Forward Observer: January’s Unrestricted Warfare

Intelligence analyst Sam Culper of Forward Observer summarizes January’s Unrestricted Warfare in the ongoing saga of America’s low intensity conflict.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Forward Observer Dispatch, where I get to share my latest thoughts on Low Intensity Conflict, or the “war at home.”

I’m working my way through Unrestricted Warfare, a 1999 paper written by two colonels in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The timing is serendipitous because I see this book reflected in current events.

The authors’ premise is simple: the United States is stuck with a view of warfare that’s going to be increasingly outmoded in the future. Facing a far superior conventional superpower, American adversaries (e.g., China) will simply change the definition of war to include traditionally non-war activities that will be used on non-traditional battlefields. This kind of asymmetry short-circuits conventional national security strategies.

The authors describe the use of any force — armed or unarmed, military or non-military, lethal or non-lethal — that exploits the myopic American view of war. Unrestricted Warfare sought a new concept of weapons: cyber, economic, commercial, financial, information, political, or literally anything else than can be weaponized and used against any adversary target, making just about anywhere a potential battlefield. This may seem like old news now, but it was ahead of its time more than 20 years ago.

Prior to 06 January, a concerted effort was already underway to set the stage for the “de-Trumpification” of politics and society. After the Capitol protest, I think we’re seeing a kind of Unrestricted Warfare develop against Donald Trump and everything in his orbit.

Here’s a hefty, albeit incomplete, list of political, economic, and information warfare against Trump and his supporters:

  • Lists of Trump administration officials, donors, and supporters, including personal information such as home addresses
  • Planned boycotts of companies that hire former Trump administration officials
  • Pressure against companies to not hire former Trump administration officials
  • Boycotts of companies that make political donations to Republicans who opposed the election certification
  • Banning of dozens of high profile, Trump supporting social media accounts
  • Initial claims by the Justice Department that Capitol protesters sought to “capture and assassinate elected officials,” which was later withdrawn due to a lack of evidence
  • FBI warnings of wide scale violence ahead of last weekend, repeated breathlessly by the media, but which ever materialized
  • Calls for the IRS to investigate and disqualify tax exempt political groups present at the Capitol protest
  • Calls for a “USA PATRIOT Act 2.0” to combat domestic right wing extremism
  • Legislation entitled “Insurrection Financing Transparency Act,” which would force the disclosure of ownership information of private companies alleged to have given money to tax exempt political groups at the Capitol protest
  • Calls for Facebook to expand de-platforming of “domestic terror networks,” and the encouraged hiring a full-time executive to counter extremism on the social media platform
  • Cancellation of data hosting services for Parler, and continued campaigns to prevent use of the social media site
  • Leaking and/or hacking of data on Parler databases, and the exploitation to expose personal information such as geolocation data and potentially images of driver’s licenses
  • Revoking the availability of Parler from the Apple and Google app stores
  • Calls for “de-programming” and “re-education” efforts against Trump supporters
  • Calls for a new domestic security agency to track right wing domestic terror groups
  • Calls for the Federal Communications Commission to counter broadcast outlets like Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN
  • Pressure against cable and data companies to drop FoxNews, Newsmax, and OAN
  • Pundit and “expert” comparisons of Trump supporters to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists, feeding further fear and needless agitation

I’m surely omitting some, but these are from recent recollection and our Early Warning reports.

If there’s a whiff of violence accurately or inaccurately associated with the right wing during tomorrow’s inauguration, then there’s going to be a long train of additional measures, regulations, and, probably, laws implemented to counter future violence and Trump-like political movements.

I look at the buildup of active duty Army and National Guard troops in D.C., and it is concerning. I think it’s primarily a show of force meant to deter attacks, and overreaction out of an abundance of caution.

It also carries with it substantial political benefits for the incoming Biden administration, which can use the drastic measures to continually warn of the dangers of boisterous political opposition.

In the coming weeks and months, we could see warnings towards Republicans to curb their language — something like, “You can disagree, but your anti-Biden rhetoric will inflame these potential domestic terrorists.”

I ask what kind of curbs might be put on political language and the freedom of speech in light of perceived potential violence. The Capitol protest has been built up into something much greater than it actually was, and those political and social effects are going to linger for years.

Until next time, be well.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper