. Now I understand why he was so disgusted by my actions: every time we click “share” on those divisive memes, or pass on the fake news story that we haven’t substantiated from credible sources, or repost the “deepfake” photo or video, we are contributing to the successful decades-long effort of our nation’s enemies to undermine America’s unity and, ultimately, our role as a global power.

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Every time we click “share” on those divisive memes, or pass on the fake news story that we haven’t substantiated from credible sources, or repost the “deepfake” photo or video, we are contributing to the successful decades-long effort of our nation’s adversaries to undermine America’s unity and, ultimately, our role as a global power.

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There is a video which is widely used to train members of the military and intelligence communities on the Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) tactics utilized against U.S. citizens. It is bone-chilling. Most civilians have no idea that it even exists.

The interviewee in the 1983 video is Yuri Bezmenov, a former KGB officer and Soviet defector, who speaks openly about the subversive tactics used in his former role converting powerful westerners to sympathize with the Soviet cause.

Embedded in his rhetoric, one notable phrase repeats: “useful idiot.” It occurs 14 times throughout the nearly 3-hour interview. Celebrities, professors, politicians; none are spared the indignity of this dismissive moniker.

Bezmenov explains what he means:

You see, the useful idiots, the leftists who are idealistically believing in the beauty of Soviet socialist or Communist or whatever system, when they get disillusioned, they become the worst enemies. That’s why my KGB instructors specifically made the point: never bother with leftists. Forget about these political prostitutes. Aim higher.

This was my instruction: try to get into large-circulation, established conservative media; really filthy-rich movie makers; intellectuals, so-called ‘academic’ circles; cynical, egocentric people who can look into your eyes with angelic expression and tell you a lie. These are the most recruitable people: people who lack moral principles, who are either too greedy or too suffer from self-importance. They feel that they matter a lot. These are the people who KGB wanted very much to recruit.

They serve purpose only at the stage of destabilization of a nation. For example, your leftists in United States: all these professors and all these beautiful civil rights defenders. They are instrumental in the process of the subversion only to destabilize a nation. When their job is completed, they are not needed anymore. They know too much. Some of them, when they get disillusioned, when they see that Marxist-Leninists come to power—obviously they get offended—they think that they will come to power. That will never happen, of course.

They will be lined up against the wall, and shot.

To Bezmenov, “useful idiots” are the American citizens who are unwittingly manipulated and mobilized to carry out a foreign power’s bidding—while thinking it’s their own idea. For proof that these tactics are still alive and well today, one need look no further than the cacophony of celebrity voices that have banded together to self-congratulate for the donations they are making to protesters’ bailout funds. While their giving may be, at best, a genuine effort to assist peaceful protestors, and at worst, a tastelessly virtue signaling attention-grab, either way, it fulfills the 1983 prophecy of the KGB defector.

Chrissy Teigen, Seth Rogen, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Harry Styles…in them is embodied the crux of the paradoxical challenge that the American people are facing. Ruffalo thinks he’s “combatting the harms of incarceration by paying bail for low-income individuals who cannot otherwise afford it;” Styles is giving, he says, because “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Noble causes, all, but the problem is that these noble celebrities are playing straight into the hands of the ones who most want to see this country destabilized by failing to recognize that their unbridled support of the rioters fails to draw any distinction between the black Americans and allies attempting to conduct peaceful protests, and the radical insurgents from both the left and right ends of the spectrum who are seizing this as an opportunity to wreak havoc for their own objectives.

What the Russians are capitalizing on is our inability, as a nation, to triage what is currently taking place on our nation’s streets. There are the legions black Americans and allies who are attempting to exercise their rights of assembly and free speech to voice a legitimate grievance. The trouble is—and this where the insidious online work of our adversaries plays in—there are also the radicalized groups that have been waiting in the wings, eager to pounce on the next opportunity for civil unrest. This week, their opportunity arose, and many of them seized it. It remains to be seen if and when the intelligence community will share with the public which foreign actors were complicit in instigating and aiding their involvement in the protests. In the meantime, law enforcement and government entities have been trying desperately to get this message across to the American people. Unfortunately, mistrust of Trump and his propensity to cry “fake news” at every turn has many Americans skeptical of what he is saying right now. Why should we listen? He is only calling out the far-left groups. Where is the far right in all of this? Is this more bipartisan warfare?

The truth is that there are foreign intelligence agencies that are seeking to divide and conquer our country from within by turning ourselves against each other and then fanning the flames. Every single day, with Russia, North Korea, Iran, China being the key players, while there are most certainly others. They are waging Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) against us in efforts that are proven and often reported, using tactics that are well-documented. None of this is theory or hearsay. It is a concrete fact, it happens every day, it is exacerbated by the internet, and we are fueling it. Our military and government are well aware of it, but the American people are having trouble getting on board and recognizing the seriousness of this threat, which is like a cancer-causing us to devour ourselves alive from within.

