Clint Watts (@selectedwisdom) is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Senior Fellow at the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security at The George Washington University, and author of Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News.
What We Discuss with Clint Watts:
- How our own cognitive biases are manipulated in an effort to destabilize trust in each other and our very way of life.
- How hostile entities like ISIS and Al-Qaeda use social media for propaganda and recruitment.
- Why Western governments can’t, even with their relatively infinite wealth of resources, beat ragtag Somali Twitter pirates and ISIS shills.
- How bias creates social media bubbles, what forms they take, and why this is dangerous.
- How we can fix these issues or at least mitigate the effect they have on our lives.
- And much more…
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While the Internet’s been around for a while now, does it seem like it’s just recently become a force powerful enough to sow real-life division among friends and family in a way that beats Thanksgiving dinners, baseball games, and Black Friday sales — combined? It’s not just your imagination, and it’s not an accident — it’s by design.
In this episode, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News author Clint Watts offers a devastating and essential look at the misinformation campaigns, fake news, and electronic espionage operations that have become the cutting edge of modern warfare — and how we can protect ourselves and our country against them. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
The shocking reality of social media, as we learned in our recent conversation with Jaron Lanier, is that it can be used to manipulate human perception and behavior in ways even its creators are only now beginning to understand.
Fake news, for all its coverage by the real news, is spread far and wide by weaponized social media — the guerilla warfare of an outfinanced enemy. It’s not sophisticated, and anybody can wield it to unleash untold damage instantly. Just ask former FBI agent and Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News author Clint Watts.
“The idea of social media — and why it’s such an efficient way for good people or bad people to reach an audience — is it’s designed to give people what they want,” says Clint.
Clint recognizes the work done by Eli Pariser in his book The Filter Bubble, in which the power of algorithms to hide or reveal content based on what we search for is examined. But Clint has expanded this idea into what he calls a preference bubble — controlled in part by these unseen algorithms, but ultimately steered by our own conscious inclinations — which makes interference by outside forces especially potent.
“It’s really about your preference…you are choosing — over and over and over — things that you like. The system is designed to give you more of what you like. And you’re blocking out that which you don’t like, which…puts you in alternative realities. So you have shared perception, but not shared reality.
“Whether you’re a terrorist, or a Russian disinfo [agent], or a mass manipulator like we’ll see going into the 2020 election, you want to inculcate your audience in a world that you control based on what they believe is their own choice.”
In essence, we’re more easily manipulated by these nefariously calculating outside forces through social media and online platforms because they’re infiltrating our isolated bubbles of reinforced personal beliefs and swaying us with ideas we think are our own.
“You…take it on even more because, ‘I’m liberated! I’m choosing all this!’ But you don’t know that behind the scenes, whoever’s paying for the advertising, whoever’s pushing the products, whoever’s changing the words, whoever’s delivering you the video that you need to see — that’s specially edited or deep faked or whatever it might be — is manipulating you in some way.”
Clint points out that the potential for this type of abuse is even greater in highly populous and politically volatile third world countries.
“You’re talking about populations that have gone from no news or very minimal news or friend and family circles to mobile-enabled social media where the source of information is not actually a source, it’s their friend or family and they have trust based on communal relationships.”
In Myanmar, military personnel spread anti-Muslim sentiment through fake Facebook accounts and pages systematically over the course of several years in an effort to facilitate a mission of ethnic cleansing. As a result, more than 700,000 Muslim refugees have fled the country to escape a particularly convincing wave of completely fabricated fearmongering.
According to The New York Times, “One of the most dangerous campaigns came in 2017, when the military’s intelligence arm spread rumors on Facebook to both Muslim and Buddhist groups that an attack from the other side was imminent, said two people. Making use of the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, it spread warnings on Facebook Messenger via widely followed accounts masquerading as news sites and celebrity fan pages that ‘jihad attacks’ would be carried out. To Muslim groups it spread a separate message that nationalist Buddhist monks were organizing anti-Muslim protests.”
Lest we kid ourselves into smugly believing the first world is immune to such large-scale and seemingly transparent manipulations, many people (some occupying top positions of power in the United States) still believe there was widespread celebration in the Middle East when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 — though this “fact” has long since been discredited.
And where does Clint stand on the moral equivalency argument that, even though there’s evidence Russians deliberately interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, Americans are just as guilty of interfering in the elections of other countries?
“I’ve worked in the US government or with them for decades,” says Clint, “and I’ve never seen anything like what the Russians did. I’ve never seen Americans hack thousands of innocent Russians or any country, spill their secrets out timed in order to win the election by advancing it through bogus social media accounts that look like and talk like Russian people for candidates that we have picked along with the propaganda outlet that is pumping information into their population. I’ve not seen that.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how governments and interests hostile to Western interests churn out disinformation campaigns and what they aim to gain in the process, why the United States can’t utilize similar tactics, evidence of online trolling’s real-world effects, how even dating apps can be used for social engineering by nefarious sources, what we can do to defend against such manipulation, and much more.
THANKS, CLINT WATTS!
If you enjoyed this session with Clint Watts, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News by Clint Watts
- Foreign Policy Research Institute
- Clint Watts at Twitter
- Jaron Lanier | Why You Should Unplug from Social Media for Good, The Jordan Harbinger Show 156
- The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think by Eli Pariser
- What Is a Deepfake? Let This Unsettling Video of Jennifer Lawrence with Steve Buscemi’s Face Show You by Kevin Kelleher, Fortune
- Trump Administration Uses Misleading Video to Justify Barring of CNN’s Jim Acosta by Michael M. Grynbaum and Elizabeth Williamson, The New York Times
- A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military by Paul Mozur, The New York Times
- The Video of Celebrations That Was Broadcast on 9/11 by Robert Mackey, The New York Times
- Read the Declassified Report on Russian Interference in the U.S. Election, The Washington Post
- Russian Interference in the 2016 Election: A Cacophony, Not a Conspiracy by Masha Gessen, The New Yorker
- Russian Trolls Organized Both Sides of an Islam Protest in Texas by Alex Zielinski, San Antonio Current
- Local Trump Supporters Shrug off Being Paid and Played by Russians by Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post
- Does the FBI’s Marijuana Policy Breed Dishonest Applicants? by Daniel Roberts, Fortune
- Omar and Me: My Strange, Frustrating Relationship with an American Terrorist by J.M. Berger, Foreign Policy
- Adam Gadahn and Al-Qaeda’s Internet Strategy by George Michael, Middle East Policy Council
- A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy by Garrett M. Graff, Wired
- Russia’s Propaganda Machine Discovers 2020 Democratic Candidate Tulsi Gabbard by Robert Windrem and Ben Popken, NBC News
- The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Thomas M. Nichols
- Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
- The Tactics of a Russian Troll Farm by Dave Lee, BBC News
- John Podesta Is Ready to Talk About Pizzagate by Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone
- Trump Sides with Russia Against FBI at Helsinki Summit, BBC News
- Dating Site’s Founder Warns About Internet Troll Factory Targeting Millions of Americans by Darrin Field, Elena’s Models
Transcript for Clint Watts | Surviving in a World of Fake News (Episode 172)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. Right now more than ever we're hearing about fake news. What we're not necessarily hearing about though is how our own cognitive bias is at work and what causes rifts in the American Western populations. Our guest today, Clint Watts, he chases terrorists online. We'll hear firsthand how the enemies, such as ISIS, use social media for propaganda and recruiting. We'll learn why the government can't even with all its resources, beat ragtag Somali Twitter users, and ISIS shills. Also, Clint will show us how and why bias and what types create social media bubbles, what those bubbles do, and how we can fix this issue or at least try to mitigate it for ourselves. So these rifts in differences in the way we think and feel might not just be the result of using social media, but could indeed be the result of a sustained attack on the way we as Americans and Westerners think. In fact, we are likely to be deliberately targeted by state actors in order to weaken our democracy and adversely affect our way of life.
[00:01:05] If you want to know how we managed to book all these amazing personalities on the show, I've got a network that goes for days. I use systems and tiny habits and I would love to teach you how I do this for free. I've got a course called Six-Minute Networking over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Now enjoy this episode with Clint Watts.
[00:01:24] We were talking pre-show about Jaron Lanier and how essentially social media and online systems are often designed to sort of -- they're optimized for control or almost like insidious persuasion. And I know that layers over what you do, at least to some extent. Can you tell us -- essentially, I would say you chase terrorists online, but there's more to it.
Clint Watts: [00:01:45] Yeah. The idea of social media and why it's such an efficient way for good people or bad people to reach an audience -- it's designed to give people what they want. And so, you know, I hear the discussion around the filter bubble. In social media, I think it's expanded what I call preference bubbles, meaning it's one part of the algorithm which is there. Eli Pariser, he did an excellent job of spotting that way out in terms of search and how that does that. But it's really about your preference as much in social media. You are choosing over and over and over things that you. The system is designed to give you more what you like and you're blocking out that which you don't like, which then puts you in that alternative space, which I really enjoyed, from that podcast was the discussion of how this puts you in alternative realities.
Clint Watts: [00:02:32] So you have shared perception but not shared reality. So that is what, whether you're a terrorist or a Russian descent photo person or a mass manipulator like we'll see going into the 2020 election, you want to inculcate your audience in a world that you control based on what they believe is their own choice. So I had written a fiction conclusion to my book and I made an app in the story called, You Know You, which is you. People believe that they're making their own choices and then they take it on even more because they're like, "Oh, I am liberated. I'm choosing all these." Which you don't know behind the scenes, whoever's paying for the advertising, whoever's pushing the products, who are ever changing the words, who's ever delivering you the video that you need to see, the specially edited or a deep fake, or whatever it might be is manipulating you in some way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:20] Deepfake is when they change the faces or the voices or something?
