Of many comedians, quite a few observable end up speculating on dark futures correctly. Case in point with Zelensky who played President Goloborodko in Servant of the People. If this were Dark Forest of Intelligence, the comedian had signaled too loudly a satirical future in an irreversible past, and the predator has only now arrived. Only it was all a joke. Or was it? There are cases of comedians becoming statesmen. Perhaps few played presidents. For America, it’s not surprising how many actors turn politicians (Reagan, Trump, even Pence was a radio talk-show host). This brings us to a new level of Dark Forest Theory of Intelligence with two hypers: hypernormalisation and hyperstition.
Let’s say Putin did know what he was doing, a career intelligence officer and key to the construction of Russia’s modern information operations megalith. With such a widespread growth of (Western) OSINT channels, the advantage of surprise and the evasion of surveillance becomes excruciatingly more difficult. He must have taken a lesson from Ghost in the Shell’s Kazundo Gouda. If your communications network, your citizens’, is interlinked with adjacent and “enemy” networks, it becomes impossible to maneuver without alerting some portion of the overall net. It’s key to disconnect first, or to create the conditions where a disconnect has the least impact and highest justification. From the intelligence perspective, you depend on Yurchak’s concept of hypernormalisation. Your connected citizens (and nodes) must continue to overt signal that everything is ok, everything is transparent and democratic. Here, UK- or Ukrainian-born (let’s just say Soviet-born due to differing source info) journalist Pomerantsaev also illustrates this in his book This is Not Propaganda (2019). Meanwhile, you prepare covertly for a great disconnect, with the least disruption to your users’ (citizens’) experience.
Putin is riding on this hyperstitional nature of war, that military prediction and objectives often need to align (see also Russia’s changed Donbas objectives as presented by Western source). Thus to “jam” Western speculation of the war goals, Russia must or has enacted a new stage in information warfare: counterhyperstition. The propaganda machine must rapidly change its futures to become unpredictable by Western journalists and intelligence agencies. To do this, Putin must garner and maintain support for his “special operation” domestically, while creating huge unrealized futures for Western audiences. It appears the term “counter-hyperstition” was first coined by Andrew Woods in a short paper “Visions of the Future” (2117) regarding the need to provide a counterfuture to white-washed NASA nostalgia with Afrofuturist hyperstitions. Quite apt, as we introduce novelties from the future space race. In essence, counterintelligence is those acts to evade, avoid detection by enemy surveillance (Operational Security, OPSEC) while counterhyperstition is the ability to avoid or deter enemy civic (or “folk”) speculation.
Putin and the Russian invading force didn’t seem too concerned with counterintelligence. On the strategic level, Russia took steps to immediately counter hyperstitions from the West. It did this by teapotting itself off from the internet, justifiably, before it was cut-off itself, economically and digitally. It’s possible it welcomed a certain degree of Western cyber attacks, playing possum. The timing of hacks on key military departments in Russia, Russian defensive measures in anticipation of economic sanctions, was crucial… to not signal to the West its preparations but still leaking valid information. Response to non-affiliated cyber attacks have the effect of closing doors to cyber espionage agents secretly sitting within your system. Demonstrated here is the strategic communications measure of counterhyperstition: preventing the counternarrative of communications flow in your network by killing the narrative abroad (and providing your own internally).
Never before has this been so rapidly built up, not even China during early Covid (or not successfully so), not even all that attempted, counter-terrorism, deradicalization programming shoved down Gitmo prisoners’ ears and countering violent extremist (CVE) narratives. Covid did prove to be a testbed for authoritarian disinformation flows and control via counterhyperstition. But war… It’s more predictable. Putin counted on many Western communications flows and prepared for the disconnect.
Thus the information supply chain is duly important to defend, and Ukraine has prioritized this thin green line from the very start of the invasion. Without the ability to disseminate information beyond its borders, its struggle is forgotten, despite much of Europe bracing for the influx of Ukrainian refugees coming west. Ukraine is fighting not only for infrastructure (that may be lost), but also to ensure as many Ukrainian access to Western social media for as long as possible, to swarm the information sphere with content. This has been demonstrated by ISP Triolan’s attempt to maintain service through multiple attacks on its infrastructure and Fedorov’s repeated calls for Starlink delivery to Ukraine. Additionally, they want to make sure as many captured Russian soldiers can communicate with their users and sponsors (okay, family) at home.
Attacks on Ukraine’s information network infrastructure started from cyber, with the attack on several banks and ISPs, with ground work laid by December 2021. The attacks came in the form of a trojan disk wiper, as early as 15 February, with preliminary attribution and evidence by 22 February, 2 days before the ground invasion. ISP Triolon in Kharkiv was hit the morning of 24 February, and again 2 days later, that was likely the first signal of the invasion crossing the border in the north. It was not attributed initially, and Triolan supported multiple users via Telegram channel. Users themselves relayed information to help each other out, continuing through attribution to malicious activity. Network outages were reported along the Russian-Ukrainian border throughout the day. Additionally surfacing was the use of insecure phone networks by the Russian Army as they invaded, easily monitored by Ukrainian telecoms, with Russian units losing key communications with each other by destroying the native LTE infrastructure they relied on themselves.
This signaled a need for a new kind of communications tech and the only options during a destructive ground and air invasion are mesh networking or satellite. Mesh networking can be heavy with multiple limitations (distance and nodes) and needs ample preparation. Many mesh solutions are UDP-based given the nature of no available handshake, but more a pass-me-on (like the children’s game “telephone”). Despite Ukraine having the technological basis for this and some users have switched over. Now enters Fedorov again. In a direct tweet to Elon Musk, Fedorov requests Starlink satellite terminals be sent in to prevent total communications cutoff in Ukraine. Musk delivered and continues to, kicking off the truly novel adaptation to global conflict: private enterprise satellite support.
It does not go without its setbacks. Satellite communication, just like LTE and anything radio airwave-based, can be triangulated and users’ locations divulged, despite full encryption (that’s not the point of encryption). OSINT Twitter exploded on this fact, warning Ukrainians that gifts from sky daddies are not always the panacea they seem. Worse, satellite signals can be detected from a much larger distance as they traverse from the horizontal plane of Earth up to the heavens, whereas mesh and LTE networks keep low cover to the horizontal plane. Musk reacts and warns users to heed with caution… and delivers more. It did seem Russia was concerned with Ukrainian psyop efforts and directly targeted Kyiv’s TV tower and the 72nd Center of Informational and Psychological Operations, as well, possibly with its last allocated targeting missiles.
The rivalry growing between two of the world’s arguably most richest men, down to a duel of fates, is clear hyperstitional vibe (if Musk should run for president). In the Dark Forest, the predatory signaling grows louder, with Musk having to bolster StarLink security and workarounds for signal jamming. These same mechanisms will be able to be used for the opposite effect in the future. Just a flip of the white/blacklisting. Any jamming or blocking is an attempt to reduce the narrative. The kid that tracked Musk’s private jet has turned to tracking Russian oligarch yachts. The whole of privatized, Western OSINT is unleashed against Russia, in what John Robb refers to as a “network swarm”.