The position of my blog has generally been oriented towards viewing Russia as a rogue and China as a peer – such that they respectively merit foreign relations approaches weighted towards war and diplomacy. Despite this, the informational evidence shows that the idea of an inevitable “Thucydides Trap” between China and the US has been exacerbated by Russian disinformation and active measures. Now it seems many very fine people on both sides are eating a similar tainted “Chinese meat” of disinformation sourced from Russian intelligence which will lead to Chinese-US hostility if carried to a logical conclusion.
Maciej “Matt” Makowski is a veteran of An Garda Siochana (Ireland’s National Police and Security Service), where he specialized in intelligence and cyber-crime. He was the first foreign national to be admitted to the highly selective police service and worked there over a decade. After retiring early in 2019, he currently is employed in the private sector in the information security industry. Matt operates the very interesting OSINT ME (osintme.com) blog which has a focus on open source intelligence methods (I’ve even found the site useful for my day job).
Recently I reached out to Matt noting that he had written in February about the utilization of the novel coronavirus in the context of nation state (dis)information warfare . Of specific interest to me, he traced using open source web data how a false Nostradamus prophecy was utilized by the misleadingly-named pro-Kremlin website Ukrainia.ru, which is actually based in Russia. This kind of insight on Nostradamus in disinformation lines up very closely with my observations from prior research.
In order to promote continued awareness about Nostradamus’ use in Russian information warfare, I reached out to Matt to share some of my papers. A question and answer session over email ensued about my perspectives on the subject. I found this an enjoyable experience and hope you will visit Matt’s blog to check it out. You may also learn a lot about open source intelligence in the process.
As parcel to my 30 day trial of Netflix (to watch ‘Tiger King’ of course, so I could compare it with ‘Cat Dancers’), I also thought to catch up on Surrealist director David Lynch’s seminal series from April 1990-June 1991: ‘Twin Peaks’. I also watched his 2020 short film ‘What Did Jack Do?’ which seems to be a Netflix exclusive.
A common theme at this blog has been studying the cultural movements of Communism, Theosophy, and Surrealism as they may relate to the currents of Russian information operations. I am not sure you could find many television shows which embodied all these concepts if you looked – but Twin Peaks would absolutely be one of them. (It also has a memorably eerie and yet hopeful soundtrack. To paraphrase the series’ dialogue, I am not sure if it represents a nightmare or a beautiful dream.)
I had noted that there is a database of debunked claims about COVID-19 at Carnegie Mellon University, which includes reference to the idea of the virus as some kind of Russian bioweapon. As I was unaware of any example of disinformation on this matter (with the exception of hoping the reference didn’t somehow come from this site), I did find a reference to such a claim at a site generally associated with Russian disinformation targeted at the US Military: Veteran’s Today.
The story is posed in a geopolitical and Christian-apocalyptic context. It closes with a comment on the supposed relation of Jesus Christ to the Merovingian dynasty of France. The idea of a Merovingian dynasty is primarily associated with ideas of Pierre Plantard, and the so-called Priory of Sion, which influenced author Dan Brown’s novels most notably, ‘The Da Vinci Code’.
Most charitably, the matter of the Priory of Sion has the appearance of being a French attempt at creating a Holy Grail mythology for France similar to that for example of King Arthur in Britain; on the other hand, this hoax also seems to have many hallmarks of fascistic propaganda linked to historical Russian influence.
The interesting thing about the cultural background of the milieu of prophecy related to COVID-19 in the Veteran’s Today article is not only its ‘Duginesque’ apocalypticism, but the idea that Plantard’s purposeful efforts to create the Priory of Sion hoax were largely based on his work with espionage-linked occultists and Surrealists. His efforts seem intended to prove that he himself was heir to the Merovingian bloodline – predicted by none other than Nostradamus – and therefore himself a descendant of Jesus by the logic of the false prophecy.
Not to praise myself, but there are many examples of Nostradamus conspiracy now being discussed in the context of disinformation and information warfare around COVID-19 (1, 2, 3). I see this as a replication of my prior efforts to some extent. (Once again, the Nostradamus piece of this conspiracy is only a facet of the total disinformation.)
I’ve been sitting on most of the below analysis for a while, but I think it is complete enough to post in light of the use of such ideas in COVID-19 disinformation.
Many American wars come to be associated with symbolic patriotic names for food. Of course – we have “Liberty Cabbage” and “Freedom Fries”, which during various eras of American wartime history have been nominal placeholders for the foods normally called sauerkraut and French fries. Should we also consider “Prosperity Noodles“?