Clint Watts: [00:03:23] Yeah. Deepfake is falsified audio or video that is indistinguishable from the real-world and so scary. Yeah, you know, we already have versions of it. You've even seen the White House speed up to make, I think it was like Jim Acosta looked like he was pushing the woman back and it was tweeted out of the -- I think the press secretary to counter, whatever. But that's already happening. It's going to be most devastating in the third world, more than like the modern world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:51] Why is that?
Clint Watts: [00:03:51] Because there is no filter. You're talking about populations that have gone from no news or very minimal news or friends and family circles to mobile-enabled social media where the source of information is not actually a source is their friend or family. And they have trust-based on communal relationships. That's why you see Myanmar, Philippines, Cambodia. To those countries, why it spread so quickly is because trust is based on friends and family. And what is social media? It's trust based on your network, which is based on people that look like you and people that talk like you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:26] Right, so that way instead of saying something on the news, and it generates outrage and people talk about it a little bit and they're like, "Oh, you got to watch again tonight." "Oh, I watched a different source. And it was different and there's an update." It's just -- boom -- everyone gets it on their phone and it doesn't matter that it's a fake video from 20 years B-roll of something else. I vaguely remember after September 11th there was something where they show -- there was like, "Look at these, this is people in the West Bank celebrating," and it was like B-roll from a new year or something from like eight years prior to that. It had nothing to do with it, but some intern or someone with malicious intent actually just went and dug up photographs and images of them dancing and celebrating and just went, "Hey, let's just say this is from September 11th. It will be a great story." And then people were like, "Oh, you know what? End aid to them and bomb them next or something." And it was like, what? These are random Palestinians -- this has nothing to do with any. You know, today, somebody even tweeted at me -- going back to the Russia thing -- they said, "Stopped beating this drum. You know you got Jaron Lanier talking about, "Oh the Russians, this Russians that," it doesn't matter. The US does the same thing. Everyone does the same.
Clint Watts: [00:05:37] Yeah, moral equivalency.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:38] Do you agree with that? Because I don't think that that's the case.
Clint Watts: [00:05:42] No, I look, I've worked in the US government or with them for decades and I've never seen anything like what the Russians did. I've never seen Americans hack thousands of innocent Russians or any country, spill their secrets out, timed in to win the election by advancing it through bogus social media. I can't say look like and talk like Russian people for candidates that we have picked along with a propaganda outlet that is pumping information into their population. I'm not seeing that. If there's evidence of it, I would be interested. Usually, that comes from the American left, you'll hear that. Now you hear it from the right a little bit and they'll say, "Well, the CIA in the 1970s," so you know, they throw out some examples. I'm like this is not what Russia on social media and you know the internet has been doing. Or they'll say, "Oh, but you know, surely we have the ability to do it," and anyone actually has the ability to do this if they want to.
[00:06:36] What the Russians did that is different from everybody else is they dedicated an old playbook that they had, which they call active measures from the Soviet era. But that same subversion playbook, which they'd used on their own people first in social media and export it. And they know how to do that very, very well. And going forward, they won't even be the best at it because of their resource constraint and their tech constraint. They don't have a good attack as the rest of the world will have gone forward. It'll be political campaigns. They're already doing this to a degree, but it'll get even worse public relations, oligarchic, celebrities doing reputation laundering. There'll be the worst offenders in this. They just needed someone to break the playbook out in the Russians. No one understands that playbook.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:21] Yeah. Good point. Maybe, in order to get some new listeners, I'll have a Macedonian click farm, you know, build me up a couple, couple million fake accounts.
Clint Watts: [00:07:29] I call it trolling as a service which essentially that there's already a market for someone who can advance your story across all media outlets, who can write stripped out blogs, who can change reality by using computational propaganda and bots, who can put out a troll army on your issue in advance. We've seen lots of countries do that now. Some of them are more manual, so like in Myanmar, the Philippines -- they'll literally just put a hundred people in a room on Facebook to just troll away. If you come to America, you know, or some sort of satellite company, they're going to do it in a much more automated way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:06] So the Myanmar thing was actually, there are people sitting in a room designing this.
Clint Watts: [00:08:11] Yeah. So you know, in the less tech developed parts of the world, they just use manpower. They literally put them on as propagandists like a boiler room and say, "I want you to go after anyone that challenges the regime and I want you to do it on these platforms." Whatever the platform is in that country that has the most traction and there's nothing to stop them because there's no real free press to check them. There's no organic-activist army necessarily that can organize together because in the streets they would be put down by cops or military or some sort of manipulation in physical form.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:46] That's so interesting. And this is actually not even where I had intended to start. It's just that literally today before the show, people were like, "Hey man, stop beating that drum. And so, of course, I guess I just wanted to hit it a few more times. But I wanted to check on that because, of course, when someone says, "Oh, well, the US does all this stuff too." I just was like, "Well, I could fire back. No. Ah." Or I could actually ask somebody that knows what they're talking about.
Clint Watts: [00:09:09] Yeah. I mean, you can pick something out and twist it that way. Us going after terrorists on social media saying, "We're doing counter-propaganda or counter influence." Well, you could say that's the US doing a version, but it's not right because we were trying to advance, "Hey, you should not kill people around the world." That's not propaganda. Like that's really literally what we believe in. Making yourself falsely look like and talk like a foreign audience, stealing the secretary of state, a NATO commander, former secretary of state, chairman of the joint chief's email. I could go on -- that was just hundreds -- dumping it out through a third party and getting, yeah, WikiLeaks or DCLeaks or whatever cutouts you make. Then getting the media to talk about it and, oh, by the way, sending up all sorts of in-person meetings with lots of people to try and nudge them along, like, "Hey, you should go look at this."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:59] Yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:09:59] Not seen that before, and I've never seen the US do that on a scale. And I hope we don't. And at the same point, we can't. You know as a democracy, you can't really do that. It undermines the legitimacy of everything that we do. And so, I hear this a lot on the left. The other argument you always hear out of sort of the left about the Russian story is, "Oh, I've been to Russia and they're broken incompetent and there they drink too much."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:25] I hear this too.
Clint Watts: [00:10:26] I've heard that and I'm like, okay, by that logic, that would be like me saying, "Okay, I went to a supply base in the US military and they were out of shape and they didn't work very hard and none of them seem very smart. And they all wanted to go to monster truck rallies," which could be true. And then saying, "So there's no way we could pull off the bin Laden raid." That's the same argument if I put it in the US context. So you know, Masha Gessen, I think it is New York, she advances this. Oh, there's just no way. It's just not that important. It's not designed to get academic elites in the left of New York City to engage with that content. The tweet is stupid and a million people looked at it by the way, and they believe it and you will see them referred to it in person.
[00:11:11] We had Americans go under the direction of Russian trolls and show up at a protest for and against Islam in Texas. You know, we had two people, one dressed as Hillary Clinton climate, a cage at a cheesecake factory in Florida under the direction of a Russian influence operator. So Tamasha in this sort of argument is like, it doesn't have to be any more sophisticated than whatever it takes to get people to do that. And this is the part with social media misinformation. It's not designed for the highest, most educated people. It's designed for those that don't have a good balance on what is trusted information.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:46] That's interesting as well, because you do see these things and you go, "Who the hell believes this?" But then it's like five seconds later I'll say, "Ugh, Twitter's full of idiots." And then it's like, well wait, I think I just answered my own question.
Clint Watts: [00:11:59] Yeah, right. I can give you a terrorism parallel --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:00] Please do, yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:12:02] -- which is Al-Qaeda versus ISIS.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:04] Sure.
Clint Watts: [00:12:04] I mean, Al-Qaeda, if you look at what they did, they designed this incredible plot to take down the world trade center and they were highly successful. You know, on this one occasion, it terrorized the United States committed to send to wars. Then they set around for a decade trying to pull off an extremely elaborate plot and it's a little bit of Doctor Evil from Austin Powers, right? Where he would be like something super so complex. They'd be like, "Well, why don't you just kill Austin Power?" And he's like, "No, don't you know this?" It's like sarcasm.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:30] Right you got to sharks with lasers on their head.
Clint Watts: [00:12:32] Right, right, right. Look at ISIS though. ISIS stepped in and said, "If we want to kill a hundred people, we don't have to create a hydrogen peroxide bomb and cook it in whatever and do this and that." And so guys who weren't very smart and didn't get too complex to terrorize the entire world in ways Al-Qaeda never did. If you think back, part of the reason we missed Russia in disinformation was in the summer of 2016, they would do eight attacks on eight days around the world using guns and radios and social media coordination. It's not sophisticated at all. So if you had thrown that out to a bunch of military planners, this is the Masha comparison. They would have been like that, "That would never happen. That's just too simple. Why would they do that?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:14] Yeah, drive a van in the pedestrian area and hit as many people as you can before you stab someone and get shot.
