New Delhi: The past few weeks’ incidents triggered by entities sitting outside India, have brought to the fore the limitations that the country’s security agencies are facing when it comes to countering the “anti-India” psychological warfare or psy-war being fought on social media platforms, especially Twitter.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to people in different intelligence agencies, who agreed that Indian capabilities to counter, let alone mount an offensive charge against the psy-war that it was facing, were “extremely weak” and that India was at least “10 years” behind its two main adversaries, Pakistan and China.
According to these officials, Pakistan, which was “way ahead” of India when it comes to carrying out psy-wars on social media platforms, had become more potent as it was now working closely with China, which was funding multiple anti-India operations on social media, with the latest being the farmers’ protest, to impact negatively opinions and emotions regarding the Indian state, both inside and outside India.
According to intelligence agency officials, they have found sufficient proof that the entire anti-government campaign that was being carried out on Twitter—which became big after foreign based celebrities too endorsed the “farmers’ protest”—was part of a movement that was set in motion a few months ago and was “definitely” not organic or spontaneous.
“Pakistan is perpetually engaged in a war with India. Since it cannot win a conventional war against India, it, for the last 10-15 years, has focused on strengthening its hold on psy-warfare. And due to this, it is at this stage, miles ahead of India when it comes to using Twitter-like platforms to dent India’s soft power image. Unfortunately, the people in our organizations, who are supposed to counter such hybrid versions of psy-war, are ‘old’ and have no inkling of what to do and how to do it. Their version of taking an offensive action against adversary countries is restricted to organizing mass-attacks on Twitter handles who are engaged in anti-India rhetoric,” a senior official with a decades old intelligence unit told The Sunday Guardian.
According to another old hand with an intelligence agency, Pakistan, in the last three-four years, had invested “massively” (the money for such investment had come from China) on building a strong network of domestic cyber warriors and on cultivating US and UK based “public relations experts” and lobbying groups.
“What we are seeing right now (in context of the anti-India campaign on Twitter) is a good example of how Pakistan’s investment is showing results. Lobbying and PR groups are approaching celebrities to put out content in support of the protesters, the same is then being amplified in India through the strong cyber support that is coming from Pakistan-based IP handles (which are masked). Such is the sophistication of this operation that in some cases it is difficult for the celebrities or their staff to realize that the money that they are getting as fees in lieu of using their influence on social media is originating from Pakistan. We even have proof of how employees of well-known US and UK media outlets are taking financial assistance from these lobby groups to write anti-India pieces that in the end suits the narrative Pakistan wants to propagate,” the official added.
Psychological warfare, as per experts, is a planned use of propaganda and other psychological operations to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behaviour of people.
It is pertinent to mention here that the relevant intelligence agencies have a cyber-desk to counter such psy-war operations, but as recent incidents have shown, have been found to be incapable of handling the challenge. According to the official quoted, rather than getting “obsessed” about Pakistan’s capabilities, Indian policymakers need to focus on how to reach a stage where India can carry out an attack without using physical force and damage the enemy by using social media to conduct a psy-war.
“A lot of churning is needed as new people, who are aware of what and how to do, need to be brought in. Our policymakers are still to wake up to the damage that psy-war can cause. Perhaps the recent incidents will wake them up,” the official said.