Over the past few days, a strange coincidence seemed to emerge in my social media feeds. It was the kind of thing I’ve usually come to associate with influence campaigns. (Think for example of the toilet paper shortage hysteria around COVID-19.)
On Tuesday, I saw the question posed: “Help me settle a debate. Do noodles go in chili or not?” (which was a 2018, non-COVID-19-related post originally, asked by a person from Ohio).
Given the unprecedented nature of both the true public health risk and accompanying informational hysteria associated with ‘coronavirus’ (a.k.a. COVID-19 / nCoV2019), I have some hesitancy to blog this because I think it is potentially irresponsible given the current public anxieties. In the worst case, it could be wrong and amplify conspiracy thinking about the crisis, which is certainly not my intent. That said, based on my research, this crisis reminds me of Russian information warfare associated with the AIDS epidemic as well as 9/11 conspiracism; and the informational profiles of modern warfare campaigns in Syria and Ukraine as well. Despite the potential for contributing to conspiracy thinking with this analysis, I think talking about things like this openly is important to improve our informational (and apparently public health) security posture.
It is inarguable that Russia is spreading disinformation about the coronavirus in multiple sources, accusing both China and the United States of releasing it as a bioweapon. Resultingly, there seems to be evidence that public officials in China and the US have accused the other respective nation of strategically orchestrating this crisis for warfare purposes. Allegorically, conspiracy theories about the virus as a bioweapon seem popular online, and I’ve heard them in personal conversations as well.
To give this unprecedented crisis the unique definition it deserves, I think it is clear that the Russian activity around coronavirus may classify the outbreak as a ‘hybrid biothreat’ – a mashup of the terms ‘hybrid threat’ and ‘biothreat’.
A hybrid threat has been described by NATO as: “Hybrid threats combine military and non-military as well as covert and overt means, including disinformation, cyber attacks, economic pressure, deployment of irregular armed groups and use of regular forces. Hybrid methods are used to blur the lines between war and peace, and attempt to sow doubt in the minds of target populations.”
A biothreat has been described in military academia as: “Biological threat agents or, more colloquially, biothreats or bioagents are pathogens and/or their toxic products that pose a substantial threat to human health. They are a diverse group that includes viruses, bacteria, and toxins from biological sources, and indeed that diversity is reflected in the extraordinary range of transmissibility, infectivity, and lethality that they exhibit. Bioagents encompass both naturally occurring and engineered pathogens and the threat they pose originates from natural outbreaks as well as from their intentional release.”
Thus, a ‘hybrid biothreat’ could be seen as such a biothreat which supports a hybrid threat kind of warfare campaign, but which does not rise to the level of perceived threat which is likely to result in a direct military confrontation.
The question is whether Russia is simply exploiting an impromptu opportunity to sow international discord – or whether the disinformation is supporting actual biowarfare as a component of a higher-order hybrid warfare campaign. There’s no hard evidence that the novel coronavirus is a Russian bioweapon, but perhaps I can persuade you circumstantially that the Russians have masterfully exploited the crisis to the benefit of their broader ‘portfolio’ of operations. Maybe it is common sense.
The first piece of evidence I would highlight is the legacy of the ‘Operation Infektion’ active measure from the 1980’s, where Communist Russian and East German disinformation agents claimed the HIV virus which causes AIDS was a bioengineered weapon of the United States military. It was a successful operation which seems to have fundamentally undermined faith and confidence in the US government.
So just to note, there is a clear precedence in this idea of blending disinformation with a public concern about a viral biothreat as an ‘active measure’ – accusing the U.S. military of criminally bioengineering the disease as a weapon – and it is a tactic historically attributable to Russian influence.
The next piece of evidence I’d reference is that the well-acknowledged Russian proxy disinformation outlet ZeroHedge was banned from Twitter over spreading allegations that coronavirus was a Chinese-engineered bioweapon, and for ‘doxxing’ a Chinese doctor associated with the crisis in late January 2020.
The offending ZeroHedge article claimed that the novel coronavirus contained inserted HIV genes. Although the scholarly paper they cited in the article was withdrawn because the same gene segments could be found in a variety of organisms, ZeroHedge seems to have continued to amplify this debunked theme over time. (This is a site I’ve been watching a while for its far-right ideology, financial apocalypticism, and bitcoin promotion. It’s the kind of Russian disinformation site which apparently “promotes Trump” (like Infowars) in order to achieve Russian objectives.)
