Chinese Military Studying ‘Cognitive Attacks’ Against US Population

The CCP hopes to encourage ‘a psychological or cognitive decision to surrender,’ says Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga of RAND Corp.

(The Epoch Times)—Researchers in China’s military are studying how to use influence operations to sow discord abroad and encourage a mentality of defeat in the United States, according to one expert.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), are engaged in “cyber-enabled influence operations” against the United States and looking to further expand their capability for disruption, according to Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

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“There is a group of PLA researchers, often focused on [influence operations], who argue that the cognitive domain is the new focus of warfare,” Mr. Beauchamp-Mustafaga said in prepared testimony to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Feb. 1.

Such “cognitive domain operations,” or CDO, are ultimately aimed at encouraging “a psychological or cognitive decision to surrender,” he added.

Thus, by leveraging technologically enhanced propaganda, like AI-generated deepfakes, the regime hopes “to win a conflict with as little kinetic destruction as possible and force the adversary to accept defeat short of total destruction.”

China Preparing ‘Cognitive Attacks’ Against US

Mr. Beauchamp-Mustafaga outlined how researchers associated with the PLA have expressed interest in using “inauthentic content,” which they refer to as “synthetic information,” to coordinate “precision cognitive attacks” against adversaries.



 



These precision attacks are unique to other forms of CCP propaganda in that they are “specifically tailored or even personalized against small groups or individuals.”

As part of this effort, Mr. Beauchamp-Mustafaga said the PLA was researching how to reinforce “information cocoons,” or echo chambers, to deliberately polarize and divide American society to detract from “mainstream [Western] values” and isolate individuals psychologically.

Mr. Beauchamp-Mustafaga added that it was difficult to say how far the regime has yet gone to implement the researchers’ suggestions and that such ideas may be limited to certain scholarly circles associated with the PLA.

His findings, however, are consistent with reports documenting an increasing tempo and granularity in CCP influence operations.

One such report, published by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, found that the CCP pivoted into a new phase of influence operations in 2022, characterized by the creation of targeted messaging for well-defined audiences that were segmented based on granular demographic data.

Likewise, a declassified report from the director of national intelligence found widespread CCP-backed influence operations targeting the 2022 midterm elections.

Such operations included retaliation against U.S. lawmakers deemed a threat to the regime, the promotion of divisive content, and the impersonation of American voters online.

Throughout this effort, according to separate reports published by Meta and Microsoft, Chinese law enforcement covertly used social media, proxy websites, paid influencers, and public relations firms to manipulate U.S. public opinion about China.

 

To that end, the Pentagon has suggested that the CCP seeks to launch increasingly sophisticated cognitive attacks in an effort to achieve “mind dominance” over potential adversaries, including the United States.

The Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report (pdf), which distills the Defense Department’s most authoritative assessments of China’s strategy and capabilities, summarized the regime’s CDO efforts as “a more aggressive form of psychological warfare” intended to “affect a target’s cognition, decision making, and behavior.”

“The goal of CDO is to achieve what the PLA refers to as ‘mind dominance,’ defined as the use of propaganda as a weapon to influence public opinion to effect change in a nation’s social system, likely to create an environment favorable to China and reduce civilian and military resistance to PLA actions,” the report said.

 

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