How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 5GW
We type these words while traveling through the Swiss Alps on a high-speed train. As the world gets smaller, we at Radio Research Group have witnessed the evolution of almost everything we know about modern conflict under the shadow of Fifth Generation Warfare. The incredible, exponential and accelerating pace of technology has upended centuries of standard operating procedure. Diplomats and military leaders have been propelled into uncharted realms, disrupted by an invisible enemy that makes us question our reality.
Darkness descends upon us as a tunnel envelops our train. Terrestrial GSM shuts down, satellite tracking loses sync. We enter the Gotthard base tunnel, the longest tunnel in the world.
Our world is changing so rapidly that conventional frameworks of thought around modern warfare have become irrelevant. Our GSM modem connects to a cell tower deep in the tunnel. We reconnect to the world, deep underground, at the speed of light. Pre-existing notions previously thought impossible have become commonplace.
Our train pulls out of the tunnel, sunlight envelopes the train as the GPS comes back online. Incredible mountains are opening up all around us as we enter an incredible new world.
What is 5GW?
William Lind's Generation War model looks like this:
|Generation||The description||Rendered useless by|
|1st||Ancient melee battle||Muskets|
|2nd||Organized battle with gunpowder||Blitzkrieg|
|3rd||Mechanized warfare focused on speed and maneuverability||Terrorism|
|4th||Decentralized warfare is fought by state actors (mostly kinetic)||Mobile Internet, network effects|
|5th||Information and perception (essentially non-kinetic)||To be determined ?|
The concept of Fifth Generation Warfare itself is controversial, with Lind opposing it saying that 4GW "hadn't fully materialized yet". We argue that what is happening in modern conflict today is so radically different from the 4th generation setting that it is time to move into the fifth generation. (We were so convinced we had to write the Wikipedia article about it ourselves, although it's now heavily redacted. Many key things we've added here.)
Our favorite definition of Fifth Generation Warfare is presented in Abbot's "Handbook of 5GW", 2010, stating that "the very nature of Fifth Generation Warfare is that it is difficult to define".
Besides the fact that defining a subject based on its difficulty to define is counter-intuitive, Abbot adds that 5GW is a war of “information and perception”.
5GW is a war of information and perception.
At Radio Research, we have evolved the definition, stating that Fifth Generation Warfare is defined by non-kinetic, data-driven military action designed to take advantage of existing cognitive biases and create new cognitive biases. Or, as Abbott and Rees/Herring describe it, "the deliberate manipulation of an observer's context in order to achieve a desired result."
Fifth generation warfare technologies have advanced to the point that, when applied correctly, their very use has been concealed. As we will describe later in the attribution problem, in many cases it is impossible to simply understand who is behind a 5GW attack.
This means that a fifth generation war conflict can be fought and won without a single bullet being fired, or even most of the population knowing that a war is taking place. The following technologies and techniques are often associated with 5GW. What is important to note is that these technologies can
be used to strongly influence or completely remove the need for kinetic combat:
Disinformation (data driven)
- Wrong wrong
- jars of honey
- Social engineering
Handling of social networks (Data Driven)
- Decentralized and highly unattributable psychological warfare (memes, fake news)
- open-source intelligence
- Commercially available social media analysis
- Open Source and Gray Market Datasets
- Satellite imagery / SA commercially available
- Commercially available electromagnetic intelligence
- Cryptographic backdoors
Electronic warfare, with its rapidly decreasing cost and availability
- Open source encryption / DeFi / Community technology
- Low Cost Radios/SDRs
- Quantum computers? (not clear if it's already used on a large scale)
Abbot ended his description of 5GW quite elegantly, citing Clarke's Third Law; "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
In summary 5GW:
- Is a war of information and perception
- Targets existing cognitive biases of individuals and organizations
- Creates new cognitive biases (social engineering)
Differs from conventional warfare for the following reasons:
- Focuses on the individual observer/decision maker
- Is difficult or impossible to assign
- The nature of the attack is concealed
Below, we'll describe where the current frames of war are starting to fall apart and what we can do next.
The origins of 5GW, as mentioned earlier, are hotly disputed, as data-driven warfare combined with propaganda dates back at least to the end of WWII. Some of the best work in space happened during this time.
