The wave of anger in the United States following the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers in Minnesota has presented interesting opportunities to certain intelligence agencies. As the rioting spread to more than twenty US cities, the mayor of Minnesota received a security briefing and afterwards spoke of “outside forces” that were seeking to increase the hatred and violence on the streets.
It is a feature of our modern world that foreign intelligence services try to use the internet to affect events in target countries. This can be either through hacking, data theft or social manipulation. It is most commonly expressed in election interference or intellectual property theft. But if you could actually encourage a significant part of the population to rise up against its elected government and cause significant disruption, then that would be yet another weapon in the cyber arsenal. The current anger at Floyd’s death presents an ideal opportunity to test out these processes: people are relying on social media for a lot of their news. They have little control over whether these messages are true are not. They are quick to act and slow to question what they are getting angry about. Add to that an element in society who welcome the opportunity to loot and cause destruction for their own purposes and enjoyment and you have a potent brew.
The most influential cyber attacks are coming from Russia. China is more of an interested spectator at this time. The agenda is clear if you watch the Russia Today channel and how these events on the US are being reported. The Putin regime welcomes anything that suggests that liberal democracy is not working. Another clue is in some of the targets that have been singled out such as the CNN building. Discrediting mainstream media strengthens social media manipulation as people begin to wonder who they can trust. The NSA is monitoring the current wave of attacks, but although they are traceable after the event they are hard to stop in real time and before they have had an effect. The measure of success will be whether the riots continue to escalate or whether conventional measures (such as the prosecution of the officers concerned, curfews, etc) have an effect in reversing the violence curve.