According to ZeroHedge [highlighted as disinformation]: “The theory is that the virus, which was developed by infectious disease experts may have originated in the Wuhan-based lab of Dr. Peng Zhou, China’s preeminent researcher of bat immune systems, specifically in how their immune systems adapt to the presence of viruses like coronavirus and other destructive viruses. Somehow, the virus escaped from the lab, and the Hunan fish market where the virus supposedly originated is merely a ruse.
Now, a respected epidemiologist who recently caught flack for claiming in a twitter threat that the virus appeared to be much more contagious than initially believed is pointing out irregularities in the virus’s genome that suggests it might have been genetically engineered for the purposes of a weapon, and not just any weapon but the deadliest one of all.
In “Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag”, Indian researchers are baffled by segments of the virus’s RNA that have no relation to other coronaviruses like SARS, and instead appear to be closer to HIV. The virus even responds to treatment by HIV medications.”
Next, in more transparent alignment with Russian disinformation such as the prior case of Operation Infektion, it has been widely reported that Russian state media have outright blamed the virus as emerging from an American bioweapons program and being intended to target the Chinese economy. George Soros – a frequent concept in Russian conspiracism is also included in the milieu (perhaps giving the conspiracism an anti-Semitic dimension).
The idea of putting a wedge between East and West (to wit China and America) is an idea I’ve discussed previously here in association with Russian disinformation, and may potentially serve Russian interests. (Specifically in the case of China, one might also look historically to the case of the Boxer Rebellion, where diplomats saw Russia playing both sides of the crisis.)
It is well acknowledged that as in the case of the 2016 election that Russia played both sides in an information war – and continues to sow such divides in American society in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. (See how I tried to define ‘schizowarfare’ politically.)
However, it is also clear that Russia played both sides of the informational coin in the lead-up to the hot war of WW2 as well, as evidenced by both anti-fascist propaganda, Russian ‘theosophical’ influence on Nazi ideology, and the very substance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
On matters of human migration, in line with the current crisis, Russia’s prescient border closures with China could be seen as suspect. But in addition broadly elsewhere, the coronavirus hysteria has created problems for Europe in line with ‘weaponized migration’ that is historically associated with aggressive Russian action in Syria. This can be related to the case of Turkish interactions with Russia in Syria leading to new waves of destabilizing migrants into Greece, as Turkey also defends against a high infection rate emanating from Iranians.
Italy, home of Roman Catholicism – a faith which Russian Orthodoxy is historically adversarial to – is one of the hardest hit areas by both the migration crisis and the epidemic.
Indeed in Europe, Far-Right parties often associated with Russian influence are using the coronavirus and migration problem to argue against open societies and borders.
Next, we could turn our attention to not only the harsh impact of the coronavirus on the US economy, but of the subsequent shock which was sent through global financial markets as Russia ignited an oil price war with Saudi Arabia. (Looking back at the 2008 financial crisis, it was noted that Russia had attempted to crater the US market recovery by dumping mortgage bonds (which China apparently refused to do and notified US regulators).)
So certainly, from the standpoint of information warfare, synergy with existing campaigns in Ukraine and Syria, and potentially economic warfare as well, there may be a lot of good evidence to tie Russia to aspects of the coronavirus hysteria. It certainly seems to fit the definition of a hybrid threat.
Biothreat seems self evident in the case of coronavirus. But what about a bioweapon? Russia has accused both the US and China of having created coronavirus as a bioweapon, but has anyone asked if Russia may have? Russia is historically known not just to have an outstanding disinformation capability, but to have one of the most clandestine and advanced bioweapons programs in the world as well.
And for the record, it is actually not crazy to ask if the coronavirus had emerged from a lab.
As Scientific American reported on March 11, the Chinese bat coronavirus expert expert Dr. Shi Zhegli – who had discovered the origins of many former coronaviruses (including the previous Chinese SARS outbreak of 2002-2003) “had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China”, and remembered thinking “could [the coronavirus] have come from our lab?”. ‘Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical areas of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir for many viruses.’
It seems conceivable to me that a large-scale hybrid warfare campaign most likely linked to Russia (but possibly including some collusive involvement from China, North Korea, and/or Iran) is being waged around coronavirus.
It is interesting to wonder if the virus was actually engineered and released by Russia’s allegedly mature bioweapons program in order to achieve some kind of advanced synergistic hybrid warfare agenda. Russia’s accusations of both Chinese and American bioweapons activity are interesting in light of Russia’s purportedly more mature capabilities in biowarfare; not to mention past notoriety for its AIDS disinformation campaign.