Their objective, according to Costa? “To sow disunity, undermine confidence in the U.S. Government, and frighten the American public.” It makes sense, but what is in it for our adversaries? Citing Russia as a well-documented example, Costa explained, “For the Soviet Union, the perpetuation of disinformation was a first-order priority for them. If you don’t believe that it’s still happening today, all you have to do is go back and research how the Soviet Union executed disinformation during the Cold War; it was called ‘Active Measures.’ Active Measures included not just assassinations, but also active disinformation campaigns, such as one years ago which sought to perpetuate the untruth that the U.S. military had created and spread the AIDS virus to deplete African American communities.” It wasn’t true, of course, but as Costa explained, “The reason disinformation campaigns are so effective is because of the psychology that they capitalize on: we are prone to believe the first thing that we hear, no matter what is done to debunk or discredit it.”

Once the disinformation gets out there, it is very, very difficult to rein public opinion back in.

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There are foreign intelligence agencies that are seeking to divide and conquer our country from within by turning us against each other and then fanning the flames. Russia, North Korea, Iran, China…None of this is theory or hearsay. It is concrete fact, it happens every day, it is exacerbated by the internet, and we are fueling it.

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We live in an age in which information is power. What people believe to be true is more important than what actually IS true—that’s a proven psychological phenomenon. The first thing that people hear is the thing that they will hang onto and believe, even when it’s debunked or disproven. If you don’t believe that this is true, the success of ISIS in the Middle East is a prime example of the manipulation of information to achieve desired ends. As one Green Beret working in intelligence shared with me, a common practice of ISIS has been to execute women and children in a town as American soldiers are leaving, photographing the scene with American vehicles in the background. They push this propaganda out onto social media channels to foster support for their own cause, and it works. They undermine any faith in the American troops, cast us as a villainous occupying presence, and build up their following by these means.

We also live in an era of outrage. For many of us, social media feels so real that expressions of outrage online have come to suffice for action in the face of injustice. This process even has a name now: “virtue signaling.” And we use social media to polarize ourselves along the lines of hot button topics. Take your choice of the topics; any one of us need only scroll through our social media newsfeed on any given day to hit all of the dichotomies our enemies are exploiting: Republican vs. Democrat; anti-abortion vs. pro-choice; pro-gun vs. gun control; freedom of speech vs. political correctness; pro-law enforcement vs. anti-law enforcement; don’t take a knee vs. take a knee; no collusion vs. collusion; “COVID-19 is a hoax” vs. “COVID-19 is a serious threat;” mask vs. no mask; open up vs. stay locked down; voter IDs vs. mail-in voting; immigration reform vs. open borders; pro-Trump vs. anti-Trump.

The dangerous thing is that for many, that line between online and real-world outrage is beginning to blur. The outrage is kindled and stoked online, and these groups are targeted in their virtual meeting places by foreign intelligence players who aim to build their rage and manipulate them into taking action against one another—or lashing out against American society as a whole. The outrage tsunami feeds the fire of the radical groups at every end of the political spectrum: Antifathe Boogaloo Movement, and the Black Bloc being just a few of the key players. Still, every one of us who has ever shared inflammatory memes online, bickered over political content, engaged in online flame wars with complete strangers, or allowed these hot button issues to divide us from old friends, is complicit.

It is all of our fault, as a global society of decent people, to allow the relative anonymity of the internet to lull us into the false sense of security in believing that it is acceptable to behave indecently towards your fellow man. Like drivers honking, screaming, and one-finger-saluting, we are all Goliath when we’re safe behind the wheel—but how many of us are prepared when the driver we’ve been verbally assaulting slams on the breaks and demands that we step out of the car?

This is what you’re seeing happen, en masse, on the American streets as we speak. Only difference is that the fight started on the internet long before we took it outside.

Our nation’s leadership is speaking out, and begging us to believe them that this is becoming about far more than race; about more than anyone ever knowingly intended. But are we listening to them?

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Ironically, paradoxically, and unfairly, perhaps those who stand to lose the most in all of this are the black Americans who found their attempts to enact peaceful protesting hijacked by radicals. This is only hurting their cause by casting the peaceful, law-abiding protestors in with the violent anarchists.

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Ironically, paradoxically, and unfairly, perhaps those who stand to lose the most in all of this are the black Americans who found their attempts to enact peaceful protesting hijacked by radicals. This is only hurting their cause by casting the peaceful, law-abiding protestors in with the violent anarchists.

One video now going viral features two Caucasian women, dressed in black with faces covered, defacing the exterior of a Starbucks with “Black Lives Matter” and “Down With White Supremacy” graffiti.

“I want you to know,” says the young black woman filming the scene, “This is not a black woman who is putting ‘Black Lives Matter.’ You all are doing that for us, and we didn’t ask you to do that.”

Perhaps even more profoundly, she says:

“They are going to blame black people for this, and black people didn’t do this.”

