The Nike line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system was produced by the U.S Army (and Bell Labs). This gave the United States its first operational anti-aircraft missile system in 1953. Site Summit is located more than 4,000 feet above Anchorage and was really difficult to build. The site was placed in a spot where over 50 vertical feet had to be blasted off of the mountaintop and more than 25,000 cubic yards of rock removed. Concrete for the battery control buildings, which were anchored to the ground with steel rods in concrete pads because of winter winds that could go reach 100 mph, and the missile magazine bunkers had to be poured concrete, something that was hard to achieve due to constant extreme weather. These unique conditions added significantly to the costs to build Site Summit. The three sites in Alaska cost over 10 million 1950’s dollars to build (roughly $104,459,300. now).
As a child growing up in Alaska it was considered normal for our elementary school to take our classes up the mountain for a tour of the Nike sight. This was done in a bus full of fourth graders with our bag lunches, going up a twisty dirt road that had MP guard stops at various places along the way up. The view is beautiful, the mountains in Alaska are breathtaking but if you grow up there taking it for granted is the norm. What did stand out was yellow concrete buildings surrounded by tall wire fences sitting on the top of the mountain. The soldiers (technicians?) were very nice and professional. They tried to explain what they were doing up there in term that an eleven year old would understand. Then they opened up the silo and brought out one of the missiles. The class watched in breathless silence as it rose up and then exhaled as it went back into its cave.
It was supposed to make us feel safer. This was the time of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). These missiles were supposed to be able to stop the Russians nukes. Alaska had Russian fighter planes swooping into our airspace all the time and this was just a way to keep them honest. I didn’t feel better. I was a precocious kid, reading a lot books that were probably not appropriate for my age and my mom was involved in the peace movement. I saw those missiles as pure death. If this was America’s way of dealing with Russia, even to my young mind, I figured we were in real trouble.
The world has changed a lot since I was a kid. Russia fell apart. New countries came about. Terrorism became our war de-jour and the US not learning from Russia’s mistake, sent soldiers into the very place that helped with their financial crippling. That turned into one of our longest ongoing wars, right up there with wiping out the Native Tribes. A strong-man took over in what was left of Russia and decided he wanted to bring it back to the former glory days. Putin knew the old weapons weren’t going to work so he turned to the kids with the keyboards.
This column is not about straight up hacking of the election. A report from the U.S. intelligence community that says there is substantial evidence that Putin’s people compromised the voting or voter registration system in seven states in 2016. The states hit were were Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and my state, Alaska.1 So much for the NIKE protection. The states were told about the hacks but weren’t told that it was the Russians. This isn’t about about hacking computers. As any hacker can tell you the real way you break a system is social engineering, because after all the PEBCAK.
This was originally going to be called “If You Aren’t Mad by Now than Putin’s Shitlords Haven’t Been Paying Attention to You”. It certainly comes close to the truth but is way too clickbaity and then we have to get into the definition of shitlord. For terms born of the net, Urban Dictionary is usually your best friend so let’s go with theirs,
A lord of shitposting. An internet troll who identifies as a person who posts allegedly nonsensical, meaningless, random, time-wasting and sometimes sexually explicit words, pictures and gifs/videos (i.e., “shitposts”) on social media. Often these posts are not “nonsensical,” “meaningless” or “random,” but rather are abusive, racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQA and bigoted in other ways. The shitlord hides behind a mask of gleeful anarchy and random neutrality, when in fact he (and a shitlord, as the name implies, is usually — though not always — a “he”) engages in the usual hate-spewing, bigotry, harassment and abuse of other kinds of trolls.
However, in case of Putin’s crew they aren’t doing it at random, it is intentional and with malice. They are trying to piss people off. Their posts are targeting groups of people with the intention of driving a spike into the heart of America and making it impossible for us to function as a country. They have weaponized memes and chat. Putin has declared a special kind of war on the civilians of the United States and we are losing. Does that sound way too hyperbolic for you? To a point it might be but it is very much in keeping with the appeal to emotion and fear that Putin’s crew of shitposters are doing.
For those of you wondering about the differences between trolls, bots, and shitposters, here is a very basic run down. The bots are the most basic tool in Putin’s operation, the main one being the Internet Research Agency. They are simply machines that can be loaded with hashtags, memes or whatever story they want to push. The bots have stolen names, pictures and backgrounds. A cursory check will usually expose one but they usually don’t carry out enough activity to cause suspicion. The trolls have multiple fully created backgrounds, belong to web groups and go after people who seem to be trending. They use the bots to push their response up. The shitposters create the memes, entire organizations to spread the memes, keep track of what is going on to maximize the other two parts. They are the brains of the operation.
