Active Measures

Активные Мероприятия | Aktivnyye Meropriyatiya: Agent-operational measures aimed at exerting useful influence on aspects of the political life of a target country which are of interest, its foreign policy, the solution of international problems, misleading the adversary, undermining and weakening his positions, the disruption of his hostile plans, and the achievement of other aims. (Mitrokhin, Vasili (2013-01-11). KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officers Handbook (p. 13). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Messing With The Enemy - It's an Iterative Process

Published: 2018 May 15

It's always interesting to see who takes a shot at Clint Watts. His ability to draw fire from assholes is remarkable. In this case, on May 4th, he tweeted about his soon to be available book Messing with the Enemy. At which point @___jaca___ in Serbia pops up with this attempt at visual sarcasm and only slightly creepy remark about Watts' shirt.

If the first step in counter-trolling is to elicit a response, what we have here is one small mission accomplished. Brava, Ms. Jasmina. Brava.

What can we learn from this? All sorts of things, actually. What matters and/or what is important depends largely on one's own perspective, but what people say and do is a reflection of who they are, where they are, who they know. That I'm bothering to write this up is a reflection of the fact that I've known and worked with Watts for 12 years. The tweet by @___jaca___ doesn't come out of nowhere. She took the time to creatively edit his book cover and tweet it at him. Clearly it meant something to her, and goodness knows she's as entitled to express herself as Watts or I am.

For starters, who applauded the snark from @___jaca___? Well, there's the Italian tech bro, a guy who claims bylines at @RFERL @Guardian @MoscowTimes and @Eurasianet, a nice lady in Miami, a member in good standing of the liberal Russian commentariat, and a Serbian fellow.

Taking a look at social relationships, defined here as reciprocal follower/following relationships on Twitter, I note a couple of things: @___jaca___ has a mostly Serbian network, and shares quite a few ties with @miloslazanbg22, a more traditional pro-Kremlin activist (cluster of accounts in the center of the chart). Those common ties are mostly - though not entirely - Serbian as well, and they serve as a sort of informational bridge between @___jaca___ and @miloslazanbg22 on the one hand, and a cluster of very active pro-Kremlin accounts on the other (accounts to the left and bottom of the chart).

Click here for a full size PDF of the network chart

Among the latter group I note that @andreypanevin has zeroed out their account. It now has no tweets, no followers, no following, and best of all, Andrey, while keeping his old Twitter handle, now claims to be a woman in California.

This is what my academic colleagues call "Totally Legit"

As for what these relationships mean, or if any of them are important, one thing that can be said with a degree of confidence is that each linked pair is to some extent exposed to the content the other is sharing. They may agree with each other on many issues, or not so much. But information is moving between them regardless. We can also be confident that influence of any member of this network extends out two degrees (but not likely farther than that). To say more would require a detailed examination of the kind and quality of interactions that can be observed between each side of any given pairing.

Speaking of interactions, the following data comes via Twitter's API. As with relationships, you would want to see examples of the interactions to assess whether they are positive or negative, and if they have much if any significance. Presented here are the top accounts retweeted by four of the accounts in the network above. People can say "retweets are not endorsements" and they might be telling the truth, but no one can say "retweets mean nothing". The latter statement is bullshit. A retweet moves information, it does something. The effect of that information may be positive or negative, but something happened.

You can click the table to view it as a PDF, larger, and in a new window.

Your milage may vary, but what I note in the table of top retweeted accounts is that both the tankie left and Trumpnik right are represented, along with both Russian embassies and Kremlin media outlets.

All of the information presented here is by way of demonstrating how much is available, and how many different areas one can research, based on a single negative interaction with someone like Watts. He's good bait. Finally, none of the data presented here is meant to suggest than the accounts discussed should somehow not exist, or that the people behind them should not do what they do, associate with whomever they associate, or think or say whatever they want.