For our analysis, we focus on how networked mobile computing and big data analytics are being used to guide decision-making across society. While the "Handbook of 5GW" hints at early examples, the book was published before one of the most disruptive societal events had occurred since 9/11.
5GW Precursors: The First Fifth Generation Accidental Conflict
The Arab Spring represents a key turning point in the war, emerging in Tunisia in 2008 and erupting across North Africa in 2010. The Arab Spring was the first conflict to be fueled by social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter.
We had witnessed first hand that a revolution or protest would appear first in the data and then on the BBC a few hours later. The conflict was manifesting online and generating massive amounts of data before any kinetic action took place.
The Arab Spring lacks a few key elements of Fifth Generation Warfare, notably the ambiguity of opposing force. (Despite some ambiguity as to who was powering it. An interesting note is that one of the main organizers of the Egyptian revolution, Wael Ghonim, was working at Google at the time).
Based on our interactions with those involved during those early years of
data collection mostly privatized, the use of social media to escalate into regional conflict was almost entirely accidental.
For this reason, we like to call the Arab Spring the first accidental conflict of the fifth generation.
Societal echoes of the Arab Spring continued to reverberate around the planet, focusing a few years later on Hong Kong and Taiwan during the democratic protests of 2014. At this point, we begin to see a new technology begin to emerge: decentralized technologies (or “zero trust systems” for those of you who work in more conservative organizations like the DoD). During the September 2014 protests in Hong Kong , encrypted messaging apps were widely used. When the local cellular infrastructure was "overloaded", protesters used a decentralized Mesh networking app called Firechat, completely circumventing Great Firewall restrictions. Governments were so disturbed by the event that Russia began deploying its own electronic warfare units in protest.
Decentralized currencies like Bitcoin began to be used in popular ways, for example during Occupy Wall
Street, 2011). While decentralized warfare is a key part of defining 4GW, the
future ambiguity of attackers and the use of big data and media as a mutually reinforcing weapon us
lead into new areas.
Set up a fifth generation war puzzle piece in a fourth generation playground
While warfare has a long history of psychological operations and propaganda, online conflicts
accelerated psychological warfare, reducing feedback loops to milliseconds. Facebook Product Teams
have a word for it: “Dopamine loops”. In the world of big tech, you can build, test, deploy in minutes. Military, advertising and political strategists are starting to think
how they can leverage over a hundred years of psychological warfare teachings and combine that knowledge with data-driven psychological feedback loops to influence behavior.
We call it the Social Engine, Facebook (sorry "Meta") calls it "business as usual". The creation of data-driven cognitive biases has already defined the past decade, from “swinging” elections , to determining a Netflix script, or which celebrity will be in a makeup ad.
In fact, we used GPT-3, an artificial intelligence algorithm to write the italicized section of this paragraph. GPT-3 is a predictive text input program, which allows users to type words on their keyboard by predicting which keys are likely to be typed. This allows us to influence cognitive biases by inserting certain ideas into people's text, completely bypassing their critical thinking processes. People will then reproduce these messages in their own texts, and the dissemination of the content will reflect the users' natural cognitive biases.
These capabilities are unheard of in traditional warfare and do not fit well within the 4GW framework.
One of the main areas where 4th Generation warfare begins to break down is the ambiguity of attacking force, specifically “the problem of cyber attribution”. This has to do with software engineers actively hiding or misinterpreting their identity when writing lines of code. In some cases, hackers even use modified cyber weapons from NSA servers (see EternalBlue,
In a fifth generation of cyber warfare, knowing just who your enemy is can be nearly impossible.
The problem of attribution
The problem of cyber attribution has highlighted the problems of traditional warfare, as almost all modern military doctrine requires knowing the identity of your enemy. This is where modern conflicts
are starting to get downright scary. Governments have consistently stated that cyberattacks can and will be fought with kinetic force.
In the 2018 edition of the “US Dept. of Defense Nuclear Posture Review", the US government states that it reserves the right to respond to "strategic non-nuclear attacks" by "the employment of nuclear weapons". The fatal flaw of nuclear deterrence is that it does not apply only to nuclear weapons.
