Hayden on The Ghettoizing of Information


In the fourth video installment, the intelligence expert discusses the inherent vulnerabilities of a free society whose adversary aims to divide and confuse.

Watch the full interview.

More information on our Cybersecurity: The Next Great Battlefield series

WALWORTH: Let me just change gears for a minute here because we'd like to talk about cyberspace for a minute. John Bolton, National Security Adviser to the President, has, there was a fellow named Rob Joyce.

HAYDEN: I know him. He used to work for me. Now he's going back to NSA.

WALWORTH: He's going back to NSA and there's the report that he will not be replaced, that they won't, is that a smart thing to do, not replace the NSA?

HAYDEN: I don't think it's a good idea at all. Look, I've been in government. Remember, big ship, small rudder? How do you make things change? You've got three baskets of tools. And that's all you got. One is you can throw more money at it. Second, I can throw more people at it. Third, I can create structures that in essence impose on the bureaucracy, "this is important, pay attention". I think Ambassador Bolton's decision to do away with the position and pull Rob back to NSA kind of gets in the way of all three. It cannot help but be read as a de-emphasis on the cybersecurity mission.

HAYDEN: Now, if we walked down the street and went into the West Wing to the corner office and say, "John, why are you doing this?" He may actually have a pretty solid argument with regard to efficiencies and streamlining and de layering and let the departments be the departments. I get all that. But on balance, you asked my opinion. On balance my opinion is you get the focus, you get the energy, you get the Presidential White House attention by having that position and when that position goes away, I fear it signals to everyone this isn't as important as you used to think it was.

CANNON: Well if they've been reading our series they know it's important. I have a couple of general questions about cyber. What can government do, if anything, to disrupt the ability, Russia's ability to use Facebook, Twitter, Google? What's a practical thing we can do to interfere with that process?

HAYDEN: Yeah. It's hard. It's very hard and it gets in the way of free speech. We don't-

CANNON: Do Russians have the right to free speech?

HAYDEN: Yeah it's-

CANNON: Mueller indicted 13 of them.

HAYDEN: It's hard to suppress Russian free speech without having collateral damage to everyone's free speech. It's hard to police bad news sites and not have an effect on the free flow of the news. There's some things government might be able to do but I think this is a private sector function so I toss some ideas out in the book.

WALWORTH: Isn't it, in a sense, this is the price we pay for having-

HAYDEN: Of course.

WALWORTH: Deregulated information? And just to go back to this Russian information strategy again, one of the strengths of the American system it seems to me has always been it is difficult to break through. It's difficult enough for those of us who are in the professional business of trying to talk to people out there to break through because there's so much news, there's so much information all the time. The Russians have RT which is their television network. Nobody watches it.

CANNON: Nobody watches it.

WALWORTH: They have Sputnik which is their-

CANNON: Nobody watches it.

WALWORTH: Radio. Nobody listens to it. They aren't particularly good or known for their ability to change hearts and minds. So why are they, in your view though, I mean why is this such a real threat then because looking at their record, they haven't been very good.

HAYDEN: That's not the objective. Their objective is to divide, not to convince. And so what they do is they pick up native memes from the United States and amplify them. They're not trying to change your minds. They're not trying to tilt you toward Marx. They're just trying to mess with our heads and to make us a divided society. I write in the book about Jade Helm 15. That's a normal exercise in Texas and some southern states that Russian bots and the alt-right media convinced enough people in Texas with an Obama administration coup to arrest political dissonance up to and including abandoned Walmarts being used as concentration camps and boxcars transiting Texas with leg irons on the floor.

WALWORTH: Let's posit that there's a lot of crazy stuff on the internet.

HAYDEN: But that's the point. It's on the net. So two additional realities. More Americans get their news from the net than they do through the traditional curated way news has been presented to us.

WALWORTH: Again, sir, that is true but if you go to the first two pages of Google on any subject that you're gonna look up, they're going to be mostly mainstream sources of news there. You're gonna see CNN. You're gonna see ABC. You're gonna see the Wall Street Journal. You're gonna see-

HAYDEN: So there's a scholar at the University of North Carolina named Tufekci. She's Turkish by birth, North Carolinian by choice. I heard her give a wonderful talk about how social media works. The social media business model is to keep you on the site. The return on investment is clicks and that's how they generate revenue. So first of all, when you're working through social media, Facebook and YouTube and others, they know who you are. They know what you like. They tilt you to something that you're gonna find confirming. Miss Tufekci talks about social media being a lot like Doritos. They're compromised of salt and fat and if you eat one piece of salt and fat really what you really want is another piece of salt and fat and you just can't eat one.

HAYDEN: What the algorithm does, there's a fellow named McNamee who was one of the early investors in Facebook and a mentor to Zuckerberg who's kind of said, "What have I done?" The algorithm, the longer you're on, and again, they make money by keeping you on, drives you more and more into like-minded individuals because that keeps you on the sites. The internet, rather than being this grand dialogue is now composed of increasingly darkening ghettos where people actually don't bend towards common views but bend in the direction of like-minded, more extreme views. It is embedded in the actual algorithm that's used for profit from the business model.

HAYDEN: And so what helps the Russians are our own divisions, our creating our own memes, and now most of us getting information not from Google but from Facebook and others which ghettoizes us even more than we know. That makes it fairly easy for the Russians to do what they want, which is not to convince us, it's just to make us angry at one another.

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