Clint Watts: [00:13:18] Same result. No cost, no planning really. You know, you have people doing it remotely and so the very simple, anyone can pull it off if effectively done over an enduring period is far more effective. And I think that's where you see the elite academic audience sort of miss the Russia disinfo stuff.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:36] Right, missed the forest through the trees in a lot of ways. Yeah.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:13:41] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Clint Watts. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:46] This episode is sponsored in part by Calm. I've been using Calm for so long. I didn't even know when I started. Seriously, I've been using this thing for like freaking five years now maybe. It used to be called something else when I started using it. I love calm stress, by the way, a worldwide epidemic. We're working longer hours. We're inundated with the constant news cycle. We're more connected than ever before. Stress is essentially a fact of life now, but the problem is we're not involved for that ish. It can really affect our overall well being and I love Calm for this reason. It is the number one app to help you reduce your anxiety, reduce your stress, help you sleep better. More than 40 million people around the world have downloaded Calm. If you go to calm.com C-A-L-M.com/jordan. You'll get 25% off a Calm Premium subscription, which includes a guided meditation on issues like anxiety, stress, focus. Includes a brand new meditation each day. There are also sleep stories. This is sort of my secret weapon. These are bedtime stories for adults designed to help you relax so you can head to the magical lavender fields of Southern with Stephen Fry if you'd like, and that guy has got a baller voice seriously or explore the moonlit jungles of Africa with Leona Lewis. They've got soothing music in there. It's a really nice app to have in your pocket, literally. So Jason, tell them where they can relax and get a deal on Calm
Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:06] Right now Jordan Harbinger Show listeners can get 25 percent off a calm premium subscription at calm.com/jordan. That's C-A-L-M.com/jordan. Get unlimited access to all of Calm's content today at calm.com/jordan. Get Calm and stop stressing.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:16:52] Don't forget, we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Clint Watts. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Now, back to the show with Clint Watts.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:20] Tell me how you got started with social engineering. It's kind of like it -- it arises like I think most of us do with social engineering, which is out of sheer boredom.
Clint Watts: [00:17:29] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:30] Give us the story here. I know you were kind of terrorizing -- speaking to terrorizing -- you're terrorizing one of the guys at West Point.
Clint Watts: [00:17:36] That's right. So, when I was a cadet at West Point, it was pre-Internet. The internet was literally daunting at that point. And we were some of the first people to have email. And like 1991, we all had an intra-email. We have bulletin boards that were very easy, early, and easy in that phase. But we're also in a prison, we had no phones. We had like one television for every --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:00] You say you're in a prison?
Clint Watts: [00:18:01] Yeah. I mean it looks like a prison. There are no bars but you can't leave and you know, you're sort of locked in there and you just have time to kill.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:09] Yeah, a minimum-security prison.
Clint Watts: [00:18:10] Yeah. And so, you know, it becomes like any student sort of population, how can I rebel against the system, which is trying to control me. And this is natural, I think in a lot of the sort of was like, well, how can I prank, you know, people around the Academy. And so we had lucked out that we had one inner intra-campus phone, and we would come back after lunch and usually we have about 30, 40 minutes in there before, whenever you had to do next. And so we just got to prank calling people around the base because it was something fun to do, but then you start getting bored with that. You know, people just hang up on you. So I was like, "Wow, what can we get people to do?" And that's really the fundamental of social engineering, right? Which is under a false supposition or persona, whatever it might be, set the circumstances to create a behavior change. And that's what influence is really all about. Whether you're ISIS trying to recruit people around the world, the Russians trying to convince people not to vote for Hillary Clinton. So, but ours was, let's just see what kind of reaction provocation we can do.
[00:19:12] And, so yeah, I would just go down the phone book all the way and I would put a little like an earmark, you know, where I was at the day before and we would just try different things. But we have picked up on one individual who was the meat plant operator. And I noticed going up the staircase that he had all of his phone numbers and all of his work shifts laid out by phone number. And so I wrote it down, you know, first shift leader, second shift leader, and then that's reconnaissance, for social engineering. And I'm like, "Okay, now I can impersonate, I know the order of the command, so how can I change that to influence?" And I would impersonate his first shift leader and he fell for that a couple of times. Then we changed the scenario up and we'd just go around. Then he doesn't answer any of his phone calls. So how do we get his attention? Well, we leave voice messages on an answering machine of a third party who then calls him --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:01] Oh, interesting.
Clint Watts: [00:20:02] But that is social media manipulation, every part of it and that's why I liked a couple of your podcasts I've listened to. You can do whatever you want on the platform for controls in terms of service. He was doing the same thing. You know, the meat plant guys, like I'm not going to answer the phone, but then we call his deputy and ask him to answer questions, right? Because we're trying to influence his behavior. He's the target or we go to a third-party, may unwittingly be an agent or what we'd call a useful idiot in the Russian context, you know, perpetuating an act on our behalf. And so it's like how can you get your target and sort of influence them. And that was really the core to it. I was learning at the time about Soviet espionage, US espionage as part of our normal military course of instruction. You know, what's the KGB, what are these agencies, how do different countries do it, and so between that and the FBI, I just naturally fell into this pattern where that became very useful training. I was in an authoritarian system where they're trying to suppress me. I'm the opposition. So you learn a little bit about insurgency just from your daily routine. It's just how social media takes all of that to a new level.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:10] And that didn't get you kicked out of West Point. I mean you must have gotten caught.
Clint Watts: [00:21:13] No, I got trouble. Yeah, I remember I got called once. It was one of the officers who came in and was like, "I heard you make interesting phone calls." And you know, that's the death sentence at West Point. "I hear you're not going to be making any more phone calls." Or something to that effect. I was like, "Yes sir." You know, loud and clear. Like he wanted to punish me, but he's also like, "Okay, these are silly phone calls. I'm not going to --"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:35] Right.
Clint Watts: [00:21:35] In this guy's career over, you know?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:38] Yeah. Well that's fortunate, right?
Clint Watts: [00:21:40] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:40] Because it's, it reminds me of a lot of the problem I think that we're having with -- I don't want to pontificate too much on this, but I've got a buddy who is like the most upstanding smart dude, honest, has a great family, is sort of this blue-blood American. He's related to freaking Paul Revere by, you know, six uncles removed or something like that. I mean, literally, like a house in Georgetown and he works at Google and he's like, "You know, I think I'm going to work for the FBI." And I said, "That's great. Good. I'm sure they would love to have you." He applies and they're like, "Have you ever smoked marijuana?" And he's like, "Oh, of course." And then we're like, "See you later." And he goes, "Oh really?" And they're like, "Yeah." I'm just imagining the guy sitting there going, "Go back to Google buddy." And it's like, "Okay, guess I'll go back to making five times what I would've made here serving the country because I smoked pot in college 11 years ago or 15 years ago." And it's like, "You want people to chase criminals. But you want them to be altar boys that have never once thought about anything criminal-related."
Clint Watts: [00:22:39] Yeah. And they're the worst FBI agents or CIA case officers too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:42] They've got to be because it's like, "Oh, I'm not going to go do something immoral with this source. Well, he's a hound and he wants to hang out at the strip club and do cocaine. Well, I'm not even going to do that." "Okay. Be useless." You know, and now you've got to recruit somebody who's going to go hang out with your source because you don't want to go into the, you don't want to go touch that stuff.
Clint Watts: [00:23:03] Yeah. I, unfortunately, can't go into too many details, but I had that happen a couple of times where you're working with another FBI agent or federal employee and you want them to police violent crime, but they've never left a gated community. It gets really awkward, which is in a lot of television shows to varying degrees. But that does happen -- which is how do you convince -- I think even more so for -- I understand the FBI's reasoning behind it more than the CIA or others. You know, the CIA's job is to collect foreign intelligence. There's a big difference with the FBI, which they're actually going to take a case to court and you have to testify on a stand. And so let's take the example --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:42] We were both high on meth, but I'm pretty sure that's what happened.
Clint Watts: [00:23:44] Ah, he was a regular drug user.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:46] Yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:23:46] That is tough. That's why the FBI has that higher standard and I feel like I was lucky because I was in the authoritarian system known as West Point in the army. You know, I was already under that rule structure my whole career. So that hurdle was much easier for me to get over then. I mean nowadays, and I actually said that on the Senate floor to Kamala Harris once. She said, "Why can't we recruit?" And I'd brought that up. I said, "We get upset if people have smoked weed." I got her to snicker a little bit during testimony because she understands it too. Everybody fundamentally understands that we got to change the laws. So the FBI can't go, "Okay, we'll take a guy who's done lots of drugs, and then we'll have him work." And then one day, he shows up and testifies and says, "Ever break the law?" "Yes." "How'd you break the law?" "Well, I did a lot of drugs, you know, this one and the other." And go, "Okay, so just like my client." This is where you know -- in front of a jury it kind of falls apart. So if you back that out though, you know, this is why legalization of marijuana, standardized legalization of marijuana, whatever is super important because then that opens the door for your friend who wants to go work at the FBI. That standard just shifted and we don't have to worry about him getting on a stand and saying, "Oh yeah, I broke the same law as the other guy did that I just arrested.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:58] Yeah. I mean, it was definitely career-limiting for me as well. I won't go down this rabbit hole too far, but I used to work at the US embassy in Panama and I remember that hanging out with DEA guys. And they were like, "Oh, what are you doing?" And I'm like, "Hey, I would love to work with you guys." You know, even though they had some colossal screw-ups while I was there. Like letting someone walk out of the embassy and get into a taxi and they went, "Where is he?" And I said, "He walked past you guys in your Hawaiian shirts." They were otherwise really cool and I thought this is a pretty cool occupation. Like they're interdicting all this stuff coming through South America and they're really adjacent to a lot of high impact stuff. Like they're in the bar with all these drug dealers and they were about to take them down. And then I just saw like a whole lot of, "Well, you know, you just got to make sure that you don't do any of this stuff." And I just thought, "Oh, I'm already in trouble and I'm like 20."
