Gerasimov Doctrine? Spamouflage Dragon? 10 unusual terms from the Fica debate

Spying and subversion has been updated for the 21st century, with the Internet being the new means by which such goals are achieved.
Spying and subversion has been updated for the 21st century, with the Internet being the new means by which such goals are achieved.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Several unfamiliar terms to do with foreign interference and online manipulation came up during the debate on the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica). Here are 10 explained:

1. Gerasimov Doctrine

A strategy that aims to destabilise a target country. It does so by harnessing the target's "protest potential" and using non-military means to deepen social divisions there. For example, the media, businessmen or disinformation campaigns could be used to increase hostility between different groups and reduce trust in state institutions. The strategy is said to have originated with Russian General Valery Gerasimov, although it has been used by various countries.

2. Spamouflage Dragon

This pro-China coordinated propaganda network was identified by social media analytics firm Graphika. It aims to discredit the United States, and targets issues such as the safety of Western-made vaccines. To that end, it uses bots, as well as fake and stolen social media accounts, to amplify the reach of videos and other media.

3. Third country troll farms

Reports of Macedonian "troll farms" that generated misinformation targeted at foreign users emerged in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential Election. These farms were responsible for setting up fake news websites that generated highly partisan political stories. In some cases, their share of election stories shared on Facebook ended up overtaking that of mainstream news producers.

4. Cyber manipulation

Singapore experienced a coordinated hostile information campaign between 2016 and 2017, during a period of tension with another country, according to Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. At the time, online commentaries and videos - many in Mandarin - were uploaded by social media accounts that had lain dormant for years. These were also widely circulated on chat apps, and aimed to undermine Singapore's foreign policy position.

5. Hostile information campaign

The age-old practice of spying and subversion has been updated for the 21st century, with the Internet being the new means by which such goals are achieved. Countries are actively developing attack and defence capabilities in this area, just as they do in other areas of warfare.

6. Politically significant person

All people and organisations who are directly involved in Singapore's political processes - such as Members of Parliament and political parties - will be considered "politically significant". But others can be designated as politically significant as well. To qualify for this label, the person or organisation must take part in activities that are "directed wholly or in part towards a political end". It must also be established that it is in the public interest for such countermeasures to be applied.

7. Foreign principal

Under the Foreign Agents Restriction Act in the US, a foreign principal is defined as people or agents who are under control of a foreign government. People taking part in any political activity that is designed to influence government decision-making on behalf of a foreign principal will have to disclose this relationship. But Singapore's approach with defined politically significant persons will be narrower, as the country does not seek to curtail normal interactions with foreigners.

8. Direction

The Government will be able to issue directions to tech companies such as Facebook under Fica. These firms could be required to disable access to content, or restrict certain accounts from the view of end-users in Singapore. This will be done if it is clear that such online communications have been prepared or planned by, or on behalf of, a foreign principal.

9. Actionable intelligence

Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim had called for the inclusion of a clause requiring "actionable intelligence" before Fica can be used. But rarely do intelligence tip-offs provide such definitive evidence, Mr Shanmugam said. There is also no legal definition for the standard a piece of evidence is required to meet in order to be considered "actionable".

10. Elite capture

It would be unwise to think that only politicians, civil society activists and journalists are vectors for foreign interference, said Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh. Senior civil servants should also be designated as politically significant persons, he added.