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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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
The Argentine submarine, ARA San Juan, which disappeared on November 15, 2017 was announced found on November 18, 2018 by the US oceanic survey company Ocean Infinity. It was located several hundred miles from its last expected position, scattered in pieces and with a partially imploded tail, half a mile deep. The last official communications with the vessel indicated that the Captain reported a malfunction with its snorkel which caused the boat to take on water and may have resulted in an onboard fire in the battery compartment. Currently, Argentina is unsure if they will be able to recover the vessel as their navy does not possess the technological capability. Until the submarine is recovered it will probably be hard to determine what happened to it.
One of the 1990s conspiracy theories which I recall hearing about in popular media and internet lore is that of the ‘Beast Computer’. The 1998 track ‘Information‘ off the (Wu-Tang-Clan affiliate) Killah Priest album ‘Heavy Mental‘ might be the best popular cultural example which I can to point to that may reflect this kind of thinking. (Much like the RATM canon artistically it’s not a bad album IMHO and I like the sound, although it is chock full of anti-Americanism. Just be sure to enjoy the lyrics critically from a strategic perspective as they probably relate to a legacy of disinformation.)
Much like the fabricated Nostradamus emails, usegroup posts, and text messages which flooded the internet following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and are seemingly attributable to Russia, I recalled a similarly viral chain of disinformation from earlier in the 1990s. Lets call these fairly transparent conspiracies: ‘Bill Gates 666 disinformation’ (a good debunking can be found here).
With Labor Day on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the ‘urban legends’ which surround the July 30, 1975 disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa as the byproduct of possible influence operations. While there is generally strong agreement that the mob was responsible for Hoffa’s vanishing, there are also many conspiracy theories which have linked Hoffa posthumously to both the John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) assassinations.
Taking the knowledge that certain aspects of conspiracy which surround the JFK assassination narrative as presented in films like Oliver Stone’s JFK are the result of Soviet disinformation operations, here we will look at the apparent origins of the Hoffa narratives and how they might follow similar contours. In the end, the most popular conceptions of Hoffa as we know him today seem linked to Trotskyites and other radical writers. Notably, the narratives have most strongly emerged from a network of writers who are very close to Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.
Today, I’m continuing my ‘fact shaming‘ series (see part 1here), and I’m going to talk about Michael Moore. Moore’s newest documentary: Fahrenheit 11/9 is coming out on September 21 and I think this is a great time to point out why Moore’s prior films (especially Fahrenheit 9/11) serve ‘communistic’ and/or Russian propaganda interests. One can expect this latest entry from the Russian propaganda ‘fat boy’ will be no different.