23 August 2014
The first part of this analysis looked at some possible strategic objectives and noted that the people behind Op Whaledump are definitely (and remain) inside the OODA loop of their targets. As an example, the Prime Minister got no traction over several days with his “left wing smear campaign” mantra and so switched to “an attempt to steal the election away from New Zealanders” (with a similarly poor result).
In order to consider Op Whaledump from an operational level, a notional strategic objective needs to be settled on. You may have other views and they may turn out to be right in which case I’ll enjoy reading your articles too! The strategic objective I have chosen is:
“To restore the primacy of the professional journalist as the fourth estate in the democratic process in New Zealand.”
The reasons and assumptions underpinning this are based on my belief that the major outcome of Op Whaledump will be that whoever is the next Government will have an inquiry and follow up with legislation to clarify the roles, rights, responsibilities, freedoms and constraints of the various actors in the democratic process. This will be coupled with case law which is already underway (I refer in particular to Slater’s pending court hearings regarding source protection, breach of privacy, defamation and breach of suppression orders). The Public Relations Institute of NZ and the Press Council are also talking about reviewing codes of conduct and the like. Farrar has applied to join his blog up to the social media disputes resolution service. Eventually, I predict that anonymous commenting on blogs will be stopped by the operators of those sites. I do not believe that any of these outcomes are trivial nor are they unintended consequences of trying to influence the election or dish out utu.
To take the other tack, why go to so much trouble over such a long period of time simply to give Slater and co their come-uppance or drag Key’s poll results down a few points? If that was the case, anyone who is willing and has the resources to commit the crime of hacking wouldn’t have to stretch their ethics very much further to arrange legal action, property damage or personal violence, as a warning, for some of the individuals concerned. This hasn’t happened, in my opinion, because it’s not the desired endstate. Op Whaledump has chosen Slater because he garners the least public and media sympathy. Beating him up, smashing his computers or burning his office would have the opposite effect. Giving the information to people who would bring legal action would have made the discussion sub judice and therefore beyond media commentary.
The image above (from a US Defence manual online) shows the notional phases of operational planning. Rather than write a book on assigning various events to the phases, I’ll leave the reader to decide what they think have been the shaping, deterring and subsequent activities. One thing I will say, however, is that no planner commits to an operation in the absence of reconnaissance. This is important when one considers the cyber-attack on Slater. Who has 80Gb of email and related info from several years sitting around on a server? I think that the people who imaged that information had already come in to take a look. I don’t doubt that Hager is telling the truth when he said he was given only 8GB’s worth of data. I also don’t doubt that the hacker copied the lot. If it was simply a raid to see what they turned up and to embarrass Slater, why wait 7 months for a book? It could have been posted on WikiLeaks or the like straight away. Timing with the election campaign was undoubtedly a factor but for the reasons I’ve outlined.
So to the operational level of this plan. As I quoted in Part 1:
“the essence of operational art lies in being able to produce the right combination of effects in time and space, and purpose to neutralise, weaken, defeat or destroy an enemy’s centre of gravity.”
“Centre of Gravity – A characteristic, capability or locality from which a military force, nation, alliance or other grouping derives its freedom of action, strength or will to fight.”
In order to achieve the strategic objective, two operational outcomes were necessary. First, to prove that social media, in particular political blogs, were not trustworthy sources of balanced journalism. Second, to prove that the plausible deniability of links with these outlets by Key and other senior politicians was not true.
The centre of gravity was the trust relationship between the public of NZ, politicians and social media operators. While there was no proof that social media was being used by politicians and their staff to manipulate events, the work would carry on. Because many blog stories are written in salacious, tabloid-style, many people and subsequently advertisers were drawn to them.
The extended campaign period of Op Whaledump was the right move for the perpetrators. A book published by an established investigative writer just at the commencement of the election campaign was also the right move. The only defence, had the targets had any notion of what was coming, would have been an injunction. In the end, they were blindsided by brilliant internal operational security by the hackers, author and publishing team who convinced them that a book on the Five Eyes intelligence community was coming out. And then, it was too late as it was out and deemed in the public interest.
You’ll have noticed that strategy, operations and tactics inevitably overlap. The next part of this work will consider in more detail the tactics employed in Op Whaledump. Here’s a wiki definition:
“Military tactics can be described as the science and art of organizing a military force, and the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle”.
More to follow…