I’d assume the very idea of discussing coronavirus as a bioweapon has become a taboo subject for most intellectuals because of the sheer face value stupidity of the Russian disinformation and its consumers. Followingly, I assume the ‘fog of falsehood‘ around the virus has made the idea of discussing it being a Russian bioweapon forbidden too.
However, maybe the idea of rejecting it as a bioweapon at the academic level is just what Russia wants, because then nobody who cares about how they look in the scholarly community asks if Russia is responsible. If nobody asks the question, then it is possible we could never be prepared for the scenario. So I think it is important to ask, especially of the ‘guy’ with a behavioral pattern of being guilty of the crime before – but who is currently pointing the finger at everyone else.
Certainly it is more parsimonious that the virus came from the outdoor market, or was a curated sample leaked from the Chinese lab, than it came from a Russian source. But based on Russia’s lies about the United States in the past on similar matters, and Russia’s strategic capitalization of the current matter to augment its warfare campaigns in Ukraine and Syria – or to ignite an oil price war simultaneous to the stock market drop on coronavirus – and I would say it is much more likely that Russia is responsible than America is, if it is a bioweapon afterall. Who benefits?
Neither China nor America clearly benefits, but I think Russia seems to be attempting to. It seems a masterful move to divide China and the U.S., along the contours of previously observed patterns associated with Russian strategy. Perhaps the location of the initial outbreak was perfect for both finger pointing and plausible deniability by Russia.
By these measures, I think even if the novel coronavirus is not bioengineered or a bioweapon, the simple fact of Russia’s weaponization of information, migration, and economics around the epidemic highlights the similar weaponization of the virus itself – placing it in the category of what I’d call a ‘hybrid biothreat’.
UPDATE 3/18/2020: Given genomic evidence suggesting the novel coronavirus evolved normally and is not genetically modifed, it strongly debunks Russia’s bioengineered weapon assertions. But it does not prove that the virus was not intentionally leaked. I believe that the raft of press reports of Russian disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak over the past few days supports most of the ideas in this blog. I think it is only a matter of time before the clear connection is made to Russian hybrid activities.
Attached is my most recent peer reviewed paper which was accepted for publication in the proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (ICCWS) to be held on 12-13 March 2020 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The paper is based on an analysis of the online conspiracy theories which surrounded the 15 April 2019 fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. (While the paper was published I am not attending the conference for personal reasons.)
Included in the milieu of conspiracy theories circulated online were fake Nostradamus prophecies evoking a kind of conspiracism known as ‘popular eschatology’. The sharing of such conspiracies drove a large global increase in Nostradamus interest, as revealed by Google Trends.
The overall mix of the Notre Dame fire conspiracy theories – to include notions of false flags, Islamophobic sentiments, and Nostradamus prophecies – seem to be similar to 9/11 conspiracies, and may share commonality in their links to Russian influence.
In a related sense, conspiratorial Nostradamus prophecies attributable to Russian proxies are associated with the visit of Pope Francis to North Macedonia in early May 2019, causing a massive spike in Nostradamus interest there (leading it to be the second highest region in the world for Nostradamus interest, and having no apparent relation to the Notre Dame fire except in terms of influence on Catholic and Western Christian culture). Such conspiracies about Popes involving Nostradamus as reflected in Google Trends have been similarly observed during times of Papal transitions such as in 2005 and 2013, and seem similar to other instances where Nostradamus interest spiked in association with probable Russian ‘active measures’.
The new paper argues that Nostradamus prophecies can be seen as similar in how they promote Islamophobia and anti-Catholicism as to how the Russian secret police concoction ‘The Protocols of Zion’ may have been useful in promoting anti-Semitism in furtherance of fin de siè·cle Russian influence campaigns. It dives deep into a cultural examination of Russia’s apparent sense of hostility to Catholicism based on its historical legacy as a Russian Orthodox country, and it attempts to frame the described 2019 ‘anti-Catholic conspiracies’ within a framework of Russian disinformation sympathetic to such nationalistic ideas.
Since the time I wrote this paper, the most notable development in Nostradamus propaganda is the broader acceptance that Russia uses figures like Nostradamus or Baba Vanga in spreading coronavirus conspiracies. I’m very happy to see that disinformation researchers are beginning to accept the idea of Nostradamus (and similar ‘prophets’) as a kind of information warfare and are educating the public about it.
