14ymedio, José Azel, Miami, March 9, 2021 — Reflexive control is a disinformation strategy developed in Russia, in which “specifically prepared information is transmitted to opponents to encourage them to voluntarily make a decision desired by the initiator of the action.” All of the available original literature on reflexive control is written in Russian, a language I don’t know. For that reason, the following argument relies on publications in English.
Psychological studies show that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to the same piece of information, it begins to perceive it as true and discards contradictory evidence. The pioneer of the concept of reflexive control, in the 1960s, was Vladimir Lefebvre, a Soviet psychologist and mathematician. Reflexive control is based on a special type of influencing action: a sustained campaign that exposes an opponent to information selected so that he ends up “voluntarily” making the decisions that the initiator desires.
Reflexive control is taught in Russian military schools and in training programs, and it is conceived as a national security strategy. A key concept of reflexive control is that an opponent receives specific and predetermined information with the explicit objective of controlling the decision-making process. Unlike Western concepts of perception management, reflexive control seeks to control, not just manage, the perception of an opponent.
For example, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union convinced the United States that Soviet missile capacities were much greater than they really were. Using a series of disinformation techniques, the Soviets created an illusion of military power that forced the Western governments to devote more time and resources to their armed forces. Recently, in 2014, Russia confounded NATO and Kiev with its lightning success in Crimea. In three weeks and without firing a shot, the Ukrainian army turned over all its military bases in the Crimea.
On a research trip in 2019, I personally witnessed Russian techniques of reflexive control widely disseminated in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where Russia seeks to stoke its ethnic minorities.
Additionally, during the 2016 American presidential election, Russia used techniques of reflexive control with the hope of manipulating our electoral decision-making process. Russia’s objective wasn’t to aid a determined candidate, but rather, fundamentally, to undermine our democratic political system.
The specific mechanisms of reflexive control are complex, but the strategy strives to imitate the reasoning of an opponent to encourage a decision that is unfavorable to the opponent himself. Specifically, it attacks our moral and physical cohesion to stir us to make decisions against our own interests. The Russian military theorist Colonel S. A. Komov has described the following basic elements of reflexive control:
Distraction: Create real or imaginary threats to force opponents to modify their plans.
Overload: Send with frequency a great quantity of contradictory information.
Paralysis: Create the perception of an unexpected threat to a vital interest.
Exhaustion: Force opponents to undertake useless operations.
Deceit: Force opponents to relocate assets in reaction to an imaginary threat.
Division: Persuade opponents to act against common objectives.
Pacification: Convince opponents that military actions carried out are only inoffensive training exercises.
Deterrence: Create a perception of superiority.
Provocation: Force opponents to take measures against their own interests.
Suggestion: Offer information that concerns opponents in a legal way, morally, ideologically, etc.
Pressure: Offer information that discredits opponents in the eyes of the people.
My readers in the south of Florida will recognize these techniques as those used by experts in the Cuban and Venezuelan governments under Russian tutelage. For decades, Cuba and Venezuela have successfully used reflexive control to distract, overload, paralyze, exhaust, deceive, divide, pacify, deter, provoke, suggest, and pressure their respective oppositions.
As a consequence, these citizens rarely unite cohesively to fight for their fundamental political liberties. The reflexive control apparatus has managed to control the decision-making process so that the popular point of view rests more on the economy than on politics. Today, the majority of criticisms and actions against the Cuban and Venezuelan governments emphasize the economic misery that the regimes create, instead of the freedoms they suppress. The people’s choice, incited by reflexive control, has morphed into fleeing, not fighting.
To my consternation and sadness, in these societies the discouraging observation of the Roman historian Sallust is evident: “Few men desire liberty; the majority of them only want a just tyrant.”
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera
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