“The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.
Circumstances extremes could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks ". (insert quote)
The Nuclear Posture Review itself mentions "Cyber" sixteen times. Given that some of the greatest cyberattacks in history have been launched by teenagers (Mirai botnet, 2016), the impact of the cyber-attribution problem on modern nuclear deterrence theory is literally insane.
"Before we could enter a room with an enemy, now they just float in the ether",
-M speaking to Bond in No Time to Die, 2021
A new era begins.
The Birth of Fifth Generation Warfare
Social media at its core (as well as much of the internet today) is driven by for-profit cognitive programming, also known as advertising. Advertisements as well as the exponentially growing body of "Advertisement" data generated by billions of people have now been weaponized. The amount of data that can be collected about an individual is growing exponentially.
We argue that the first compelling case of fifth generation warfare was the 2016 US presidential election. This includes complete ambiguity of the opposing force, large-scale societal engineering using data (see Cambridge Analytica), organized counterattacks between government and social media companies, censorship and direct attack on the decision-making process of billions of people.
We encourage you to read the leaked internal report on Facebook detailing precisely how this is happening from an IT person's perspective. It's fascinating and very frightening: "Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement").
Unfortunately, the 2016 presidential election becomes too political for most readers, as their own cognitive biases prevent the creation of a subjective frame of fifth-generation warfare. We may update this section in the future and continue our 5GW story with something much less controversial.
Israel, May 2021: Operation Guardian of the Walls
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are masters of information warfare. Israel even has its own army propaganda division, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit. They have a pretty cool logo, representing the propagation of radio waves.
The first 5GW conflict to evolve into a kinetic battle (excluding the storming of the US Capitol a few months prior) was during the 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On May 13, 2021, the IDF falsely announced on Twitter, and officially to the Wall Street Journal, that “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.” The IDF had announced that an Israeli invasion of Gaza had begun.
The New York Times then reported the next day that the announcement had been a deception, that no Israeli troops had set foot in Gaza. The IDF further clarified the statement by stating that the intent of the announcement was to expose opposing Hamas forces (presumably using unmanned ISRs) and to destroy tunnel networks with precision-guided munitions.
Katz and Bohbot separately describe in their book "Weapon Wizards, 2017" how IMSI sensors and cellular network analysis were used to identify and destroy Hamas tunnels. If an IMSI "teleports" from one place to another, it's a tunnel. A single combatant (probably several) forgetting to turn off his cellular transmitters after the reports may have resulted in massive and heavy bombardments. There is so much data in our corner of the universe, that the absence of data can even provide information.
The IDF Spokesman's Unit announced two weeks after Operation Guardian of The Walls that the conflict was the "first AI war". The IDF went on to describe a system built by Unit 8200 that fused "signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence ( HUMINT ), geographic intelligence (GEOINT)". While such battlefield management systems (BMS or C5ISR) had existed for years before the 2021 crisis in Gaza, the announcements themselves combined with social media deception and precision-guided munitions represent a stark contrast. striking with Lind's definition of fourth generation warfare.
The IDF example, however, lacks "opposing force ambiguity", but includes many unprecedented techniques and technologies, including the use of media as a weapon combined with unmanned ISR.
From there, take a short coffee break, before diving even deeper into the weird, mind-bending, and puzzling world of Fifth Generation Warfare.
A Syndrome in Havana : a symptom of fifth generation warfare?
Our last example, the Havana syndrome , includes the purest form of Fifth Generation Warfare we've seen to date. It's also one of the weirdest. Havana syndrome ticks all the 5GW boxes:
- Ambiguity of the opposing force.
- Attack vector ambiguity.
- Dopaminergic loops.
- Triggering existing cognitive biases in the target.
- Create new cognitive biases.
In fact, Havana Syndrome is so obscure that there is significant debate within the US DoD as to whether or not it exists.
Havana Syndrome was first reported in and around the Cuban Embassy in 2016 and has since been reported around the world including Guangzhou, Hanoi, Berlin and most notably Vienna, Austria.
Diplomats report hearing strange noises and headaches, resulting in significant neurological damage. The US Army's Mad Science Lab interviewed Dr. James Giordano, one of the doctors involved in finding the cases.