Clint Watts: [00:25:56] You're eliminated for life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:57] Oof. Yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:25:58] Which that's part of the social media phenomenon, right? I think for younger people and why they are choosing the apps they choose, whether or not on Facebook they want to be able to get a job when they're 35. They're doing something that might get them trouble or maybe they're doing something that doesn't seem that bad at the time, but when they're 35 is going to eliminate them from whatever they're doing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:19] How glad are you that the dumbest thing you did is not videotaped and upon--?
Clint Watts: [00:26:23] Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, I don't have to think in that sort of conscious way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:27] Sure.
Clint Watts: [00:26:28] And you don't really learn your lesson that way then meaning that you're not experiencing where right and wrong is oftentimes. And so I used to always say whenever they would give you somebody, "He's never made a mistake." I was like, "I'm not going with him."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:42] Right.
Clint Watts: [00:26:42] Because everyone makes a mistake ultimately. Like, I would rather that person went forward until they fell flat and then work with them after that. Because I know they won't make that mistake probably again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:52] Yeah. Good point. You want them to make mistakes before they get to you, not after.
Clint Watts: [00:26:55] Yeah. Yeah. It's kind of like terrorist attacks. People will be like, "Oh, should I travel there now?" And I'm like, "Yeah." Now, they have more security. Before the terrorist attack, they probably didn't wish to have a terrorist attack.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:06] Yeah, good point. I hadn't thought about that. Yeah. Yeah. After you see it in the news, it's probably a better time to go than beforehand.
Clint Watts: [00:27:11] That's right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:12] Running on the circumstances. So how do you go from West Point to tracking terrorists?
Clint Watts: [00:27:17] I was in the army for seven years. I applied to the FBI in like August 2001 because it used to take like two or three years. And then September 11th happened and I was a company commander in the army and we were getting ready for Afghanistan thinking we were going to go to Afghanistan. And then the FBI hired a thousand agents at the first year which was like 10 percent of their workforce basically. And I got a call right away. I took the test. I was waiting to see if I was going to just stay in the army. I wasn't like dead set on -- I didn't want to get out. I wasn't in a hurry. I was like building options and they were like, "You're in." Like, six months later they were like, "You got a slot. When can you start?" I was like, "Well, I'm commanding an infantry company of 170 people right now. I'm not going to be there for a few months."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:06] Right.
Clint Watts: [00:28:06] And the army was a curious thing. They were like, "Afghanistan was kind of just going into a hover," and they were like, "Oh, we're over strength. We don't need anybody. We don't have any great jobs for you from here on out, so it's up to you." And I was like, "Well, I guess I'll go and be an FBI agent."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:20] Wow.
Clint Watts: [00:28:21] Yeah. And I hated the FBI.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:23] Really.
Clint Watts: [00:28:24] Hated it. The first time I had two periods there. The first time I went -- I was very lucky to work on counter-terrorism in Portland, Oregon. I really enjoyed the discipline, but the FBI was very much in disarray and I left inside the first year at that time. And I went to grad school in Monterey -- what we're talking about -- and I ended up going to the combating terrorism center at West Point. And when I was there, probably six months, seven months in, a deputy assistant director of the FBI walked in and he was like, "Hey, we're looking for instructors on counter-terrorism." And I did a briefing on a board in there and I was like, "If you did it like this, you could train them on all these things. And he was like, "How the hell did you know that?" I was like, "Well, I was one of your FBI agents like two years ago." He did not know. And rather than, you know, that's great for me -- I ended up working for him all the way until he retired again, like a few months ago, so over a decade. But that's a great moment, I thought where he could have just thrown me away like most people have done. He was like, "No, you're going to come work for me, but you'll do it from here." So I started running training programs for the FBI. Then a year later I just went straight back to the FBI headquarters and still had my clearances. And they had this thing where you could just come back if you had clearance as a contract special advisors, mostly for our retirees. And I was back at headquarters 2007, I worked either half the time there or with US Special Operations Command on Counter-Terrorism from then until about 2012.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:58] And are you at this time, are you fighting the influence to stop people from joining Al-Qaeda, ISIS? Like what does that even look like? What are you doing online to help stop? Because there's so many, you can't just be doing it kind of on your own.
Clint Watts: [00:30:11] Yeah, I was super lucky. I worked half in law enforcement space. So that was the bureau's sort of stuff, which was how do we train people to be able to interact and investigate? What resources do they need? How do we restructure intelligence? I was working on that stuff at FBI headquarters when I wasn't there. I was all projects around how do we stop Al-Qaeda's influence, which ultimately became ISIS, their March to the internet. What are they doing on social media? So that was early projects where like Al-Qaeda is now using YouTube -- this was the mid-2000s. And then after 2012, I came here to work for that same guy after he retired, I worked in New York City doing cybersecurity consulting, same sort of Intel process, but around cybersecurity. And I was tracking foreign fighters going into Syria and Iraq with my own team, with a couple of different teams as a consultant. Sometimes I fly to different places, show up and be like, "Hey, here are 50, 60 guys on a Facebook that are all in Iraq. They're from your country or your location, and some of them are probably going to come back." And the message then in early days of 2011, 12, 13, you know, I'm in the private sector then was, that's okay. I'd rather they are there than here.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:30] It's like, well, they're only there now. I mean, how to --
Clint Watts: [00:31:33] I mean, tons of them got killed. Many didn't come back, but that was the ISIS wave you saw in 15 and 16. You know, those guys who were coming back into Europe, they were out there in 2011, 12, 13 on social media as themselves, or very simple cover names. Part of the ISIS fame is that you can show that you're there and that you're fighting. And so you could see them very visibly. I think at one point we had logged 3,000, 4,000 maybe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:03] Geez.
Clint Watts: [00:32:03] So I was doing those kinds of projects and evaluating why they were being influenced. I was through the think tank where I work at, I was mostly looking at when ISIS would overtake Al-Qaeda, which was not a very popular view amongst counterterrorism analysts, just because Al-Qaeda did 9/11, and that was very much like they will never overtake Al-Qaeda, and now it's sort of like everyone says that. But yeah, what is Al-Qaeda? What is ISIS and how do you counter their influence and failing miserably? That's a chapter from the book, which is why the US really can't do this counter influence and why we shouldn't be able -- we shouldn't think we can do what the Russians did either. We failed miserably against terrorists.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:46] At one point, you're in this food dialogue with this guy Omar Hammami.
Clint Watts: [00:32:50] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:51] And you end up kind of discrediting him by showing different -- you're pulling different levers and I want to hear kind of the psychology behind this. Can you tell me what that's all about? Because, of course, when people say, "Oh, you're counteracting influence." My first thought is you're sitting somewhere with a Twitter display and you're just filtering for keywords and then you're like, "No, that's not true." Here's an article. But you can't be doing that.
Clint Watts: [00:33:13] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:13] Even if you had a hundred people, you can't be counteracting that. There has to be some more systematic things going on. But at some points, you're actively involved in a very public dialogue with these other public figures from the other side.
Clint Watts: [00:33:26] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:26] And they're kind of -- they know who you are. They're talking to you and vice versa. That's kind of -- it's weird. It's like going back to our childhood -- you're a little older than me, but not by much. It's like the Cobra Commander talking to the head of GI Joe. Right?
Clint Watts: [00:33:40] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:41] Like that's weird, you're on Twitter talking about food.
Clint Watts: [00:33:45] Well, it was already happening. No one was paying attention until it became a famous American. But you can watch these terrorists online. They were out there. That was how they were winning people over. And so I've been writing a blog. I wrote a blog about this guy Hammami who's from Alabama. He was an American foreign fighter. He had gone to Al-Shabaab in Somalia, a very unique case. He is then betrayed by his group. He was known around the world because he had rapped on a YouTube video. That was his big claim to fame, which is the fear of all American counter-terrorism analysts, rap culture, and popular culture converging with extremism, making it seem kind of like fun, which ISIS later did. He was really a precursor to ISIS in many ways and making it seem very Americanized.
[00:34:32] And so he crosses up with the boss of Al-Shabaab trying to give it, he thinks he's really important. He's in his twenties. They think he's not that important, but a good propaganda tool. He shoots his mouth off and now the boss wants him killed. You know, very mafia-style -- so he goes on the run and his YouTube videos change to "I've been betrayed by Al-Shabaab. I still believe in jihad, but hey, everybody help me out and pay attention to me."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:57] Send me some Bitcoin or something, right?
Clint Watts: [00:34:59] Yeah. Back then, he just didn't have it. But I mean, he's trying to survive. And that was by raising awareness. And I was documenting this at my blog and I had heard that he read pretty much everything I wrote and we had suspicions about this one. You know, many of us in the circle, this is probably him and the handle was abumamerican. So we were like, "Okay, that's probably Hummami." You just watch it over time and right after New Year's 2013, it was like, I'm not working for the government anymore. I'm just doing my blog and I'm working at a Think Tank and consulting work. I can do whatever I want. No one can tell me not to talk to him. And he wanted to talk to me because he knew I would write about him. And so that gets into that how you socially engage with somebody. And I think there are some learning points there which are instructive of this -- how do we counter disinfo. You brought up a great point there.
[00:35:55] So fake info. Let's talk Russia for a second. Fake info gets put out. We get a bunch of counter trolls that go. That's a lie. That's a lie. Here's the truth. That's one way to do it. But as we know from social media is just bubbles clashing into each other. And if you're in that bubble, you're going to believe what you want. This was different though. This was -- let's create dialogue. Back then it was the Obama administration that was all like, let's buy the world of Coke. And so there was this big belief that we could counter violent extremists by just telling them how great democracy is and you know, let's give them a hug.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:25] Right, right.
