I pen this on 24 May 2022, not as a form of “I told you so” and perhaps not even as a ‘scolding’ but rather as a cautionary tale. A lesson to be learned perhaps by those that will. I will share it about when the time comes when what was obvious last January to some is a fact to all.
But then again, perhaps it is an “I told you so” story, that is perhaps part of the lesson. I am just a regular guy that spent 32 years in a military uniform, a guy that was a constant contrarian, angering 90% of the cookie-cutter careerist I ever worked for. There is absolutely nothing special about me, beyond one thing. I endeavor to operate via principles based upon something bigger than me. One of those principles relates to truth. I and others like me saw this because we do not tolerate lies, we do not believe liars, and we seek to understand things as they really are.
In the last two days, the world has received three hints at things to come. First Zelensky reversed his previous statements and proclaimed that the conflict with Russia can only be resolved through negotiation. Then Henry Kissinger made a speech proclaiming that negotiations must soon occur and that Ukraine will probably have to surrender some territory. Kissinger’s speech was followed by George Soros proclaiming that Russia and China must be defeated for the West to survive. I suggest all three of these will soon reflect official policy, all three can be true – all three are exactly what I and others that evaluated the event based upon realist geopolitical analysts said would happen.
Ukraine and Russia will negotiate a solution, Russia will either outright retain or retain control of areas in the east with significant Russian populations, Russia will gain a land bridge to Crimea and there will be some sort of guarantees given to Russia that Ukraine will not have a government aligned with the West and opposed to Russia. The West will agree and then follow the words of Soros above and continue the decades-long policy of encirclement, containment, and isolation of Russia. Cold War 2.0, with all the incumbent spending, will proceed apace. Russia will continue to play a role for use in domestic politics in some countries in the West as a perpetual boogeyman. Everybody wins, except the Ukrainians who were stupid enough to believe western half-spoken assurances in the proceeding years.
I watched with a sense of shock and awe when Russia’s operation in Ukraine begin. If it pleases you we can call it an invasion, quibbling over words is pointless. I was shocked at how quickly all of the OSINT world on social media settled on one narrative, that being that Russia was an 'unprovoked aggressor', nothing else that has ever occurred in Ukraine or the Ukraine region matters – “Russia bad, Ukraine good”. You all picked a side, most refusing to report on Ukrainian troop movements as if Russia is a small police department that needed you all to help identify rioters. You cheered and laughed at every datapoint you could scrounge up that pointed to Russian losses, losses mean death and the death of people of the ‘bad guy team’ is fine, a celebratory event divorced from any principles related to reason and right and wrong. Watching you all prostitute yourselves to a narrative and an agenda of one side over the other, ignoring all the facts that led the the circumstances that brought this all about was disappointing.
Few if any of you have done any real open-source intelligence work since this all began. I suspect that not a small number of you were unpaid shills for a side long before this, but I digress. You were all very correct about one part of the war that Russia was losing from day one, the information war. I have to assume that most that claim they do OSINT work have a passing familiarization with information operations. It is not a gold star in your resume that you so willingly and fully succumbed to an operation being run on you.
The OSINT community is like every other ‘community’ on any social media platform. There are influencers, some voices that are bigger than others, folks that seem to get more ‘scoops”, have some level of access, ‘know people’. If you know anything at all about information operations you know the real nature of ‘influencers’. Some are paid, a few, many do have ‘connections’ and sometimes those connections are not just friends, they are ‘handlers’ and disseminators of key narratives in the IO campaign. Of all the groups on social media, OSINTers best of all ought to know this. Was it just hubris, stupidity or devotion to an ideological worldview that blinded you? For those in the small minority that have ‘connections’ that sometimes provide you a scoop, do you believe it is solely because you are just that cool and interesting, or might it be because you had an audience? Even if you are not big enough to warrant an official handler, how can you be so certain the tidbits of information you received from your ‘sources’ was not itself just the thing the IO narrative released? Maybe your source is just a dunce that never questions anything.
Geopolitical acumen has been missing in the whole, across the spectrum, during this entire event. I do not fault OSINTers for making the same mistakes that those that are supposed to be experts in the field make. Every single publication has published pieces with geopolitical analysis that were preposterously incompetent. And frankly, nobody in the IC world expects cells gathering data to make major league assessments, that is done at another level. It is not all your fault, but almost all of you were operating way outside your depth. Beginning your fact collection from a presupposition that originated in narratives that were part of an information operation. Through much of this, you collected the facts that supported those presuppositions. Some of you went further, fancying yourselves analysts from a higher echelon, you began adding commentary and analysis to the collective facts you collected.
It had a cost. There were many occasions where journalists referenced your Tweets and your analysis to buttress their articles, articles they themselves were not qualified to write. You became an active and willing participant in the information operation that captured your mind so early. The frenzy of nonreflective thought and emotion-based reaction allowed governments across the world to act in irrational ways, expanding NATO and shipping billions of dollars of weapons to Ukraine. Historically we used to understand in the West that it is immoral to arm people that are destined to lose, it leads to pointless death. It is not an exaggeration to state plainly you played a role in that, blood, senseless unnecessary blood is on your hands.
What was this noble lie, the thing that made the entire information operation possible and with it your willing cooperation? The noble lie was based upon denial. Denial that much of Ukraine has been more Russian than anything else since the Kievan Rus. Denial that Western interference in Ukraine in 2014 set the stage for civil war there. Denying that as in all civil wars, atrocities occur, and many of the atrocities committed in Ukraine were done by the Ukrainian government or militias it enabled. The noble lie depended upon, it began from these denials, for failing to address these facts leaves the West looking guilty and hypocritical. The information operation would demand that those facts be deemed as Pro-Putin propaganda. I know for a fact some of you are too intelligent to believe the world so simplistic, and yet…
Here was the OSINTers role in the noble lie, “Russia is losing”. It was oft-repeated since day one. It appears that each of you expected a shock and awe campaign with massive bombing and not a whits care about collateral damage. Not a single ‘expert’ so carried away by the official narrative ever stopped to consider what shock and awe would have done for the Russian cause. Russia lost the information war on day one, with no outlet to tell its side of the story. Russia is not the US, sitting astride the world stage telling other nations what is good bombing and what is bad. All of you assumed that Putin wanted to invade and occupy the entirety of Ukraine, but why would he want that – considering what the western part of that nation has become. He had limited operational goals and specific territory that he was interested in – east of the Dnieper (and perhaps Odesa). He knew full well what a shock and awe campaign would do to Russia, and what the world would do with that. Putin exercised a degree of strategic patience and dare I say a principled approach that one would have a hard time finding in a Western commander for over a century and a half.
Here is what I have to say to you. Stop talking and go home and reflect upon what you have done, how easily you drank from the firehose of Western propaganda, and how that colored what you thought and what you did. In our modern age, OSINT has great potential as the reasonable, rational honest voice that paints a picture of events in the world as they are. Governments lie, all of them, the West too. Honest information, gathered impartially, painting a picture that slices through the lies of various interested parties could be the most democratic tool available. If people could truly see what their governments want to hide from them then policymakers would have a much harder time doing things the people likely would not want. Most of you all, if you want to be a force for good in the world, have a lot of self-reflection and apologizing to do. The small minority that are in this to pollute the narrative, well you are beyond words about truth and principles.