You should read the deleted report, it is extremely interesting :( Link to report )
As Dr. James Giordano at the US Army Mad Science Lab describes:
“To date, there are more than 100 validated cases of staff members with clinically validated subjective symptoms and objective signs representative of Havana Syndrome…
“Acute symptoms are relatively ambiguous, in that some individuals report feelings of pressure in the head, ringing or buzzing in the ears, feelings of confusion…
"The majority of those initially affected, and many of those subsequently affected, showed lasting and discernible neurological features that are evident on physiological tests and imaging…".
To make matters even more interesting, the State Department recently declared that 5GW was not an attack at all, merely a cricket, Anurogryllus Celerinictus , and that psychogenic effects were the main cause of the reported health problems.
The Army report has since been deleted. We love 5GW!
Last time we checked, there is no Anurogryllus Celerinictus in Vienna or Berlin, but go read the DoD report for yourself. The very nature of the attack being ambiguous and the heated debates between the DoD and even CIA officials over the causes and existence make the "Havana Syndrome" fit neatly into our 5GW framework.
Take a look at the DoD cricket report :( Source )
We sure haven't seen the last of our friends Anurogryllus Celerinictus and we expect to see more attacks like this unfold in the future. (We believe this to be a massive MIMO attack using modified cell towers, but that's the story for another day)
Fifth Generation War story summary:
- Ambiguity of the opposing force.
- Attack vector ambiguity.
- Dopaminergic loops.
- Triggering existing cognitive biases in the target.
- Create new cognitive biases.
- Fate of the Arab Spring.
- Solidified in the 2016 US presidential election.
- The 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the first instance of 5GW in a kinetic battle.
- Havana Syndrome is pure 5GW.
From there, the future is incredibly uncertain. We are on the brink of World War III in Europe. Deep Fakes are created by both parties. It's more important than ever to start thinking about 5GW. We tried to organize a framework of thought .
Our thinking on this is rapidly changing, as cognitive biases play a role in influencing every section of the OODA loop. Here are some recommendations:
Observe: What is happening. Understand the battlespace, attempt to identify the adversary or describe key attributes. Get as much data as possible and hire the best people who can work with that data. China is doing this by creating a network of “AI consultants” around the world, as well as backdoor apps that allow children to send massive amounts of data back to Beijing. The United States does this by working with Facebook, ISPs and controlling Android. Hedge funds also have a lot of this data. Be careful when developing your own mass surveillance tools, as this can accelerate systemic issues in your society, and the enemy will target those weak points within your own team. Mass surveillance generally poses more risks to civilization than benefits. Is mass surveillance a deterrent technology? This is open to debate and is becoming increasingly relevant in 5GW.
East: try to understand any pre-existing cultural biases you may have. 5GW attacks decision-making ability by using biases as cognitive tools of influence. What are the memes you like or the political groups you prefer, what are your fetishes and your dislikes? What skeletons do you have in the closet? How do you use social networks? How is your relationship with a loved one going? All of this data is harvested from your internet history and the spatial web and will be used against you in a world of fifth generation targeted warfare. (Most of this data is commercially available on the gray market).
Once you have established a psychological basis, we can try to separate cultural biases from cognitive biases. A meme you saw yesterday can definitely impact the decisions you make today. The only recommendation we have here so far is to reduce your digital attack surface, go spend some time in nature, and meditate. Meditate on your pre-existing cultural biases to establish a baseline and understand where your ego will play in your subconscious decision-making processes. Humans really haven't come very far in understanding this front, and some of the best work on it is thousands of years old. We recommend that you start with the Bhagavad Gita.
Decide : now we have to choose the best strategy to recover faster, move forward and act with minimal damage. See if you can test your assumptions and be careful not to make the same decision over and over again. In many cases, you just need to "act fast and break things", and make sure that when you act, you get data. Have the means to analyze this data on a large scale and plan for a complete breakdown of communications. Ideally, you have incredibly large supercomputers to help you, the latest Facebook Graph, and you pay attention to biases in your own algorithms. In many cases, the fractional orbital bombardment system will already be in orbit, your servers will be on fire, your communications will be stolen, and you will not have the pleasure of testing your theories.