Clint Watts: [00:36:27] I never believed that, and I was like, "This is impossible." You're not going to take a terrorist who's committed his life to terrorism is halfway around the world and with a few tweets go, "Oh, you're right. You totally turned my whole world view around."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:40] "Look, man, I know you want to kill everybody starting with all the Jews, but we have Xbox. Don't you want to play it?" That's not going to work.
Clint Watts: [00:36:46] It just doesn't work. And so I was like, "I'm just going to engage this guy." The best tool for countering extremism is just telling his story. He went and joined a terrorist group. He's in Somalia, which is one of the hardest places in the world. And he's been betrayed by his group and they're trying to kill him. Just keep telling his story. And the FBI sort of like, "How do you engage with people and why do they talk? What motivates them? And so when you're recruiting an agent or whatever, influencer, a source for a newspaper, if you're a journalist, I use the acronym CRIME, which is compromise, revenge, ideology, money, ego. And you line those up and you say, "Okay, what motivates this person?"
Clint Watts: [00:37:23] So Omar is very easy, right? He's compromised and is on the run and he needs his story out. So he needs to talk to me. He's got a huge revenge response because he's being killed by his own terrorist group he joined. Ideologically, he wants to advance the cause. Money is not going to work for him. He's not motivated by that. Or he wouldn't go to Somalia and he's got a massive ego. Like, he only wants to talk to people that talk about him --kind of like our president, you know, it's remarkable in some ways the social media phenomenon. So I was like, I'm going to focus in my compromise, revenge, and ego with him. I'm not going to talk about money. I don't want to say, "Oh, look how great my life is in America." And I don't want to banter with him about ideology. I'm not going to convince him that his ideas are bad on Twitter. So a lot of people believe that at the time, but I'm not going to change him.
[00:38:13] So I would just write up summaries of his stories and I would hit on those things. And I recognize, okay, I'll stay in these lanes and then I'll find common ground. What are the common grounds for me and him? Well, he's an American. I'm an American. We both played soccer. We liked the same kind of food -- Krispy Kreme donuts was a big one. I'm going to hit him back and forth. That's how those Twitter exchanges would start. He would be like, "Oh, you know, did you read this and that I wrote?" I'd be like, "Hey man, I'm going to Chili's right now. What would you order?" I just throw that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:43] Wow.
Clint Watts: [00:38:44] And then we just have a discussion. And then at a certain point, once you build some sort of rapport that you feel comfortable. Just like you and I now 30 minutes later, the conversation is less awkward than when we started.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:55] Sure.
Clint Watts: [00:38:56] Same thing on Twitter. Once you engage, 50 to 100 times and now you can start talking about, "Okay, let's talk about really why do you want to be a terrorist and what's going on?" Without him immediately thinking he's under attack and he has to defend his position, which is basically all political conversations we see now is just people on the attack back and forth.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:16] Oh yeah. I mean, I'm no stranger to this. It's scary to me because I think if I was 17 and I was just really bored and I was a part of a certain group that I thought was oppressed, there's a good chance I would've been like, "This is a great idea. I'm going to go over there, kick some ass and be really awesome. Take some photos, then come back and be this awesome guy who'd went and did all this cool stuff. And I'll be able to talk about it. I'll have all these cool photos. I've made a bunch of friends. I might even have liked a girl when I come back." It's really appealing.
Clint Watts: [00:39:48] Yup.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:49] Of course, the reality is now you're hiding in a jungle getting bit by snakes because all these guys who have a first-grade education now want to kill you.
Clint Watts: [00:39:56] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:56] Who you thought you were friends with.
Clint Watts: [00:39:58] Yup.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:58] And you haven't eaten for a month other than like [indiscernible] that you're boiling yourself in the middle of nowhere. But what percentage of these guys are just kind of going in for it for the ego because they're young guys looking for glory versus guys that are really committed to this?
Clint Watts: [00:40:12] Depends on where it's from. So in Europe it's different and it's about, I would say it's 50-50 community connections that bring them in and the other half are sort of Internet and they work together. It's not like there are two worlds, but they are joining because their friends did. It's a pack of guys. They want adventure. Everything you were just talking about. "I'm a celebrity now in my community. Look at what I've done." And then they go into the ideology as novices and become more indoctrinated as they go because they need to justify what they're doing. They're committing awful violent acts. They got to justify it. Unwind that. If you look at the US recruits, they're oftentimes one-offs. And one-offs from my experience are usually two categories. One super devout ideologically like really believes this utopia vision of bin Laden's global jihad and thinks they're going to build this perfect caliphate according to the books. And, of course, they quickly learn that's not the case to become a suicide bomber because it's like your two routes. Or there are mental issues there and that's based on the time devoted to the scripture. I would tell you if they're one-offs like recruited from the Internet. They're not in the group. They're socially awkward. They get to the group, they're socially awkward. They're in a weird place and if you look, the ones that are ideologically motivated probably been studying the religion devoutly for many years. And it moved to this, "The only way I can do this is to pursue a caliphate and we have to do that through violence." For the ones that go from, "Hey, I like soccer to I join ISIS in like 14 days." That tends to be more like mental health, you know, sort of stuff. That's just my crude assessment of it.
[00:41:58] So there's a combination of that as it goes in. The experience of foreign fighters, if they don't go in groups is very bad. If they do go in groups, it can be a mix, meaning that sometimes entire neighborhoods will go in together and fight and it's part of their heritage. Just like the number one recruiter of a Marine is a former Marine. It's the same for foreign fighters in most of the world. Number one recruiter of a foreign fighter is a former foreign fighter that fought in Afghanistan or Iraq or somebody in their neighborhood or somebody in their family. It's helping a coach at law. The more you get into the Middle East, the more it's like physical recruitment. The more you get to North America, the more it's online. That's kind of the spectrum of it.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:42:39] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Clint Watts. We'll be right back after this.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:48] You're eventually able to get these guys fighting each other on Twitter.
Clint Watts: [00:46:52] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:54] It's funny because you're sort of stoking these rivalries and you're saying, "Look, you both have these huge egos. You both say you're the best whatever. Point your cannon three degrees to the left, you point yours three degrees that right now you're aiming at each other." How does this -- outline this process? It's kind of rewarding. It's a little bit of a payoff in the book. You should read about this. Because of course, these guys are sitting here trolling and convincing kids to go join their cause, and now you can get them kind of just punching each other in the face.
Clint Watts: [00:47:21] Yeah. I would do that through the blog posts and then trying to get him engaged. The more he talked about American things, the more the crowd was trying to appeal to. So the question is, is he really for the Americans or is he for our global jihadi community? That confuses them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:36] I love jihad but I can't shut up.
Clint Watts: [00:47:38] I love jihad. Yeah, reading rainbow is one thing he would reference. And so that confuses them. That's a cultural thing. Like why are you engaging on this cultural issue? The other part was always like, what is right, what is wrong? And really what Omar was part of was this social media populism of jihad. Before we had Trump MAGA and now the resistance and everything here, it had already happened. ISIS is nothing more than a jihadi populous movement on social media that overtook the establishment, which was bin Laden and his crew. That's all it is. It's completely made up. But these are all young guys connected on social media, just want to go kill people and they put it under this banner of jihad and if you've watched the Al-Qaeda leadership al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, they're like, "Who are these guys?" "I don't know who they are. That's not what we're going to do. We're not that focused on killing Shia, at least not now." You know, there's a collision. Omar was part of that. "I'm on YouTube, I've got my own following, I'm doing raps. People think it's great. Here's my manifesto, let's go. I'm going to achieve it." And you push those. It's really an establishment versus a populous movement inside jihad. It just happened years before and ISIS is sort of a first version, one of the first versions of that. Arab spring has sort of rolled in there too. We had that going on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:58] Do you think these guys would've done something else, had it not been for the Islamic thing? Like would he just have joined a street gang and been a drug dealer?
Clint Watts: [00:49:05] Yeah, no, he was smart. You know, when you look at his history in the US he was smart. He was very charismatic. He was funny. You and I would probably, you know, take jihad out. We'd probably talk to him and have fun and laugh about things. He was not dumb. I don't think he would have drifted down one of those things, but he would've maybe been like an intense activist around something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:28] Okay.
Clint Watts: [00:49:28] And there are parallels to that. Adam Gadahn, who became Adam, the American propagandists with Zawahiri. He was killed by a drone strike in al-Qaeda. Before that, he was an environmental activist and he also ran like a hub for Death Metal. So like he had Death Metal tapes and ran like a magazine. Everybody knew him. So you know, they move around. I think what's interesting about them is they're open to moral change and new ideas, but once they get on something, they're very, very committed. So even if he had come back, let's say and reformed, he would have been the most active, "I want to be the number one activist against al-Qaeda or former al-Qaeda." He would have wanted status like that. He was very ego-driven.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:10] How do you get them to fight each other or slander each other to come to fracture. What sort of tactics are you using?
Clint Watts: [00:50:17] I think in the social engineering way is to watch and see who they react to. And then I would ask very deliberate questions. I'd be like, "Why do you really react strongly to this other anonymous account. You must know him, right?" And then he'd be like, "Yeah, I know him." And then they want to trash talk.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:33] "Yeah, he's a punk. He just talks. He does never take any action."