If you are interested in my prior peer reviewed works on Nostradamus, please see:
- Russian Active Measures and September 11, 2001: Nostradamus Themed Disinformation (2017) – International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism (IJCWT)
- Nostradamus Prophecy as a Russian Information Warfare Concept (2017) – Proceedings of the European Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (ECCWS)
- Nostradamus Ratios: Why is Russia an Outlier? (2018) – Proceedings of the International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (ICCWS)
- Russian Information Warfare and 9/11 Conspiracism: When Fake News Meets False Prophecy? (2019) – Developments in Information Security and Cybernetic Wars (chapter in edited book)
In working to build a case that Roman Polanski was involved in an anti-American influence scheme involving communism, surrealism/satanism, and murder – evoking Orson Welles’ potential involvement in the murder of Elizabeth Short (a.k.a. ‘The Black Dahlia’); I purchased my first VHS tape in maybe 20 years: ‘Confession[s] of a Blue Movie Star‘ (also known as ‘The Evolution of Snuff‘ (1978)).
Given prior statements of Roman Polanski on the Dick Cavett show that he was a suspect of a criminal profiler in the murder of his wife – and good evidence he was a cruel husband – some of the quotes I’d seen referenced to Confessions of a Blue Movie Star seemed compelling and concerning in the potential context of both ‘murder as a fine art’ as well as information warfare. Having watched the film, it makes me think that snuff itself is likely a propaganda scheme designed to create a mass hysteria, yet around the usual kernel of truth (in these cases, murders or deaths linked to potential communists). In this sense, snuff as a genre and meme seems quite similar to – and derivative of – the satanism hysteria which followed the murder of Polanski’s wife and friends by the Charles Manson group.
“Yeah I do think a camera can be as dangerous in the hands of a ‘filmmaker’, in quotes, as a bazooka.” – Roman Polanski
Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Anglemyer in 1927) seems to be a central figure in a network which connects Surrealist directors to the Black Dahlia and Tate-LaBianca murder cases. Active as a Hollywood artist since 1947 (the same year as Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia was murdered) he was later instrumental in building public interest in the case by posting graphic crime scene photos in his ‘Hollywood Babylon II’ book. Anger is very close in network to John Gilmore who was well-known for his writing on the case as well.
It is interesting that Anger too was close to the Surrealist school of art which is considered as a possible factor in the psychological profile of the Black Dahlia murderer. Anger’s film making was inspired by the Surrealist artist Maya Deren, and his 1947 film ‘Fireworks’ led to his romantic involvement with older French artist Jean Cocteau, whom he lived with in France . (Much of the Surrealist school – including Deren – can be placed close to Communism, and Anger also seems to have boycotted Hollywood in the HUAC era, despite Anger’s precedence of using Nazi images in his films.)
This technically places Anger in a contemporary network close to the Surrealist figures whom have been associated with the network of George Hodel — and the supposed influence of Man Ray’s ‘Minotaur’ on the secondary staging of Elizabeth Short’s body. Interestingly. the aesthetics of Short’s murder have also been compared in at least one essay to the opening scenes from Maya Deren’s ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ (1943).
Anger was also a lifelong friend of John Gilmore’s lifelong friend Curtis Harrington – a famous filmmaker associated with the occult scene in Hollywood. In addition he was connected to at least 3 of the Manson Family murderers. In this sense, Anger straddles both the Surrealist network hypothetically associated with the Black Dahlia case and the ‘satanist-cultist’ network which might be associated with the Tate-LaBianca murders.
A first at n01r today is a guest blog from Dr. Richard Spence, Professor in the History Department at the University of Idaho. Dr. Spence has one of the coolest sets of courses I’ve seen which complements a lot of the things I investigate at the site; such as the intersection of the occult, strategic disinformation, and espionage (like Theosophy).
Dr. Spence has done some great work linking Aleister Crowley to espionage networks, and was kind enough to offer a draft article of a circumstantial connection linking Jack Parsons to Soviet intelligence as well. He makes a great argument for how Parsons might have been manipulated by a skilled handler based on his (apparently narcissistic) psychology.
Such a background seems highly pertinent to my investigation linking the Black Dahlia and Tate-LaBianca murders to a communist plot via the art movement Surrealism and/or the occultist movement of Crowleyan ‘Satanism’. (Suffice to say, I am confident that the good doctor has not read my entire site and you should not construe that his views represent my views or vice versa.)