To act : pull the trigger and get as much data as possible afterwards. In the end, we are all human, that is what will be used against us.
We are only at the beginning of the 5GW
Hopefully we can give you a quick overview of what 5GW is, its history and how we can start thinking about it. Our definition of a 5GW framework is evolving and we encourage you to contribute to the conversation and challenge our thinking.
Denying the existence of 5GW is incredibly dangerous, and we see a huge divide between the hackers and cryptographers we talk to and the public sector officials. Most people we talk to at the DoD think we're completely nuts.
The attacks we'll start to see will rapidly evolve beyond "crickets" and into the bizarre and seemingly impossible. It's easy to be rather depressed by a future of biological and nuclear deterrence, massive social engineering attacks, and hypersonic proliferation issues. But you always have to stay positive.
Thinking about the world in terms of limited resources (a war between 'us' and 'them') is at the root of most of the world's problems. Our economy is going digital and incredible technologies are coming online that resolve most of the resource conflicts we have seen historically:
- Petrochemicals – Nuclear
- Drought – Desalination
- Disease – mRNA/ CRISPR
- Advertising – Web3
Civilization requires a fundamental shift in our organizations and institutions to a perspective of abundance, with a strong emphasis on defense-based deterrence (e.g. password managers or iron dome). The data will help us. Understanding and mastering 5GW is going to be key.
And finally, we once asked a DARPA program manager how he remained optimistic about the future, after witnessing so many technology that could wipe civilization off the face of this earth. The former program manager replied, "Civilization has been through a lot, they always come through!"
The future is going to be incredibly interesting, and we're excited to see it.
5GW Recommendations :
- Use the OODA loop to construct a reflection frame.
- Understand basic cybersecurity: use a password manager and hardware security keys. Understand your own biases, your culture and those that have been inflicted on you (media, memes)
- Meditate and understand your own biases
- Map your electronic attack surface and Work to limit your digital footprint (e.g. who has access to your location data?)
- Obtain a complete knowledge of the technology on your field
- Map and visualize filter bubbles
- Suppose your whole network is going to be attacked, taken offline and have a plan
- Don't underestimate blockchain, learn about zero-knowledge proofs and DAOs. Read Blockchain and Decentralized Systems by Pavel Kravchenko for everything you need to know technically. Read The Sovereign Individual to fully understand the societal implications.
- Suppose all commercial crypto is either a backdoor or will be broken in the next big conflict
- Map your crypto roots or trust and have a key management factory
- Invest in modern communications equipment and “zero trust systems”
- Pay for security audits and red teams if you are an organization
- Red team your systems.
- Red team your people, perform mock phishing exercises.
- 5GW is mostly defensive, but there are a few things to do.
- Inoculation theory. A concept new enough to resist social engineering, but a focus on reinforcing an idea by presenting the intended target with weak counter-arguments. A recommendation from Over The Horizon :( Link )
- Surveillance, controversial but effective, at least in understanding a baseline.
- Censorship. Social media companies are a business that influences cognitive biases.
- Generation of false and alternative profiles and data, hidden in randomness. See Sybil's attack, puppet accounts.
- Meme wars.
- Make social media algorithms accountable and open. This is a major problem today because social media reinforces cognitive biases, usually for profit.
Essential reading on the history and future of propaganda and information warfare:
Massenpsychologie (Group psychology and analysis of the ego), Sigmund Freud, 1921.
Propaganda, Edward Bernays, 1928 (very inspired Propaganda Minister Goebbels).
The Ultra Secret, FW Winterbotham, 1974. The first "technology leak", the book details the breaking of Enigma codes at Bletchley Park, as well as the propaganda campaigns organized by Churchill and special liaison officers to hide the use of Ultra.
Berlin Diary William L. Shirer, 1941. Describes the compelling account of the outbreak of World War II in Europe as it unfolds, as described by a CBS correspondent. His descriptions of Nazi propaganda and disputes with censors are fascinating.
Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007. Just read it.
- Snow Crash Neal Stephenson, 1992. (Science Fiction) A hugely entertaining tale of information warfare, literally defines the "MetaVerse" and "Avatar"