Clint Watts: [00:50:36] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:36] And the other guy is like, "Oh yeah, what about you."
Clint Watts: [00:50:38] Whatever and one of the things he said was, "You didn't write your own raps." And I wrote a whole thing about Milli Vanilli and how Omar was a Milli Vanilli or whatever. Then he used to like trying to prove himself. So I'm just taking pieces of what each of them is saying and basically just repeating it back to the other one -- that false competition sort of thing. But you can always tell -- you know, there's a lot of social media signatures that are out there and I'm sure people are aware of which are technical ones like time zone. So you know they actually are talking in roughly the same time frame, but also if they react really quickly. If somebody makes them very upset or somebody they actually know and you can tell that. The other one is like account shutdowns are super valuable. So if you shut down a terrorist account and they start up another account, the first people that follow the second account usually actually know that person or in email contact. They had to figure it out. So you can tell a lot about their network, who they react to. Then the second wave is people that hate that person. So you know they're the next ones that sort of show off. So you can kind of clump people together and be like, "Okay, these are the lovers, these are the haters and you know, focus on the issues and get them to talk between the two."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:45] Do you have a software where you're like okay these 500 whatever accounts immediately followed this guy that probably on an email newsletter or something like that? And then do you work with ISP and to go, "Hey, can you find -- was there anything that sent an email to some large number of these 500 accounts?"
Clint Watts: [00:52:01] I don't have that stuff. I just use Excel when I've done this with teams. For the most part, use some networking software. That's out there, nodeXL, stuff like that just for visualizations. But for the most part, you don't need anything too sophisticated. If you have it, it's great. I couldn't afford most of it. And the goal for me was not big data was the right data, which is can you get to the right patches of people and their banter back and forth.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:28] What about does Twitter work -- like are you able to call up somebody Jack Dorsey adjacent and say, "Hey look, these guys are Al-Qaeda. We want to get in there."
Clint Watts: [00:52:37] I've tried that route and people are not receptive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:40] Really.
Clint Watts: [00:52:40] Yeah. I mean, this is in the early, this is pre-2016. So whether it was the Russians or terrorists, they don't want to know for the most part or complete narcissistic ego. "Oh, we are Texas and gods. You can't possibly figure this out from there. We have all the data that you can't tell us." I heard a lot of that on Russia disinfo 15, 16. "Oh, you don't know. It doesn't matter. It was only 0.01 percent of all conversations on the whole planet that day." I was like, but how many conversations in this part of the country, which is a swing state about this issue and visualizations and how many were real and who amplified that. They didn't really want to know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:21] Yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:53:22] They didn't believe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:23] That's too bad because it seems like, as a consumer, I would love to think that you have a red phone somewhere in your office that calls up somebody who reports directly to Jack Dorsey or you know, Zuck, and says, "Look, man, this is a private group that has all these accounts in it. We don't want you to necessarily shut them down. We want to watch them. Here's an affidavit that says -- and here's a bunch of probable cause or whatever." And they're like, "Okay, we have 16 new hires that are dedicated to making sure that we weed out extremism on our network."
Clint Watts: [00:53:58] They are more that way now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:00] Thank God.
Clint Watts: [00:54:00] I mean, but not really. They don't really don't want to hear it from the public other than the flagging system for terrorist content, which Facebook did, which was good. YouTube did a version of that, I think as well. Okay, that's good. There are not many people that are tracking actors, you know, down to the individual level, and then they have to assess. But really what they want is the government to tell them. Because one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist, one person's propagandist is another person's truth, who's to say this person's bad or whatever. And they have a tough time with free speech issues and I totally understand that. But there are a lot of people who could spot this and sort of signal to them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:38] Yeah, and you've also got a bunch of data. You could say, "Here's a six-week headstart on compiling enough data to prove that this guy is recruiting kids on your network to leave Austria.
Clint Watts: [00:54:50] I still watched people that are terrorists as of 2010, 11 on Twitter that are still there that I still watch.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:56] That's unbelievable.
Clint Watts: [00:54:57] I mean, other propagandists, but to their point, they legally are trying to have someone validate that that is a terrorist or that is a disinfo operator or whatever it might be, which is fine until there's violence. And then it becomes a big issue and then they do shutdowns or whatever.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:12] Sure.
Clint Watts: [00:55:12] But my experience is, you know, Facebook, despite all the criticism I think has rallied a lot of resources and made a lot of gains in a couple of years. Twitter is finally starting to get there. You know, some of the stuff and I like what they're doing with analyzing the community. I also see them now trying to discredit anyone that criticizes them to a degree.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:31] Yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:55:31] And that's not going to be played to their advantage long run. They have a different resource equation and they see their platform is a town square.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:40] Sure.
Clint Watts: [00:55:40] Which I think is hilarious because if it was really a town square, it would just be a massacre.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:45] Like the real-life version, there would be -- people would get stabbed within seconds.
Clint Watts: [00:55:50] It'd be all sorts of mayhem. YouTube has a more complex scale problem, like a whole bunch of different issues and their algorithm -- yeah, they've got a lot of work to do. They're worried about tide pods and the Russians and terrorist videos and people show nipples on their videos, you know, all sorts of crazy stuff.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:13] YouTube, I have a little more sympathy for because you have to find something that can sort of watch a video and decide whether or not it's either obscene, insightful to violence, free speech, et cetera. Whereas in my mind, in my simple non-tech brain, looking at a bunch of tweets with a really powerful computer should be easier.
Clint Watts: [00:56:31] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:32] But maybe it's not.
Clint Watts: [00:56:33] Twitter is stuck in some of those own designs that they can't unravel. Like showing you how many retweets you got. That totally seems like a good idea. I'm sure that the time until you do it, you don't realize it. But that actually incentivizes people to write things that will get retweets which could be false. That creates curiosity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:53] Of course, yeah.
Clint Watts: [00:56:53] How do you want to do that? Well, if people didn't know how many retweets they were getting. Now, they would lose their mind on Twitter. Like, "I don't know if I reached, a lot of people are not right." So all that metric stuff seemed like a great idea. Now, it encourages or incentivizes sometimes bad behavior that they can't really police because whose speech is free. Do we go by US rules? We go by international rules. People don't agree on this. I'm sympathetic in some ways. I would appreciate it more if Twitter was less antagonistic to those that would probably just work with them if they would let them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:24] How and why does bias and what types of bias create these social media bubbles? You know, you mentioned earlier the filter bubble. We talked a little bit about it with Jaron Lanier. How did these bubbles actually get made? Because that's what we didn't really discuss. I don't think a lot of people understand how we get separated like little pills. You know, you see those videos of a factory, a big farm that scrapes the red ones to the left and the pink ones to the right. We don't really understand that that's happening to us.
Clint Watts: [00:57:55] Yes. So the first, first one -- I call it a preference bubble, so get into your preference bubble means confirmation bias. You click like, like, like share, share, share, retweet, retweet. And now you are putting yourself in. You're reinforcing through your friends and family. This is the bubble I want to be in and the algorithm then pumps you more of what you like. That's just how it goes. The second one is implicit bias, which is people naturally like to get information from people that look like them and talk like them. That is your friends and family circle. That is not someone you don't know or don't trust. This is where Russia really understands implicit bias, which is if I can create an account that looks like you and talks like you and I can get into your friends and family circle or just in your community around a perception that you like, I'm a home run, right? Because the source of the information then isn't RT Sputnik or New York Times, Washington Post. It's you, you are now the source. So your crazy uncle that sends you the weird email is the source. You don't see the story as being from another source. They knew that very early on. So, they told a lot of their writers and producers to create a persona as you on social media continued to share your content through you. People won't refute you because you're just saying I'm a citizen journalist or a reporter or whatever. But behind you're actually delivering RT Sputnik or whatever. Or today what we would see is maybe a conspiracy video in the non-Russia context. "Hey did you see this video that 9/11 isn't real or vaccines harm your kid." "I didn't see that. Why would my friend lie to me about this? They sent it to me." That's the second bias. And the third one I call social media nationalism, which is once tribalism sets in, you get a status quo bias, which is you don't want to break from the status quo of your group and the norm. And so you will just pull in only information that essentially agrees with the group and you will personally be silent or not broadcast information that challenges your own beliefs or that the group. Once you do that, that really just hardens that entire bubble. And those three biases sort of layer on each other.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:02] So these bubbles end up defining who we are because we kind of like congeals or freezes in place after a while.
Clint Watts: [01:00:09] Yeah. Your identity is shaped around hashtags and avatars and I am the following -- few people do that on their bio's. I am the following boom, boom, boom. And it was like when did everyone start putting their resume and you know, four hashtags on it or whatever the pictures are.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:24] I saw that it was funny because it used to be like a husband, father, writer, and occasional a Calzone Connoisseur. But now it's like hashtag MAGA, hashtag father, hashtag --
Clint Watts: [01:00:37] Build the wall.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:37] Right, build a wall. And that's a more racist example but you can find anything.
Clint Watts: [01:00:45] Yeah, you can go to the opposite sides, resist, blue wave, no wall, no band, you know, boom, boom, boom. And that's how people are defining themselves. Now, they may exhibit no actual real-world qualities of doing anything about any of those things, but they want that identity and so that's the other part of this social media phenomenon. You can pick your identity whether you're really that or not, and it's not just about fake accounts versus really kind of like even as a real account. Even as a real account, you actually do nothing for climate change or any of these issues.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:19] Bumper sticker.
Clint Watts: [01:01:20] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:20] Oh yeah, my kid got that at the library. It's on the car now.
