20 August 2014
Even a cursory analysis of the events and timeline described in Nicky Hager’s book “Dirty Politics” indicates that the cyber-attack on Cameron Slater was most likely part of a carefully planned and executed campaign rather than an opportunist assault. For the purpose of brevity, I’ll refer to this campaign as Operation Whaledump (taken from the self-identified hacker’s Twitter feed).
In terms of how this is playing out right now, it is obvious that Whaledump is ‘inside the OODA loop’ (see my earlier post about OODA loops) of his or her targets and retains the initiative through daily releases of fresh information. The target elements are forced to respond to events and somewhat passively maintain the mantra of illegality and ‘left wing smear campaign’.
The interesting question about Operation Whaledump is – what is its purpose? Let’s consider a known hierarchy of considerations: strategy, operations, tactics, risk (see picture insert).The strategic objectives may include the purely altruistic goal of a fairer democratic system however, if that is the case, what we are seeing through Hager’s book is simply one part of a bigger plan. We may have to revisit that in time but, for now, let’s consider Op Whaledump as the visible effects of the strategic sum. What are the likely results of this expose? Slater and Farrar are not likely to simply pack up their blogs, even if they do hunker down for a while. The National Party will regroup and move on regardless of the outcome of the election. There will always be a market for spin doctors so Ede, Lusk, Williams et al will probably still have work, perhaps not with the National Party. Odgers, Bhatnagar and the myriad of others identified in the emails will return, albeit somewhat chastened, to their day jobs.
Op Whaledump has been going for about a year if you allow for planning time and the hack of Slater’s servers, under cover of a denial of service attack, which occurred in January this year. So, given the sophistication, (including excellent internal security right up to the release of the book) of the operation so far, it is unlikely that the people behind it are naïve enough to think those endstates were achievable or that it would be a king hit that would change the outcome of the election. The most likely result regarding the latter is to lower voter turnout and that usually favours the parties on the right.
It is more likely that the strategic objectives relate to the dynamic of how politicians, their parties and staff, mainstream and social media all interact. For instance, this operation will have the effect of making mainstream media (MSM) journalists very shy of quoting social media sources without checking and verifying facts. This is a good thing given we’ve known prior to this that political and lobbyist messages can be planted on a blog, then quoted under parliamentary privilege by the same person who arranged for it to be blogged about and the speech subsequently reported by MSM.
Second, it will be a foolish MP, party member or staffer that knowingly supplies information to bloggers or anyone else in the manner revealed in this operation. However, memories fade over time and these behaviours will reappear. Therefore, it is likely that there will have to be legislation passed to better clarify what is journalism, what is social media and what is ‘promoting’ under the Electoral Act. This is likely to favour MSM in my opinion. How will defamation, libel and source protection laws change out of this? Who then, has the motive and opportunity to focus on such a goal?
In part 2 of this article, I’m going to address the next layer – operational planning. This introduces the concept of centre of gravity – first mooted by Von Clausewitz in his 1832 posthumous work “On War”. There are a few different definitions but they are all enshrined in these quotes from the ADF publication series:
“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.”
More to follow…