The problem with writing an article on this subject is that it is ongoing. Every day there is new information coming out that changes the nature of what needs to be said. This story is as complicated as American politics itself. Our last election was manipulated by professionals and it is still happening at various levels, even local elections. This article is going to be link heavy, you don’t have to read the articles but I recommend that you do. This situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
It wasn’t just shitposts, it was actually organizing events and setting up groups to support candidates in purple states. People were hired to do things like set up websites and organize marches, not even knowing they were working for the Russians. In many cases black people were being used to scare whites in certain areas.2
One of the more common arguments is that the Russians didn’t force anyone to vote a certain way which clearly shows most people don’t understand how elections work. I have worked on a bunch of political campaigns, both winning and losing. The process is complicated but there are a bunch of things that have come clear with the Mueller indictment, the Russians played us. They actually seem to have a better handle on how to use our new technology. Better even than all the high-priced political hacks who work the on campaigns. Back in the day you could go door to door, use telephone banks, do targeted TV ads and catch the people you needed to vote for you. In this age of cell phones, cable and gated communities, that doesn’t work anymore. There are people are getting a handle on using social media but Putin’s people obviously got the better of all of them. This wasn’t magic this was money being put in right place and having access to the right people. This was hitting hard in just the right places. This was amazing politics.3
The fact is Putin’s guys figured out how to target voters better than our political hacks and they did it by pissing people off. “They used data-driven targeting and analysis to assess how the content was received, and they used that information to refine their messages and make them more effective.”4 In fact they were so effective that people refuse to believe that the problem even exists. Where before this country was willing to drop millions of dollars to create the missile systems I went to see as a child now they write Facebook messages scorning the existence of the problem. Fran Lebowitz was on Bill Maher’s show and expressed this point perfectly. “If you told me that there would be a time when the Republicans supported the Russians and the Democrats supported the FBI, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Putin’s people didn’t just try to get people to vote for Trump. They targeted people to keep them from voting, to get them to vote for third party candidates, and to make the system fall apart. The Russians figured out how to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram better than any of the political hacks out there. They discovered issues this country faced that split it apart (gun control, racism, working class dissatisfaction, etc.) after using highly sophisticated market surveys through social media and exploited the fuck out of them.
Yes some of it was shitposts but a lot of it was vanilla get out to vote stuff too.5
“The content was not designed to persuade people to change their views, but to harden those views. Confirmation bias is powerful and commonly employed in these kinds of psychological operations (a related Soviet concept is reflexive control—applying pressure in ways to elicit a specific, known response). The intention of these campaigns was to activate—or suppress—target groups. Not to change their views, but to change their behavior.”
We sucked that shit up and passed it on. On the Facebook Support page they have a tool where you can check to see if you reposted Russian shitposts. It’s almost scary to check on yourself.
(I was kind of glad to discover that my paranoid habit of double checking everything kept me off the list.) Here is a list of the most shared tweets by Russian bots, trolls, or fake accounts. All the pictures I’m posting are from various groups created by Russian trolls just reinforce our worst prejudices.6
Putin’s people were able to organize events that got regular people to turn out to support their candidate which is pretty impressive if you have ever tried to do something like that. They also did stuff to knock down turn out at Hillary’s events.
“For example, the indictment recounts a number of instances where events and demonstrations were organized by Russians posing as Americans on social media. These accounts aimed to get people to do specific things. And it turns out—some people did.”
Putin’s people did get Americans to vote for certain candidates (or not to vote at all) but that wasn’t their real goal. Ultimately they didn’t need to get one person or another elected. The shitlords real job is to make sure anyone running against each other is so angry that when the election is over they will never be able to work together. We have always managed to come back together after an election and accomplish what we need to do as a nation. It was the shitlords job to keep that from happening.
They ratfucked us. We have proof. They reinforced natural enmities, a good portion of the Bernie bros who attacked Hillary turned out to be Russian bots but that didn’t mean a lot of Bernie supporters weren’t upset with the way things turned out. Putin’s people just weaponized those feelings. They did the same thing with other groups fears and frustrations. When they weren’t making up stories to flood the wind tunnels with, they used people like Sean Hannity as a weapon.7
One of the things the shitlords did well was to make all the parties look like assholes. I have to give millennials some major points for getting sick and tired of everything that was being spread around out there, real and fake. They have done their own weaponization but used sarcasm and not giving a fuck. It only made sense when both sides seemed every bit as disgusting. Which is exactly what Putin’s trolls were happy to have them think. That way they wouldn’t vote and the election would fall to a handful of mouth breathers and Putin’s people could watch America fall apart.
Getting the next generation to care again doesn’t seem like an easy prospect and I can understand why. It’s not like either side is offering anything that actually looks like a decent future. But I promise, not being involved will hurt a lot more. The kids who have were involved in the school shootings are doing a good job of standing up to Putin’s bots. The answer certainly isn’t building missile silos but we need to invest in the people who know how to deal with this, our young people. The badasses with keyboards and cell phones, the ones who have the eye for what is bullshit and refuse to get caught in wind tunnels. Turn them loose and Putin’s shitlords don’t stand a chance.
These are Russian troll accounts all using the same cut and paste accounts to attack one of the kids who was caught in the school shooting in Florida.8
Here is Emily Gomez, one of the other kids, kicking them in the balls.
The State Department has spent none of the $120 million dollars allocated to fight a problem that is recognized by multiple security agencies.9 Since the government isn’t interested, I guess it will have to fall to us.