Clint Watts: [01:01:23] Call it hashtag hysteria, which is like we get really ramped up about these things. But it's like, "What do you actually do towards those things."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:31] Yeah. My support begins and ends with putting a bumper sticker on my car that says go green or something. It's like whatever. Oh, I'm not going to buy any less plastic bags. No, but I have the bumper sticker that said, that's made out of plastic that says recycle
Clint Watts: [01:01:45] And I'm going to have an eight-seat, four miles --- gallon car, you know, like, but I'm really worried.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:50] Right. Yeah. Everybody else though should ease up on all that. How does Russia then use the preference bubbles to create, to turn a little crack into a huge chasm in a Western population?
Clint Watts: [01:02:02] So they're picking issues across -- usually four themes. And this goes back to their old, old doctrine, which is first is calamitous messaging. If you incite fear into an audience space, they will then go to you as an information source because they want to know, "Am I safe? Is this true?" Breaking news, for example, they love that sort of thing. But then right behind it, whatever you deliver, even if it's a falsehood, you're more likely to believe because you're scared. You know, fear is a powerful weapon. The second, the second one is like financial messaging, which they used to do more of. Now it's more a queue, which is attacking the US company with a falsehood. I'm making you not believe in good. So one of the failed ones from the Twitter trolls was Walmart turkeys are injected with poison. It didn't take off, but they tried it. So there's like a smear. The big way though is you infiltrate audiences on social issues and this is kind of what you're asking about, which is you pick any cleavage that's the ethnic, religious, social, second amendment, gun rights, police violence, anti or for police, stand with blue. And you get into those audiences by just sharing and repeating stories with that audience. And once they attract to it, then you go in and you start just adding a little bit of flavor. If you want to infiltrate an audience, you retweet or repeat 80 percent of what they're saying. This is social engineering, right? And if you're a car salesman, you don't come in and try and pitch them on something that you ask about them first. You don't say Vladimir Putin is awesome. You say, "Well, you know, isn't it terrible what the US government's doing? And you know, you can't really trust the voting machines. Man, vaccines, that's crazy, right? Do you think we can trust those? Doctors don't know what they're talking about." Those social issues -- then once you do all that, then when it comes to an election year, you move towards politics and you start pushing people towards your preferred candidate in each of those spaces, whether it's left or right. Those politicians and the views that are more aligned with the Kremlin or the ones that are going to endorse and they'll push those social issues to that direction. So on the right, it was very straightforward, gun rights, Christianity, where we stand with cops -- you know, stand, don't kneel. Then you go the other way and they're doing, "Man, you better kneel. Can you believe about the injustice towards African- Americans?" Boom, boom, boom, boom. You know, you stack those issues, election rigged, voter fraud, Bernie Sanders got a raw deal and that's how you pit people against each other without actually laying down any position, right? You're just, just noodling people in different, different groups and then nudging them against each other.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:41] And I want to reinforce, because I'm people right now have already either sent or fixing to send that email that says like, "Oh, you're another stupid shill, Jordan, about the reason that Trump won is because of this." This is on the left and the right. This is not --
Clint Watts: [01:04:56] They're already doing 20-20 Democrats. They are starting it right now. Yeah. And this is that Tulsi Gabbard sort of stuff that's come up in the news just over the last week.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:05] I don't even know what that is.
Clint Watts: [01:05:06] So just Tulsi Gabbard if you go to RT or Sputnik News, she's in dozens of articles already as she is a good candidate or she's being held down by the mainstream media or you know, they're taking a position. She has a pro-Assad position on Syria. So now she's caught up in this storm and they're now going to bring her out as, "Man, we should support Tulsi Gabbard," and when everybody pushes back on the side position, it'd be like, this is just the mainstream elite Democrats like Hillary Clinton trying to hold her down. Even on air this morning, I watched some of this and you're like, "Who is for Assad staying in power really in either party?" This was not an issue five years ago when I was watching trolls in Syria. Today you will hear people on the right in particular advocate for it and even people in the left, it shows you the power of this system for Russia. I don't care about Tulsa Gabbard or Donald Trump over five years, but they do care that Assad stays in power and they keep their footprint and now they have that conversation in both sides of the political spectrum.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:08] So this is very deliberate. It's designed for a specific purpose. It's funny you mentioned RT. People don't maybe know what that is. Russia Today is what this is. I guess now, it is just called RT.
Clint Watts: [01:06:18] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:18] And it's essentially people will even send me things like, "Jordan, I know you must read RT. It's the only real news source that exists now." And I'm going, "You realize this is actually funded by the Kremlin."
Clint Watts: [01:06:30] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:31] Like it's one of the most unreal in that respect. And I actually got offered to do a show on there and I went, "Oh my God, I'm going to be on a real network. Let me look this up and oh never mind. Crap." You know, and then I thought, "If they ever heard anything I've done because --"
Clint Watts: [01:06:46] That might be why the one that you want on.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:48] Maybe. Yeah, because they went, "Oh, this guy's got a reputation for not being a bullshitter, so maybe we can get a non-bullshit." I mean, they pay well. I will say that.
Clint Watts: [01:06:56] They pay well, but they might get you in there and then batter you about something else, which means get you talking about the Russian stuff and then find something else to go at you about. "Oh, well, you had such and such honor. What about when you were a kid?" You never know what they're going to pull on you in terms of a stunt like that. Or you might be saying something that they do like and do want to advance.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:17] They offered me a gig there. That's what I'm saying. It wasn't just an appearance. So I thought, "Why would they-- ?"
Clint Watts: [01:07:21] You have an audience. That's why. So look at Election Night Coverage from RT. Do you know who the three hosts were?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:27] No.
Clint Watts: [01:07:28] Larry King.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:30] Oh, okay.
Clint Watts: [01:07:30] Huge audience, right? Older population. Ed Schultz, he just died, right? Former MSNBC commentator.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:38] Wow, left.
Clint Watts: [01:07:38] And Jesse Ventura, biggest conspiracy theorist. That is Election Night Coverage. And that shows you sort of how they think about, "I would like to bring in an older audience. I would like to bring in a left-leaning audience, conspiracy theorists are great, right? This is part of it. You can't trust anything." That's their motto. Question more, RT question more. Never say answer more. It's just like to create doubt. Can I believe anything? The government is terrible. Elected officials are awful and they've now branched that out too. They have a spin-off which is their sort of social media channel. One called In Case You Missed It. I think I see -- that is a Russian front but for younger people and that's to blend together, the social media, satellite television sort of networks.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:23] Yeah. I didn't even know that people send me things from them all the time.
Clint Watts: [01:08:26] In Case You Missed It.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:27] Yeah.
Clint Watts: [01:08:27] Oh there you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:28] Yeah. And I'm always like eh because look --
Clint Watts: [01:08:30] You've got to double-check. It could be another variant of that or whatever. But if you go to RT, you'll see this. This is our subchannel in social media, younger women doing very much like what you would think, you know, for social media broadcast.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:42] You mentioned also the death of expertise. Can you talk about what this is?
Clint Watts: [01:08:45] Sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:45] Because it does create these sort of, we've all seen this, these tribes are very smug. I see this everyday where people go, "Eh, Jordan is an effing shill for this. Like I can't even listen to you anymore." And they get in this major emotional tantrum and then I look at their profile and it's like super non-PC as real as it gets. And I'm just thinking, you're so triggered right now and yet your whole thing is, "I'm tough. I don't care. Zero F's given." And it's like, "Wow, you're given a lot of F for a guy who's really laid back."
Clint Watts: [01:09:15] So it's the belief in the circles that anybody with an internet connection is as smart as anybody else regardless of what their experience, academic credentials, or life achievements are.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:28] Right.
Clint Watts: [01:09:28] And Tom Nichols wrote the book Death of Expertise. But I mean, I saw it in the context of social media in particular, which is to go to any kid today and you're like, "Hey, how do you do this?" And go, "Oh, I can do that. I could take a heart out or I can start a car." And you're like, "Yeah, but have you ever done it?" "No, it's on YouTube or it's on Google."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:47] I can figure it out.
Clint Watts: [01:09:48] I can figure it out.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:49] And on its face, I love the idea that young people --
Clint Watts: [01:09:52] Some people can.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:53] think that they figure it out. I want to encourage kids to figure out and young people, in general, to figure out whatever they can, but at some point, you have to be going, "Okay, the downside to this is that this other person dies if I don't actually figure this."
Clint Watts: [01:10:05] Sure. And you don't listen to people who actually know things that are super important, right? So Kim Kardashian becomes an expert on prison reform just because she has the largest audience. But how many activists have worth their entire life on prison reform that could never get an audience with the president? It really screws up the balance and so a lot of bad information can get pushed very, very quickly with the celebrity stuff. The expertise -- I think a great example is the basic -- I worked on crowdsourcing a lot and crowds are really good when it's something they personally experienced, whenever they have some sort of information and knowledge about it, and when they have a natural opinion. But ask them about something else like, "How should we pursue vaccine science?" Suddenly they have an opinion on it. No, they've never made a vaccine. They never study medicine, but they read something on the internet that told them this, or the Bilderberg Group controls the entire world or you know, Davos or whatever. They don't actually know. You know how those things work. That becomes a dangerous phenomenon. This is beyond just like the Russians. This is like public safety stuff. We've got a measles outbreak right now, you know, in Oregon. How the hell did that happen? Those are really intelligent people on average. I was an FBI agent -- brilliant people. How the hell are we not vaccinating your kids? Did we get to the measles outbreak?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:20] Right. So I was going to ask, is that sort of one of those strongholds of anti-vax, "My kid will be fine," type situation.
