Saturday, March 21, 2020


"My brother's cousin works for the county, and he says..."

The irony of having to share the following FB post anonymously is not lost on me, but nevertheless, it raises some good points:

Happy Apocalyptic Saturday, Tribe! I want to take a minute to talk about a topic I’m seeing run rampant across Facebook: Rumor Intelligence, colloquially known as RUMINT. You’ve probably seen your share of unsubstantiated rumors from anonymous sources. Suffice it to say I’m not a fan, because of the way these rumors affect the behavior of the public in negative ways. Let’s dive in.

***TL;DR: Disinformation and false rumors are rampant, even in .gov and .mil offices, so unless you have multi-source confirmation, or a single-source on whom you’d bet your life, you’re better off ignoring RUMINT. Disinformation in times like these can be dangerous, and further exaggerate existing problems (eg hoarding, panick buying, etc.)***

Now, even RUMINT is a misnomer since the most of what people call “Intelligence” or “INTEL” is just “information.” Within the USG, “intelligence” is defined as “The product resulting from the collection, processing, integration, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of available information..,” about whatever. If a piece of information is reported but hasn’t been processed, integrated with other pieces of information, evaluated, vetted, analyzed, and interpreted, then it’s just information, which may or may not be of value.

In any group of people during uncertain times and crises, RUMINT escalates to a fever pitch, with everybody in an organization having heard me from somebody that works elsewhere in the building or down the street or at the headquarters or capitol building that X is going to happen or everyone is going to be doing Y. This is true of the military, law enforcement, schools, FEMA offices, you name it. Overwhelmingly, and I mean 99% of the time, these rumors are incredible in the true sense of the word.

A big part of the intelligence evaluation process is vetting, or skeptically evaluating the source or sources. Why do we believe this information to be true, and how sure can we really be. A single-source report containing information that is only coming from one source and not found elsewhere is typically not trusted as actionable unless corroboration can be found elsewhere. There a rare exceptions to this, when a single-source of information’s track record of accuracy, timeliness, etc. is proven and deemed trustworthy enough to accept that single piece of uncorroborated information as accurate.

We all have friends that work here and there in government offices, and it is tempting assume that they are “in the know.” Working in government myself I can be certain that decision makers probably don’t know what they’re gonna do more than 24-48 hrs ahead, and they’re gonna do their best to keep their employees in the dark to prevent leaks and adhere to “need to know.” To fill in those blanks, RUMINT runs just as rampant in .gov offices as any other.

I bring this up to set the problem as we all must vet our sources of information during these hectic times. I generally don’t trust single-source information, and I’d advise you not to do so either. The only exception would be if a friend told me, for example, “Washington State Police are doing X tomorrow,” and then it happened. Then the next day, she said, “The governor’s gonna announce Y at 4pm today,” and that happened too. At that point I’d consider her single-source info pretty solid, but not before.

Something else I’ll touch on briefly is aside from the typical Hanlon’s Razor aspect of false and panicky RUMINT, is the potential for intentionally disruptive RUMINT by various malign adversaries. Dimitri, the Russian digital subversion operator in St. Petersburg can probably telecommute too, and if his job is to sow alarm and discord in the US via social media, now is a pretty easy time to do it. Russian bot activity on social media increases 10,000% after every school shooting. How active do you suppose they are right now as Martial Law Light™️ looms in America in the midst of a pandemic? You may have heard really convincing RUMINT from a close friend who’s like a brother or sister to you. However, the person they heard it from may have gotten it from professional subversion agents and claimed it first hand to boost their ego and seem more important or whatnot. If a sneaky Russian agent can claim martial law is coming in 24 hrs over and over and keep people panic buying to stock up before “the order” goes into effect, they can cause real tangible problems that weaken the West, which is their mission.

What’s the “so what” of this wall of text? If I don’t see something with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, or get it from multiple credible sources or a source I would literally bet my life on, I’m not passing it on. A certain segment of our society is in denial and won’t be swayed by it regardless, but the part of society that’s emptying the shelves of food, water, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper will take any RUMINT and run with it, with likely negative consequences.

I’m not a company man, and it’s not in my nature to say, “Wait for an official announcement,” but disinformation in these times can be dangerous, so I urge folks to be very circumspect in what information that pass on, and what information they trust.