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This is not just a story to stoke more outrage. It is an attempt to build awareness. As such, action steps can and should be taken.

1. Divide and Conquer…

There are two issues at hand playing out in American cities right now, with two very different causes, and two very different solutions. It would be irresponsible and presumptuous of me to offer here some trite solution to the issue of racial injustice as if it were an issue so easily addressed. But the second matter at hand—that of domestic terror groups, radicalized online, urged on by the psychological operations of foreign enemy actors, carrying out an insurgency on the American streets as we speak—this is something that we can address. We can make concrete changes right now to knock anyone who is looking to destabilize our nation and create civil unrest back on their heels. The solutions are unglamorous, but essential and effective.

2. Become Your Own Intel Analyst

“The American public has to be aware that there are going to be attempts to manipulate them,” Costa told me. “Americans are smart, so they have to go to multiple news outlets. Be skeptical. Be good consumers of information. This has been unheard of in the past, but never in human history have we had so much information thrown at us at once.” In short, he says, “Be your own intelligence officer.” As your high school history teacher probably urged you to remember, consider the source of your information. Unbiased news is nearly impossible to come by these days, says Costa, so look for open-source information online. Can you substantiate what you’re seeing or hearing from multiple sources? If not, those could be red flags for fake news.

3. Think Before You Click “Share”

In the 23rd Canto of the Inferno, Dante described the “Sowers of Discord,” figures punished in Hell for eternity with brutally severed heads and bodies, punishment for the discord that they had sown in life—whether through religion, politics, or kinsmen. Heed that 700-year-old warning, and think before you share that divisive or controversial meme on your social media page. Worst case scenario, you could be sharing foreign propaganda or a deepfake; at best, you’re still fanning the flames of discord that our enemies have been working to plant in our society since the Cold War era.

4. Put out the Flame Wars

When we argue and bicker in the comments section of a social media post, algorithms skyrocket that post to the top of our newsfeeds—as well as those of our friends. Suddenly, our political argument with an ex-college roommate starts to involve our coworkers, gym friends, and mothers-in-law, and once again, we are fanning those flames of discord. Remember the road rage analogy; it doesn’t take much for the fight behind the wheel to spill out into the street. The emotions and rage created by online interactions are very, very real, and carry serious real-world repercussions. In short, just not worth it. Save political debates for respectful, in-person interactions.

5. Be Mindful of Manipulation

Remember this: PSYOPS thrives on the principle, “Persuade, Change, Influence.” With everything we see online, we have to learn to ask ourselves, “How is this content attempting to persuade, change, or influence me?” There is a war for your mind and your allegiances. Stay alert to these tactics.

6. Steer Clear of Trolls and Bots

There are ways to identify when you’re dealing with a nefarious player in the online space. Learn how to recognize and report them, and keep them out of your sphere.

7. Start Healing Racial Hurt by Being a Decent Human

Something in this country has reached a tipping point, and as the saying goes, “Nobody is coming; it’s up to us.” Outrage isn’t a solution. Action is what solves problems. Solidarity among good humans (there are still plenty of us left) is what will save us. I know that my black friends and I live separate lives that sometimes are parallel for a moment before they diverge again. We live in separate worlds. We all know it. And I sincerely believe that a concerted effort made between good people to make love speak louder than hate is the only way we can break through racism for our children’s generation. Shouting through megaphones next to each other in the streets isn’t going to do it. We need to invite each other into one another’s homes, lives, and hearts. Break bread together. Worship together. I don’t care how it happens. The white church invites black church over for a cookout. Black salon and white salon get together and do a service day for underprivileged moms in the community. White moms and black moms start a playgroup with the stated common objective of building bonds and breaking down racist presumptions as their kids grow and bond with each other. In my experience, nothing kills racism quicker on both ends than shining the bright light of friendship and goodwill on it. Racism is a demon that dies in the light of goodness.

8. …But Also Unite and Conquer

We have to realize, at some point, that social media is a mixed bag. It has the potential to be used for good but is not all inherently good. It is up to us to behave discerningly in order to make it that way. The more we have moved our lives into that online space, the more it has started to reflect the darker characteristics of a collective human unconscious—to our society’s detriment. Though we may use that online space to make it look like we are our best selves living our best lives, in actuality, the virtual tribes we are creating (black vs. white, liberal vs. conservative, etc.) are tearing us apart with alienation and divisiveness. We surround ourselves with tribes of like-minded followers and block the world views that don’t agree with our own. We share the outrage, enter into the debates, share the memes, bicker online, and then carry that mental and physical agitation back with us out into the real world. America’s enemies are exploiting this. And the ONLY way to put a stop to it is to end the all-or-nothing, black-or-white, either/or polarization that characterizes 99% of the content that is out there. What does this look like on a practical level? Disengage. Refuse to enter into the debates. Don’t share the inflammatory memes. Be an instrument for peace; not a sower of discord.

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