Clint Watts: [01:11:27] Homeschooling is another one. That's anti-institution. You can't trust institutions sometimes. I mean there are valid reasons for homeschool.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:33] Sure.
Clint Watts: [01:11:34] But yeah, you know, it's all of that -- a litmus test always in conspiracy circles as vaccines. And you would even see a troll maybe push that or disinfo group. I would float out a vaccine conspiracy or UFOs. And if somebody hit on that, I would follow right up with a conspiracy about the US government.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:51] Interesting.
Clint Watts: [01:11:52] For social engineering -- because you're, the person is already saying they're open to whether it's Omar Hammami or a US voter, they're open to moral change or position change.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:01] So how does then the Kremlin -- you've got these sort of three prongs and we can wrap with this -- how the Kremlin muddies the waters and insurers plausible deniability -- which you know, this requires a sustained campaign. This is not like, "Oh let's --" This isn't like screwing with people by publishing one article and it goes viral and they're like, "Wow, that worked." My friend, Ryan Holiday, wrote a book called, Trust Me, I'm Lying, where he would sort of bubble up little -- he'd send out little blogs, "Hey, you know, this author did this," and the author is his client, and then that would bubble up to a local news source and then a national news source would suddenly be like, "This guy is doing all these crazy things and here's a bunch of free PR for the book." And the Kremlin kind of like maybe bought that and handed it out to everybody in their InfoWars center.
Clint Watts: [01:12:44] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:44] And now we've got these three sorts of strategies, alternative perceptions, something called parsing, and then refuting facts.
Clint Watts: [01:12:52] Right. So refuting facts -- let's start with the back one -- is I call it, flood the zone, right? And this is sort of the alternative conspiracies. If you watch whenever they want to refute, Skripal poisoning in the UK.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:04] The former KGB guy who got poisoned with some radioactive material.
Clint Watts: [01:13:08] So when they did that hit --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:10] Or biomaterial.
Clint Watts: [01:13:11] They then came out with, I believe it was in the 20s, alternative explanations for why they didn't do it. This makes it so the truth that has only one voice, but you know, fiction has as many as you can create, and then you have to try and go at each of these theories and test them out and refute them if you're an expert. This becomes exhausting and impossible. Then when you get to the quit point, they go, "See, we must've been right. He didn't say it was wrong," and you're like, "I just refuted 22 before that. Like when does it stop?"
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:41] Or it becomes, "Well, you know that what you said as a PhD in X, Y, Z, that that does make sense. But if that's really true, then how come there are so many other possible ways that this could have happened." And then, of course, you're saying, "There aren't. Those are all bullshit."
Clint Watts: [01:13:57] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:57] But then people go, "Well, I don't know. It makes sense to me." Which sort of dips into your depth of expertise bucket.
Clint Watts: [01:14:03] Yeah. And confirmation bias.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:04] Confirmation bias.
Clint Watts: [01:14:05] Yeah. Like, I really don't like getting shots or I really just don't like Hillary Clinton or whatever it is that it started off with. The parsing part, they do in a fantastic way, which is they take out information and they always include a kernel of truth and if you watch the troll farm -- I call them troll farmers -- they are entry-level job if their good was to write stripped out blogs, which took facts from real articles and just wrote the facts so then the social media personas can come in and grab on that fact and then spin it in a different way.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:36] Can you give us an example?
Clint Watts: [01:14:37] So I'm one percent of people that get vaccines got sick. Let's say --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:45] Okay.
Clint Watts: [01:14:45] I want to take it out of politics -- then in the social media space and you know what happens to those one percent of people, at least 99 percent of that one percent gets autism, and that's why we have an increased rate. Now, the article never talked about autism or anything. It just said one percent that that's not true. I'm just making that up. That's how you construct the parsing. Then it becomes, "I don't know that that's true or not. Where do I go to look for that?" Then you go back to an expert and go, "This is completely untrue." You know, that's a roll-out, an entire dossier," and explain it to you. Then you go, "I don't know. You know, I have doubts." That's how you take parsing, the breakout parses, you know, parcels of truth. You lay them in different places. Then you redirect with opinions. So in the media ecosystem, RT writes maybe mostly fact-based stories, alternative media adds another layer to it. Social media adds another layer to it. RT writes a second article, which sites those social media accounts. So there was one that was great or five of the Twitter accounts they cited, three of them were troll farm accounts. So they're reciting each other. You get to this circle of, "Okay, long ago there was an element of truth to this. Seth rich did die and was murdered," but now it's become eight different stories, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:01] Sure.
Clint Watts: [01:16:02] He was the one for WikiLeaks. He was on the run from Hillary Clinton. Pizzagate is another version of that. That's how you sort of parse it and break it out, and redirect it in a way.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:13] So that's alternative perceptions parsing and then refuting facts is --
Clint Watts: [01:16:17] Refuting fact is just outright refuting it and that's what you see Putin, Lavrov, or any of their state-sponsored media do so well. And then it's even more damaging when Americans repeat or American elected leaders -- I mean, Helsinki is that. "We had nothing to do with hacking the election. Your Intel community is wrong," and they will never admit to it under any sort of circumstance. They keep that reputation down. Even when caught blindly in the Skripal poisoning. "No, we didn't do it." And you're like, "Yes, you did. There's cameras or whatever." "Nope, we did not."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:53] Right. "We've identified the agents. They're definitely Russian." The guy who invented the substance these people died with is like, "Yeah, there's no way that said anything else. I designed it that way myself."
Clint Watts: [01:17:03] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:03] He lives in America or lives in the UK.
Clint Watts: [01:17:05] And as soon as you offer that rebuttal, the next day they will flood the zone with alternative explanations for that video. So you almost wear yourself out with rebuttals. "No, you didn't. The emails -- we know that you stole them." "Nope. Seth Rich." "Okay, well, we know that the following things happened." "Nope. Here's this, look at this video." "Maybe it's this, maybe it's this, maybe it's this." That's the process. And that's very much moved into the US audience space as well. Like you see American politicians doing this. [Indiscernible], right. Did it? "I don't know if that's me in the picture." "Well, it's on your page." "I don't know."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:43] Would have been more believable if you didn't admit it 48 hours prior, but no --
Clint Watts: [01:17:47] It was like facial recognition or something. And you're like, "That sounds like the Kremlin." You know, when I hear that, it's pretty, pretty eerie.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:53] Yeah. What about something is as innocent as dating apps? I mean, are we getting -- is this stuff affecting even our dating lives? Am I going to be on OkCupid and run into this kind of thing? Or is this strictly social media?
Clint Watts: [01:18:07] Sure. For espionage or influence or infiltration or whatever. Dating apps are an amazing opportunity. And so I had an encounter with this using Tinder where I matched with somebody. And I even laughed to somebody, I was like, "Oh, this looks like, you know, red Sparrow. This is like a weird account or whatever." And I matched with that. I didn't think anything of it, never spoke to it. And then while I was traveling overseas, I'd get a message, while I'm there, it was like, "Welcome to the following country and thanks for staying in such and such hotel. And we fluff the pillows for you. Thanks for staying." You know, like isn't --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:43] That was a Tinder profile?
Clint Watts: [01:18:45] From the Tinder profile I matched with? And so do I know who's behind it? No. Could it be anybody trying to social engineer me? You know, possibly. But it was rather ironic because I'm a guy writing about Russian disinfo. This seems to all make sense. I'm overseas. So now who am I going to report it to? There are no technical signatures back in the US you know, they can track it down. But that tells you a lot about your bio. Do I think they were in my hotel room? Probably not. Did they fluff the pillows? No. How would I ever know? I have no idea. You know, but that is a way to sort of go after people. And there are all sorts of creepier things you could do. If you could tap into someone's social media dating apps, let's say, and look at all their swipes left or right and all of their conversations. You can create a persona that they will get so suckered into --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:34] That's what I'm wondering.
Clint Watts: [01:19:34] Actually going down to face cemetery and pictures and all those sorts of things.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:38] Someone can just create your dream partner and then, or a bunch of them match them with you. And then, of course, you're going to get into compromising positions. You're going to get totally carried away with it.
Clint Watts: [01:19:49] Yeah, I talk about it actually. I wrote a fiction chapter, which is the conclusion of the book and I publish it at medium, which is how to win an election, but I talk about how you would use aggregate face swipes on dating apps to pick the next governor of a state by going and finding him based on his physical appearance because you know, it will attract to the voting audience that you want to tailor that candidate to towards.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:10] Scarily to real. Wow. Thank you very much for coming by.
Clint Watts: [01:20:14] Yeah, thanks for having me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:18] Great big thank you to Clint Watts, his book title is Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News. Well, I'm calling out Russians there, pretty big. If you want to know how I managed to book all these great people and manage my relationships, I use systems. I use tiny habits. It's very structured and I'm teaching you for free. Personal and professional use networks really are the life -- it's just the saving grace. I cannot highlight enough how this has positively changed my life for the better. Six-Minute Networking is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't kick the can down the road. You cannot make up for the lost time when it comes to relationships and networking. This is the number one mistake I see people make. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Once you need those relationships, you're too late. It's called Six-Minute Networking for a reason. Don't make excuses about how you don't have time, jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking of building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway from Clint Watts. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube.
[01:21:25] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne and this show was co-produced by Jason "Filter-Bubble" DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger, show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, and I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. Lots more in the pipeline and I'm excited to bring it to you. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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